Beaverbrook hotel review: escape to the country
The idea of enjoying a luxury mini-break with the kids is no longer an oxymoron.
Everyone may be flocking to Soho Farmhouse in Oxfordshire right now, but just 40 minutes from the centre of London is another hip countryside hotel with a difference. Set in the rolling Surrey Hills on the outskirts of Leatherhead, Beaverbrook is a class act, not least when it comes to fun and relaxation. The grandeur of the architecture helps: this late Victorian, neoclassical mansion, set in a 400-acre estate, is the former residence of Lord Beaverbrook, the media mogul who built the Express newspaper empire and served in Sir Winston Churchill’s wartime cabinet. A sense of old-world aristocratic charm presides at this manor house where each room has been thoughtfully and artfully decorated by Susie Atkinson, also responsible for the interiors of London’s original Soho House, Dean Street Townhouse, and Babington House in Somerset.
It’s certainly a grand place to spend a weekend, and you don’t have to be a member. The distractions are suitably patrician: you can watch a movie in the Art Deco cinema where Churchill and the Lord would view Pathé newsreels sent back from the war; relax in the library room amid bookcases lined with first editions, or enjoy high tea in the plush living room where expensive artworks and vintage satirical cartoons cover the walls. Staff zip around in golf buggies, and guests can hitch a ride to the estate’s Garden House, home to the hotel’s second restaurant, a laid-back Anglo-Italian eatery that looks out onto its own sustainable herb garden and meadow field. It’s only a five-minute walk from the manor to this separate residence with its whimsical country cottage-style rooms (by interior designer Nicola Harding), but arriving by buggy seems suitably decadent given Beaverbrook’s history as a favourite of the crème de la crème.
Back at the main house – also the location of the highly rated Japanese Grill restaurant – there are just 18 guest rooms, each one named after a friend of Lord B, including H.G. Wells, Rudyard Kipling, Ian Fleming and Charlie Chaplin. The fabulous Elizabeth Taylor room (pictured), with its pink accents, has the hotel’s largest twin shower, making it perfect for honeymooners. Given the actress’ eight marriages, however, superstitious newlyweds might instead opt for the Churchill – the former PM’s actual bedroom, complete with its original bathtub where he would famously enjoy a soak while dictating notes to his secretary. Her seat, though not original, is still in position at the foot of the bath (also below).
The small number of rooms lends Beaverbrook the atmosphere of a boutique hotel, despite the sprawling size of the estate. A stay here feels like you’ve been handed the keys to your own aristocratic bolthole where jazz plays softly through hidden speakers and there’s always a mixologist on hand to shake you up a cocktail. If you have children, you might be thinking this isn’t the place for a stay with your young brood. But Beaverbrook excels at organising fun stuff for kids to do – so much so that, during our weekend stay, my eight and nine-year-old were far too preoccupied to notice when I skipped off for one of the Garden House’s regular hour-long cookery classes. Otherwise, I simply soaked up the sunshine in the garden of the main house, which opens onto spectacular views of the Surrey Hills, while my two played for hours in the nearby Orangery – a huge room equipped with a widescreen TV, bean bags, foosball and air- hockey tables, every board game under the sun, and enough art equipment to rival Hobbycraft.
At weekends, there’s an in-house nanny to supervise the children in this playroom, and most Saturdays and Sundays you can book them into the kids’ club run by Sharky & George (aka the best children’s entertainers in the land). For four blissful hours, my kids played in the forest with the other children, in the care of expert entertainers; they climbed Beaverbrook’s giant tree house, made crowns out of foraged leaves and twigs, played ball games in an enormous tepee, and laughed their little hearts out.
The devil’s in the detail here, too: kids old enough to appreciate history will be thrilled to learn about Churchill’s emergency escape door – built in case of an attempt on his life – which remains intact behind the wall of his shower. And at the bottom of the garden, there’s a secret cove with mermaids made from the thousands of shells gathered by The Dowager Lady Beaverbrook during travels abroad. In addition, a number of high-profile guests have lent their magic to the place: director Ridley Scott has devised a ‘movie menu’ citing his 100 favourite films to watch in the cinema, and artworks by Bugsy Malone creator Sir Alan Parker of the hotel’s famous former guests hang outside the entrance to each bedroom. My son especially liked the sketch of Bonar Law with a cloud of smoke for a head – this former PM was never without his pipe.
It’s the little touches that make Beaverbrook really special, and the hotel is about to become even more tempting: by the end of the summer, the old coach house will have been transformed into a luxury spa with indoor and outdoor pools and specialist treatment rooms, and will have its own pizza deli; there will also be six new dog-friendly rooms. The best news for kids is that next year will see the unveiling of a little petting zoo in the forest –although whether alpacas and llamas will be the main attraction is yet to be decided. If it boils down to looks, I’d say go for llamas – after all, they have longer, more noble profiles, like true aristos of the animal world.
Doubles start from £225; beaverbrook.co.uk; 01372 571300