WHAT'S IT LIKE? This Grade I-listed building had a 1,000-year history before reopening as a hotel in 1987, with its original features restored in a mixture of Georgian and Jacobian styles. Chandeliers, imposing portraits and antique furnishings make it self-consciously grand but hugely impressive. Much of the hotel's business comes from local companies looking for a serene meeting venue for a brain-storming session, or Londoners looking for an escape from the city.
WHERE IS IT? Two miles outside Aylesbury in Buckinghamshire, close to junction 7/8 of the M40. An hour by train from central London and by road from Heathrow.
HOW MANY ROOMS? 30 rooms and suites in the main house and 10 suites and six rooms in the comfortable but less atmospheric Hartwell Court. Standard rooms are on the second floor and have fine views of the grounds.
ROOM FACILITIES Rooms have a homely, old-fashioned feel with patterned wallpaper, framed botanical art and padded window seats, with thoughtful touches like cotton puffs on the dressing table and a tin of tasty shortbread (there's no minibar). Mineral water is provided, useful in the summer because there is no air-conditioning. Rooms are equipped either with a standard Panasonic TV or a wide screen, and DVD players. Guests have free access to a library of 14 recent releases. Internet access is possible through the dataport on the telephone but wifi is only available in meeting areas.
MEETING ROOMS Hartwell Court has four meeting rooms with air-conditioning, natural light, audiovisual equipment and the services of a conference secretary. Rooms range in size from the Henry Keene room which holds 12 boardroom-style, to the James Gibbs room, which holds 36 boardroom-style or 90 theatre-style. Two private dining rooms are available: the Octagon seats up to 26 and has the most character, with its blue-striped decor imitating the inside of a pavilion; and the Doric seats 36. Smaller meetings and gatherings can be held at a restored Georgian house, the Old Rectory, near the main house. It has a main suite plus three bedrooms with its own swimming pool and meeting room.
BUSINESS CENTRE? No, but email and faxing can be done at reception.
RESTAURANT AND BARS The Soane dining room is on the ground floor with banqueting lunch and dinner menus available: lunch costs £22 per person for two courses; dinner is £46 per person for the three-course set menu. Food is excellent; my slow-braised shank of Oxfordshire lamb with rosemary creamed potatoes, caramelised onions and forest mushrooms was mouth-watering. There is a bar but many groups have pre-dinner drinks in the Library, with its semi-formal atmosphere.
ACTIVITIES Conference delegates can use the spa, which has four treatment rooms and the indoor swimming pool, whirlpool, steam room and gym. The grounds also hold two tennis courts, a lake for trout-fishing and a croquet lawn and the hotel can arrange horse-riding, clay pigeon shooting, archery and falconry in nearby fields – it can even arrange more unusual activities such as "duck-herding". Recently visited companies include Sony, Freshfields and Abbey National.
VERDICT An inspired setting and packed with history, Hartwell House is a good retreat for small meetings that need privacy or to inspire some creative thinking.
PRICE Published delegate rates are £85 for a day and £255 for 24 hours (plus VAT). The Old Rectory costs £2,250 per day for a maximum of seven guests.
CONTACT Hartwell House, Oxford Road, Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire tel 01296 747444, hartwell-house.com (or visit historichousehotels.com).