As English as the afternoon tea the hotel serves, Tortworth Court in South Gloucestershire, with white beehives dotted along the lengthy drive, Union Jack fluttering above, epitomises the quintessential country retreat.
A half-timbered Morris Minor van in British Racing Green, circa late 1950s, with subtle De Vere branding, is parked outside: the first of many throwbacks to yesteryear. Even uber-recruiting-patriot Lord Kitchener, with his prototype Movember moustache, is back in favour with a room named after him.
The recent makeover of De Vere is where memories of Downtown Abbey mix with a dash of Jeeves and Wooster. It is as if a wonderfully vague aristocrat, remembering a fleeting childhood visit to Balmoral, instructed a team of architects and interior designers: “Plenty of greys, hints of tweed and tartan amongst the soft-furnishings.
Lots of leather, tan sofas for the suites, like those one gets in the more exclusive Gentleman’s clubs. And clusters of pictures too – 19th century poultry and livestock and hunting. Wistful autumn vistas of the grounds, maybe some black-and-white close-up photos of the house’s architecture. Don’t forget a few portraits of my ancestors, some of the less gloomy ones.”
With money too vulgar a topic to mention, De Vere modestly brush off the very extensive refurbishing blitz as a “multi-million” project.
“And, listen – the rooms and suites are set somewhere around 1927 but the wifi has to be spot-on. And if you really must have a telephone in the room make it look like one of those 1950s black Bakelite ones. I know some people think it’s common but I want a huge 55 inch screen in the suites to watch the rugger. And the bathroom must be a Tardis that takes you straight to 2017 – no unreliable Victorian plumbing whatsoever – spacious, loads of chrome, spotlights and lashings of hot water.”
Tortworth Court lies somewhat south of Shakespeare’s Stratford, too far west and south to truly belong to the Cotswolds, a little north of Brunel’s Bristol, just 10 minutes from the M5 and a world away from the hectic pressures of 21st century life. A superior range of gins, served in the wood-panelled library-cum-bar, also help put further hazy distance between relaxation at Tortworth and brutish contemporary life. For many guests Tortworth is the ultimate country retreat, there’s even a beautifully restored Orangery from 1874 which can be commandeered for weddings, family celebrations and suchlike.
Tortworth has always looked back to better days, some vague halcyon era in the past. When Robert, the Second Earl of Ducie, got together with his architect Samuel Sanders Seldon in 1848 a quarter of the world map was coloured pink. Queen Victoria presided over an empire upon which the sun never set. Yet, still the Earl and Seldon harked back to the heroic Elizabethan era of Drake, Hawkins, Raleigh and Shakespeare. The result is neo-Tudor meets Gothic with polychrome brickwork. “Infamous” is the word chosen by the Tortworth brochure to describe Seldon; but “barking” might be equally apt.
The Great British Arboretum Tree-Off, would have been the ultimate in slow-television, if TV had been around in the late 19th century to record the third Earl’s tree-planting competition with his neighbour. The Court’s immediate grounds, of some 30 acres, are an introduction to the variety of the arboretum which, sadly, is no longer open to the public.
The 1853 Restaurant, celebrating the completion of Tortworth, rather than the beginning of the grim Crimean War, is as English as the traditional comfort food favourites at the heart of the menu: sirloin steak, belly of pork and rump of lamb. But why build an empire if you can’t import a taste of “abroad”, a stylish Asian crispy duck or prawn linguini with chilli sauce? Incidentally the Second Earl, Whig politician and enthusiastic cattle breeder, would have enjoyed the challenge of Brexit as he was a great advocate of Free Trade. It is also back to traditional basics for breakfast with options of kippers as well as smoked haddock with a poached egg.
Tortworth exhibits quirky British humour too. With an echo of Harry Potter, the speed limit is 8 3/4 . Then, as you regretfully leave the grounds, the farewell sign, has a last echo of Bertie Wooster, “Toodle pip!”
Tell me more about De Vere Tortworth Court
Tortworth, Wotton Under Edge
With an indoor pool, spa and health club, De Vere Tortworth Court offers double rooms including breakfast usually from around £110 per night, Junior Suites from £160 while Suites usually begin around £300.
But if you search online for January you can pick up a deal from a little as £59 for a standard Double.
The 1853 Restaurant offers a three-course meal for £26.95.