Fawsley Hall review: a sumptuous and historic staycation spot
With its authentic Tudor hall and uber-modern luxury spa, this hotel in rural Northamptonshire is one of a kind
In a hamlet in rural Northamptonshire lies Fawsley Hall Hotel & Spa, a one-of-a-kind estate that can trace its history back to the seventh century.
By mixing the traditional (its original Tudor grand hall springs to mind) with the modern (the luxury spa just underwent a £1.5m refurbishment), Fawsley Hall’s owners have created a unique hotel experience that will appeal to all sorts of guests, from history buffs to wellness wonks.
The oldest part of the house is the Tudor south wing, which was constructed in the early 16th century. It was built by Richard Knightley, a member of the historic Knightley family who came over to England with William the Conqueror before settling in a Staffordshire hamlet, which is still named after them today.
It was in this south wing that Richard Knightley, the fourth generation of the family, entertained Queen Elizabeth I in 1575. Guests of Fawsley Hall can stay in the room where the monarch laid her head, now named the Queen Elizabeth Master Suite. It features a soaring roof, roll-top bath and sumptuous four-poster bed.
A standout feature of the hotel is its Great Hall, which was commissioned by Edmund Knightley in 1537. With its original Tudor fireplace, which contains the coat of arms of the Knightley family, Richard I and the 26 knights who accompanied him on his first crusade, the grand room is steeped in history. It’s definitely a special spot to enjoy a morning coffee, afternoon tea or late-night cocktail.
Above the ceiling of the Great Hall is a hidden room, thought to be the place where Richard Knightley secretly printed Puritan material, an act he was later imprisoned for. Although this room is sadly inaccessible, the outline of its entrance, which was reached via a spiral staircase, is still visible.
The house has survived many chapters; it was requisitioned by the army during both world wars and leased out as a timber workshop before much-needed restoration work began towards the end of the 20th century. Now Fawsley Hall is an award-winning hotel, popular wedding venue and luxurious spa retreat owned by the Hand Picked Hotels group.
The hotel has 60 bedrooms, including 11 feature rooms and suites. Named after people with a historic connection to the house, the stunning feature rooms all have their own unique quirks.
I stayed in the Jane Skenard feature room – named after the wife of the fourth Richard Knightley – which is accessed via its own small flight of stairs and contains a super-king wooden bed that looked as though it was exported straight from Hampton Court. Waking up to views of rolling hills and lakes made a pleasant change from my basement flat (perhaps the understatement of the century?).
Fawsley Hall’s award-winning, informal Cedar restaurant is a charming spot to enjoy classic British dishes with a contemporary twist. Located on the ground floor of the building’s south wing, the 16th-century room feels classically Tudor with its beamed ceiling and exposed brickwork.
The menu kicks off with a selection of not-so-small small plates including arancini, hummus with flatbread and Nocellara olives. To start, my dining companion and I shared an autumnal and flavourful burnt cauliflower veloute and a colourful salad, which featured candied beetroot, goats cheese curd and baby courgette.
Cedar’s main courses are meat-heavy and feature a selection of dishes “from the grill” that are all served with slow-cooked plum tomatoes and a garlic portobello mushroom – a combination that brings to mind a full English breakfast.
My fillet of beef (served with a creamy but sharp bearnaise sauce) was packed with flavour, while my companion was so pleased with his perfectly pink rack of lamb that he gobbled it up before I had a chance to try it. The menu features some (slightly unexciting) vegetarian options; when we visited there was a tomato and burrata salad and a spinach and ricotta ravioli dish on the list.
Breakfast is also served in the Cedar restaurant (although room service is an option too). Guests can sample fruit, pastries and cold meats at a continental buffet while ordering from the à la carte menu, which features all the classics, from fry-ups to avo on toast.
After undergoing an intensive refurbishment programme, Fawsley Hall’s spa reopened in July with a new luxury look. Featuring a Himalayan salt sauna, 17-metre indoor swimming pool, steam room, open-air hydrotherapy pool, extensive gym and more, it’s worth reserving a few hours to spend using the spa facilities alone.
There’s also a new “spatisserie”, which serves healthy lunches and afternoon tea, meaning that you can spend the whole day there if you’re in desperate need to recharge the batteries.
A range of traditional as well as technological treatments – such as a cellular-boosting “Elemis Biotec Radiance Renew Facial” – are available. I enjoyed the “Face and Body Combo”, which included an express facial (using Elemis products) and a back, neck and shoulder massage that I desperately needed after a week spent hunched over my desk.
Fawsley Hall has everything you might look for in a UK staycation venue: expertly cooked comfort food, bedrooms with a square footage larger than most inner-city flats, a lavish spa featuring all sorts of weird and wonderful experiences, and a historically significant hidden room (no, just me?).
It’s a special feeling getting to spend time in such a historically significant place – although you can’t help but wonder what the original Knightleys would have made of the Himalayan salt sauna.