Situated less than an hour’s train tussle from London, Great Fosters hotel makes a perfect city retreat – particularly for those who fancy pretending they’re in a costume drama for the night…
We’re sure those who’ve never cared about Lady Edith’s errant boyfriend (Downton Abbey), Mr Darcy’s wet undershirt (Pride and Prejudice) or Bertha Rochester’s wayward marbles (Jane Eyre) will think Great Fosters great. But those that adore a corset-tightening costume drama will love it. From the approach, which meanders through imposing gates, up a hefty driveway to our bedroom complete with four poster bed, this Grade I listed, luxury hotel is the stuff of Sunday-night-telly-dreams.
Set amoung 50 acres of stunning gardens and parkland in Egham, Surrey, Great Fosters is thought to have been built in 1550 as a royal hunting lodge and is the former stately home of the Sutcliff family who sympathetically converted it in the 1930s. History lesson aside, it means the impossibly beautiful building still retains an impressive number of historical features including its charmingly crooked oak staircases and antique tapestries.
We arrive on a balmy evening and are instantly shown to our ‘Historic’ room by one of Great Foster’s many cheery staff members. As he opens the door with a black iron key, we leap back at least two centuries. The walls are wood-paneled, the soft furnishings heavy and velvet, and the windows lined with lead. Whilst it’s a little dark and could probably do with a tiny refresh (the carpet is less charming and more just old), we’re instantly sorry it’s not snowing outside so we can light the fire, climb onto the huge bed, and pull the dark scarlet curtains that surround it. The bathroom, with its hand-painted double sinks and ornate swirls of carved wood, is fit for a lady.
Housed in a more recent addition to the building The Estate Grill is a contemporary restaurant with high, beamed-ceilings and a menu of modern British classics overseen by Head Chef Simon Bolsover. His skill is instantly evident in still-warm hunks of vibrant bread infused with tomato and tart slices of crusty sourdough. We share fuchsia-centered cutlets of lamb roasted with a comforting pile of root veg, perfect cubes of crisp triple-cooked potato and a buttery bowl of emerald spinach.
Desserts – a picturesque formation of lemon and green-tea scented sponge, glassy shards of sugar, and shiny dots of tart parfait; and a convivial bowl of caramalised banana and toffee-dusted popcorn beneath a glossy, crème-filled macaroon – show further skill and clear ambition beyond the current two rosettes Bolsover holds.
For those who want something more in-keeping with the surrounds, Great Fosters also the oak-lined Tudor Room – a fine-dining restaurant offering a series of tasting menus. And accommodation-wise, those who don’t want four-poster opulence can opt for one of the more recently renovated rooms. There’s an extensive array including junior suites, which run across the main building to the coach house just across the courtyard.
While our hearts very much belong to Great Fosters for its nostalgic past (one of the favourite parts of our stay was gliding across the grounds pretending we had titles) but plenty will appeal to those more presently minded. It’s just the former will probably have more fun pretending…
For more information on Great Fosters hotel visit greatfosters.co.uk