On The Road
The Palatial Hotels To Lord It Up In Now
Swap the city for the countryside, temporarily, in these luxurious digs
View of The Relais Borgo Santo Pietro, Tuscany. Photograph by Ms Andrea Jones, courtesy of Relais & Châteaux
One of the conversation points around the only-just-finished final season of Game Of Thrones was the fact that Ms Lena Headey spent most of it standing by the window of a giant palace, a goblet of wine in her hand, and, reportedly, getting paid $1m per episode to do just precisely that and nothing more. The obvious reaction to this situation, of course, is: “Why isn’t my life like that?”
But you needn’t be so defeatist: it can be, it can be! We’re not talking here about the huge bundles of cash, unfortunately – those are reserved, in this world, for the people who truly, truly deserve them: TV actors. No, we’re talking about the quietly empowering experience of inhabiting a sprawling castle, manor, chateau or similar building of Westerosi scale. Also: wine!
On a serious note, though we at MR PORTER do appreciate, and expect, a certain amount of classy understatement in most of our day-to-day activities, there are times in a man’s life when it is utterly appropriate to aspire towards a more imperial level of scale and excess. Such as, for example, anniversaries or birthdays. Or Saturdays. When such an urge next takes you, the following properties – all former stately homes, now contemporary luxury hotels – are the ones we would thoroughly recommend. So, pack your best goblet, and book them now.
Adare Manor, Limerick, Ireland
The Great Hall Reception at Adare Manor, County Limerick. Photograph by Mr Paul Lehane, courtesy of Adare Manor
There is a gift shop at Adare Manor, in County Limerick, Ireland, in which you can buy various attractive items – candles, dressing gowns, umbrellas – emblazoned with the hotel’s slogan. It’s a good slogan, “beyond everything”, and it pretty much sums up the experience at this spectacular manor hotel. The project of Mr Windham Henry Quin, the second Earl of Dunraven, to take his mind off the gout – someone had borrowed his copy of Pride And Prejudice, presumably – the building’s construction originally began in 1832. Fully renovated between 2016-2017, it is once more chock-full of gothic arches, carved oak panels, Flemish tapestries, patterned upholstery and gilt decorations.
The gardens it is set in, all 840 acres of them, are rather “beyond”, too, particularly when it comes to the golf course. This latter feature, designed by Mr Tom Fazio as part of the overhaul, was garlanded with various awards at the end of 2018 (it’s both sensitively designed and perennially pristine thanks to the Sub Air technology beneath its surface), and could earn Adare Manor the honour of hosting the Ryder Cup in 2026.
Of course, if you don’t like golf, the manor offers up a variety of other pursuits, from bike rides and clay-pigeon shooting to falconry, archery, horse riding and more. Oh, there’s also a cinema. And there’s a spa, too (treatments from La Mer; Celtic rune massages). Food-wise there are two options: the locavore fine-dining experience in The Oak Room, which offers a menu showcasing the best of Irish produce, and the more relaxed Carriage House, which is particularly good in the steak department.
The vibe: Gothic revival opulence.
The food: modern Irish fare, with a focus on fresh ingredients, many of which are exclusive to Adare Manor.
Best for: a golf getaway. Also, hungry people (the portions are generous).
Downton factor: beyond, obviously.
What to pack
Lucknam Park, Wiltshire, England
Photograph courtesy of Lucknam Park
Didn’t people have brilliant names in the old days? Here, for example, are some of the highlights from the long list of former residents of Lucknam Park, in the Cotswolds: Mr Ezekiel Wallis; Ms Clementina Boode; Mr Eion Merry. Now, you too can add your comparatively contemporary epithet to this list. Though Lucknam’s history as a private residence stretches back to the 11th century, it’s been a rather nice hotel since 1987.
Another interesting name to remember here is that of Mr Hywel Jones, the man who runs an eponymous restaurant at the hotel (and possesor of one Michelin star since 2006) as well as the more low-key Brasserie, both of which work with fresh ingredients sourced from the local area.
Beyond the general business of walking around and pretending you’re in a period drama, you can entertain yourself with horses (there’s a 500-acre equestrian facility), being thoroughly kneaded (in the spa), or even doing a bit of kneading yourself; there is a dedicated cookery school, offering courses in various culinary disciplines such as breadmaking, creative canapés and more.
The vibe: old-fashioned grandeur; as English as afternoon tea.
The food: Michelin-starred tasting menus.
Best for: food enthusiasts; interestingly-named people.
Downton factor: Downton, maybe?
What to pack
The Chanler at Cliff Walk, Rhode Island, US
The Renaissance Signature Room at The Chanler at Cliff Walk, Rhode Island. Photograph courtesy of The Chanler
$300,000 was a flashy sum in 1873, when Mr John Winthrop Chanler dropped the very same on the construction of his “cottage” (it’s enormous) on the shoreline of Cliff Walk, Newport.
The building has served various functions since then, but now travellers will be pleased to learn it is a four-star hotel with two restaurants (Cara for tasting menus named “Plunge”, “Crave” and “Forage”; The Café for hearty seafood) and 20 lavishly decorated rooms, each one with a different historic theme. Particularly appealing are the Ocean Villas, which, naturally, look out to sea and come with a private outdoor deck, sauna and a hot tub.
But, really, it’s all about Cliff Walk – go for a stroll, look at the lighthouses; it’s a very soothing and calming experience before you hop in the Jacuzzi.
The vibe: old-fashioned new money
The food: “Plunge”, “Crave”, “Forage” are all phrases to be found on the menu. We’d like to add “repeat”, too.
Best for: a breath of sea air. People who use the word “cottage” to describe 20-bedroom houses.
Downton factor: Well, it is in the US, but it close enough.
What to pack
Hotel Château du Grand-Lucé, Loire Valley, France
Photograph by Ms Megan Witt, courtesy of The Château du Grand-Lucé
You don’t need an excuse to go to the Loire Valley: it is a region famed for the production of everyone’s favourite Wednesday-night wine, sauvignon blanc. But, say you needed persuading. How about the experience of spending a night or two in one of the finest examples of neoclassical architecture in a country famed for its fine examples of neoclassical architecture? A sort of Versailles-away-from-Versailles, if you will. We’re talking about the newly renovated Hotel Château, the new name for the Loire Valley’s Château du Grand-Lucé, which was commissioned in 1760 by Baron Jacques Pineau de Viennay on the site of a medieval castle (the wall is still there, encircling the estate).
Expect a range of architectural and artistic features that you won’t see anywhere else, besides the big V (in particular, the painted canvas walls in the Baron’s Suite by Mr Jean-Baptiste Pillement, which are similar to the ones enjoyed by Ms Marie Antoinette in the Petit Trianon). The 17-room hotel boasts classical gardens with boxwoods and topiary, a kitchen garden that supplies the restaurant, a spa and fitness salon, a cornucopia of Buly 1803 products and a lake with a two-person rowboat, which you can take a very refined spin, should you wish.
If that’s not enough château for you, there are many more in the surrounding area, as well as the Bercé Forest, a short drive away and the Mr Steve McQueen-approved town of Le Mans, home to the race of the same name. Biking and horse riding are also good options. But, yes, so is drinking. If you wish, the hotel can arrange you a daytrip that involves hopping between private vineyards. They’ll even supply you with a picnic basket full of baguettes and cheese to soak up the alcohol, too.
Yes, it all sounds not bad at all, but one of the best things about Hotel Château is that it does not actually open until early June, which means if you book now, you could be among the first, very smug people to throw up some defiantly decadent Instagram pics of yourself strutting around its capacious interiors.
The vibe: neoclassical elegance. Ever-so-slightly grand.
The food: yes, delicious, but what about the wine?
Best for: King Louis XV impressions.
Downton factor: c’est quoi ce, “Downton”?
What to pack
Borgo Santo Pietro, Tuscany, Italy
Valle Serena Suite at The Relais Borgo Santo Pietro, Tuscany. Photograph courtesy of Relais & Châteaux
From farm-to-plate to seed-to-skin: Tuscany’s Borgo Santo Pietro continues in the grand luxury tradition of taking one thing and bringing it in proximity to another with its own range of in-house cosmetics. That’s right: the products here are scientifically formulated on-site using ingredients (such as sheep’s milk and raw honey) sourced from within the 200-acre organic farm that surrounds the hotel, which also provides the ingredients for its three restaurants, the Michelin-starred Meo Modo, contemporary La Bottega del Buon Caffè and the rustic Trattoria Sull’Albero.
Of course, this is just one tiny facet of what is a stupendously luxurious experience, with a price tag to match. Admittedly, this is quite simply a stunningly beautiful boutique farmhouse-hotel with 20 tasteful rooms, wonderful food and drink as well as a high level of privacy for those who need it (many suites are gated and come with their own gardens or patios).
All this, and history, too: the Borgo has been a place of healing and recuperation since medieval times, when pilgrims would stop over on their way to the nearby Montesiepi Hermitage, where you can still go to have a look at Saint Galgano’s sword, miraculously stuck in a stone. However, you’d be hard-pressed to persuade any of us at MR PORTER to actually leave this place, unless, maybe it’s for a hot-air balloon ride, or a spin on the Satori yacht.
The vibe: ultra-cultivated organic realness.
The food: minutes-fresh Tuscan.
Best for: a well-earned escape.
Downton factor: we’ll take your fancy family and raise you an actual saint.