WHAT’S IT LIKE? Hanbury Manor is a sprawling red-brick mansion built in the late 19th century in Jacobean style and set in 200 acres of countryside. Opened as a five-star hotel in 1990, the property has an illustrious history – it was once a convent school and the estate itself was first mentioned in the Domesday book.
Two wings were added on to the main building when it was turned into a hotel – Orchard Wing, which houses many of the bedrooms, and Garden Court, a self-contained “hotel within a hotel” in walled grounds – both of which were designed to blend in with the style of the original house. It became a Marriott property in 1996.
WHERE IS IT? In Ware, about 40km north of London, 26km from Stansted airport and 77km from Heathrow. Ware train station, 5km away, is 40 minutes from Liverpool Street station. There is plenty of free on-site parking.
Situated off the busy A10 road, any traffic is immediately forgotten when you turn into the estate – it really does feel like you are in the middle of the countryside, and you can’t hear a thing. A long, winding driveway provides a sneak peek of the golf course before you reach the glass doors of the hotel entrance. Step through into the grand, oak-panelled reception area and take a moment to look at the old portraits on the walls and the chandeliers hanging from the ceiling. Free hot chocolate or homemade lemonade is laid on depending on the season.
ROOM FACILITIES There are 161 rooms and suites, all of which have views of either the golf course or gardens. The rooms are located on every level in all three sections of the hotel, and the suites are in the main building from the second floor up. Note that as this was once a family home, all rooms are different in shape.
I stayed in the Sampson suite, a split-level room on the fourth floor with old-style décor – floral curtains with tie-backs, pale blue carpet and yellow wallpaper with a small floral print. You enter into the living room, which has a two-seat sofa upholstered in pink and beige stripes, and a dark-wood coffee table, upon which were a range of magazines including Time, Fortune, Tatler and House and Garden. Chinese vases sit atop a marble fireplace, and china plates and prints of landed gentry adorn the walls. A cupboard houses a smallish television – not flatscreen; the hotel is rolling these out across all rooms in the next few months.
To the right is an L-shaped bathroom, which has white marble tiling and pale yellow wallpaper with a butterfly pattern. It’s bright and very clean, if slightly lived in – the toilet shows its age a little. The bath and shower is combined, and the shower could have done with a little more power. Some rooms in the hotel have a separate bath and shower. There are double sinks, a heated towel rail and a good selection of Molton Brown amenities (lower category rooms have Aromatherapy toiletries).
To the left, up a short flight of stairs, is the spacious bedroom, which has great views of the grounds – the suite is located right above the front entrance so you can see the huge 260-year-old tree that sits in front of the property and the cars as they snake their way in the driveway (noise is minimal). A comfortable superking bed is decked out with Egyptian cotton sheets, down-filled duvet, mattress topper and pillows and a blue-green throw and cushions. Nestled in the pillows was a little bear in a Hanbury Manor robe. A dark-wood desk/dresser has an ornate lamp and mirror on top, a Top 100 Golf Courses of the British Isles book in one drawer and a basic, non-removable hairdryer in another. There is also a full-length mirror, a floor lamp, two blue-patterned armchairs and a small coffee table. A beautiful old fireplace filled with acorns is surrounded by blue and white tiles depicting biblical scenes.
A dark-wood cupboard houses the main TV, which has a small selection of satellite channels and paid-for movies; tea and coffee-making facilities; and the minibar, which offers a selection of spirits (from £6.50), Stella and Peroni beer (£4), still and sparkling water (from £2.95), mixers and soft drinks (from £2), and snacks including Pringles, nuts and chocolate (from £2). There is also extra fridge space in the minibar if you wanted to store anything.
As you may expect from a property of this type, the suite is not air conditioned and the radiators were switched to “on”. There was a control allowing you to turn them off but this still wasn’t enough as the room, like the rest of the hotel, could become sweltering, so I had to open the windows. There are a few power sockets and a trouser press. A closet to the left of the bed has plenty of hanging space, robes, slippers, safe, and an iron and ironing board. Wifi access is available in all rooms, priced at £15 for 24 hours.
RESTAURANTS AND BARS Zodiac on the ground floor is the fine-dining option, open for lunch and dinner; it’s an exquisite room with grand old portraits on the walls, warm lighting and a high curved white ceiling with the signs of the zodiac picked out in gold stucco. The menu changes often and features plenty of fish. To start I had the capaccio of yellow fin tuna with capers, which was fragrant and tasty. For my main I had pan fried wild sea bass with fondant potato and artichokes – it was delicious. Service was attentive and discreet. Two courses cost £39 and three courses £49.
Oakes Grill is a relaxed all-day restaurant on the second floor, decorated in more modern style with red and beige furnishings and large windows that open out to a large balcony area for eating in warmer weather – the views here, of the 18th green, are fantastic. Breakfast is served here and consists of a cooked buffet, eggs cooked to order, cereals, fruit, pastries, cold meats and a selection of juices. During the day it serves burgers, steaks, pasta and light bites.
On the ground floor, adjoining the reception area, is Oak Hall, an inviting oak-panelled room with a huge fireplace, large tapestries, cosy sofas and a cocktail bar attached. Afternoon tea is served here, and on a mezzanine level above there is a piano that plays itself – a favourite with young guests. There is also Vardon’s, the “in-house pub”, which serves draught beer and light snacks and shows sports on a big screen.
BUSINESS AND MEETING FACILITIES On the ground floor are 14 meeting rooms totalling 1,300 sqm of space, which surround a pretty central courtyard. These range from the oak-panelled Drawing Room, which has a big open fire and can take up to 32 people theatre-style, to Poles Hall, a stunning converted chapel with a high vaulted ceiling, paintings of kings and queens and a minstrel’s gallery, which seats up to 120 people for a dinner.
The Library can also be used for meetings and has early editions of Dickens, Thackeray and Kipling among its floor-to-ceiling shelves. The light and airy Conservatory has a private bar, views of the golf course and lake and is good for private dining.
The two-level Garden Court works perfectly as a standalone events facility and is available for exclusive use, with 27 bedrooms, a lounge holding 80 people, a conference room taking 60, a summer house, and gardens for outdoor dining or team activities.
Also on the ground floor is the business centre, which contains three computers, a photocopier and fax machine. Internet access costs from £3 for 15 minutes.
LEISURE FACILITIES The 18-hole championship golf course, which hosted the English Open from 1997-1999, is set amidst rolling hills and small lakes and was designed by Jack Nicklaus II. The view from the first tee is superb. Champion golfers are available for tuition and there is a fully stocked golf shop. It’s open only to residents and members of the golf club so the green never gets too busy. There are also two driving ranges.
The Spa at Hanbury Manor is a bright and impressive facility spread across the ground and lower ground levels. It includes an 18-metre Romanesque-style pool with columns and a spa bath, open from 6am-11pm; a seating area with cosy armchairs; indoor sun loungers by the large windows, which can be moved outside in the summer for views of the gardens; a poolside sauna and men’s and women’s steam rooms in the changing rooms; seven treatment rooms; a tanning room; a hair salon; a shop selling sportswear; manicure stations; and a gym with about 25 Life Fitness cardiovascular machines. Downstairs there is a large weights room and two aerobics rooms that host five to six classes a day, including yoga and Pilates.
Other facilities include three tennis courts, a basketball court, a snooker room, a croquet lawn, badminton nets, mountain bikes for hire and a running track that goes around the property.
VERDICT A beautiful, peaceful setting, impeccable and welcoming service and
the excellent leisure facilities make this hotel ideal for a relaxing
HOW MANY ROOMS? 161, about 90 of which are rooms and the remainder suites.
ROOM HIGHLIGHTS The huge, comfortable bed, the wonderful views and the large space.
PRICE Internet rates for a Saturday-night stay in May start from £115 for a King room. Dining packages are also available.
CONTACT Marriott Hanbury Manor Hotel and Country Club, Ware; +44 (0)1920 487722; marriott.co.uk