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Go back to the enewsletter Heckfield Place 50 kil

first_imgGo back to the enewsletterHeckfield Place, 50 kilometres west of London’s Heathrow airport, should be in the diary now for everyone who loves nature, history, authenticity, a sense of fun and great food. And yes, it does feel a little Australian, in a way.First, the setting: an 18th-century country palace set in 162 hectares of exquisite landscape complete with forests, lakes and a working farm. Entrepreneur Gerald Chan fell in love with the place, bought it in 2002 and ran it as a conference centre for some years before deciding a hotel would be more suitable. With Chan care, what was originally intended to open in 2012 in fact accepted its first guests 1 September 2018.I had to go to experience this 47-room hotel, independent but for a partnership with Virtuoso. After a long private driveway, you arrive Downton Abbey-style at the statuesque front door of the original two-floor mansion. A couple of bellmen have been alerted by security back at the outer gate. These two, like all of the 170-strong team who are customer-facing, are clad in absolutely adorable, vaguely 1910s-style uniform; all the fashion is by Maureen Doherty, whose clients range from Mrs May to actors Maggie Smith and Tilda Swinton.Entering through the front door, you gasp at high ceilings with chandeliers, polished oak floors and furniture chosen with discreet style by designer Ben Thompson (a name to watch). Immediately, you have a view straight through the house and across sculpted gardens to a massive lake with a jet d’eau as high as Geneva’s.Surrounding you are displays of fresh flowers, proper home arrangements, rather than hotel ‘show-off displays’. A half-finished jigsaw will, eventually, show Heckfield Place in the snow; in summer, another jigsaw shows the same picture in the sun. Public rooms, like bedrooms, are hung with over 350 pieces from Gerald Chan’s art collection, which he seems to change daily when he is in residence.And he is very much hands-on. Fortunately, he has an extremely good rapport with the two most important women of Heckfield Place. GM is Olivia Richli, whom so many know for her years at Aman properties (Adrian Zecha remains her mentor). She arrived 15 months before the opening, in time to instil her special flair. The Chan-Richli team hosted an afternoon tea party with champagne and jazz for locals on opening day. To spread the word about the bedrooms, they invited five influencers from different target markets to each host one-night house parties for 12 guests, all of whom later posted and chattered. Not surprisingly, the hotel immediately got off to a much-acclaimed start.Olivia Richli says one of the success secrets here is that accommodations vary from 330 to 1,900 square metres. The biggest suites, in the main house, are ideal for those who want to feel they really do own a manor house, waking in the morning to look at those fountains through big windows. But quite apart from the fact that my own house is early 19th-century, with stunning rural views, I was really pleased that I was overnighting in #30, a 55-square-metre space in the old stable block.It features soft avocado walls, some hung with rush hats and baskets which match a cashmere throw on the bed with rush headboard. The bathroom features a heated towel rail and Victorian roll-top tub, with cuddly Ploh robes. Add to that half a dozen living green plants and dozens of fascinating reads, including Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own, chosen by Daunt Books. The refreshment centre is unique: complimentary soft drinks include hotel-bottled still and sparkling waters and lemonade. Instead of the now-ubiquitous espresso machine, there is an exquisite black cast-iron tea kettle.The second woman of note here is Sydney-born Skye Gyngell (daughter of Bruce), trained in the kitchen by such masters as Anton Mosimann and Anne Willan. She made the world food map at Petersham Nurseries in England, but when it gained a Michelin star – which she described as a curse – she moved on to Spring restaurant in London’s Somerset House and then here, to Heckfield Place.As those who have already tried it know, her food is addictive. At dinner, I loved her burrata with crispy artichoke and confit lemon, followed by local River Test trout with samphire and cauliflower purée, which is served with a side of greens with Capezzana (Moraiolo) olive oil. I finished with a single scoop of home-made cardamom ice-cream. I also liked the house red, Gayda En Passant 2016 (I had earlier toured the 360-bin wine cellar, chosen and managed by chief sommelier Louise Gordon, formerly at Limewood). The restaurant, which flows out to a garden-view terrace when the weather allows, is open to the public and is full most nights. Hotel guests can also eat, at any time, in more exclusivity in a brick-lined bistro.There is so much to do at Heckfield Place that it is easy to understand why one party has already stayed four times in the six months since opening. I could have walked for hours and hours in the grounds, visiting the hotel’s own working farm, which is already home to sheep and chicken, with Guernsey cows arriving shortly. A thoughtful map helps with tree identification as you walk or run. There is already a bijou gym with latest Technogym bits, but a full fitness centre (with indoor lap pool) is yet to open alongside the Bothy Spa, scheduled for the end of 2019.And do take note of Heckfield Place’s unique Assembly program, overseen by exhibition specialist Lucy Hyslop. This offers guests – and anyone else who wants to come – at least one event a day, including talks on memories and scent and, using the 67-seat cinema (which has holders for your wine glass), showings of new-release films, which have included The Front Runner and Mary Queen of Scots. Separately, the educational company Hole & Corner runs day-long courses at least twice a month; coming up in April are rush weaving and bench woodwork. The instructors, not surprisingly, are the very artisans who have crafted pieces throughout Heckfield Place.Go back to the enewsletterlast_img read more