For a hotel with luxury and heritage in equal measure, look no further than Luton Hoo hotel and spa, says Steven Adams
The Luton Who?’ ‘No. Hoo.’ I can’t begin to imagine how many times that question must have been asked and answered as we sweep through a driveway so long it deserves laybys. It’s an interesting name for a spa hotel and golf course. ‘Hoo’ is an Anglo-Saxon word for ‘a spur on a hill’ – and that’s an understated description of this magnificent estate on the Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire borders. And I don’t think I’m offending anyone if I say that Luton is not a town whose name is synonymous with luxury, style and heritage. And yet those are the qualities that Luton Hoo hotel and spa delivers.
The Grade One-Listed mansion and parklands are undoubtedly national treasures. A guided tour of the hotel and grounds are a must for any visitor to truly appreciate the riches in this house’s history – and the Luton Hoo is steeped in history. I know, it’s an over-used phrase. But the catalogue of historical references attached to every room, building, garden and driveway is astonishing.
The house was built by Robert Adam for the third Earl of Bute (George III’s Prime Minister). After the house was bought by diamond magnate Sir Julius Werner in 1903, Mewes and Davis (architects of the Ritz Hotel) were commissioned to add a mansard roof. Impressive, but not enough to wow you? Its 1,065 acres of magnificent parklands were laid out by no less than Capability Brown and are still passionately cared for by six (very industrious) gardeners.
Last year, 10,000 daffodils were planted, making April a fabulous month to visit, I’d suggest. OK, your curiosity is piqued, but it doesn’t stop there. Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh spent part of their honeymoon at the Luton Hoo (yes, the state dining rooms are not simply grandly named, they have genuinely hosted Her Majesty). Winston Churchill gave a famous victory speech after the end of World War II at the Luton Hoo, to more than 110,000 Britons – aptly, when you consider that the lakes of the estate were used to test tanks for fitness in German rivers before being shipped out for war service. Tank Drive is now the delivery drive.
When you recline in a high-backed sofa for a digestif, you may have a feeling of déjà vu if you’ve seen Four Weddings and a Funeral (look for the second wedding). In fact, with Eyes Wide Shut, Inspector Morse, Nicholas Nickleby and many other films having been shot here over the years, you might recognise a fair amount of Luton Hoo.
But if heritage and history is not your thing, Luton Hoo still dazzles. I stayed in a suite in the main house, which was as tastefully appointed as you’d expect, with space and views that would impress even the most demanding guest. The elite hotel group is famous for the square footage of its rooms, and with each here ranging from 38 square metres to 135 square metres, no guest will be struggling for space. Walk-in wardrobes and spacious en-suite bathrooms with roll-top baths typify the experience you will receive at Luton Hoo.
A gorgeous feature of the hotel is its estate – it makes for an exceptional view from your bedroom window. Sufficient as a setting, it doesn’t stop there. There is an 18-hole championship golf course, with a 273-yard par three – the longest in Europe for those who fancy themselves with a driver. Outdoor cinema nights are hosted by the lake; 4 x 4 driving events are staged; and fixed and mobile trap shooting can be booked. There are grass and all-weather tennis courts, bird watching opportunities and mapped walks. In fact, the estate is even the stage for a ‘blow up’ Olympics (think inflatables, rather than explosives).
This is a hotel that is understandably keen to exploit every glorious asset. If you’re not the outdoor type, you can unwind in the spa, which features a sauna room, steam, saunarium and a lovely Vitality Pool, set in a tranquil timber and glass pool house with Jacuzzi. The swimming pool does have a children’s splash hour scheduled (this is a dog and child-friendly hotel), though for most of the day, this pool should be considered as an extension of the spa’s relaxing setting, rather than a sports facility.
Luton Hoo is a rare find – a house and estate with real heritage and history, thoughtfully enhanced to suit the demands of today’s guests. It’s hard not to feel special at this spur on a hill.