Tucked away near the Wessex Downs, The Retreat at Elcot Park has a sense of poetry about it. It’s no surprise, really, seeing that one of its prior owners was the mother of wordsmith Percy Bysshe Shelley, who bought the house in 1844, after his tragic drowning at the tender age of 25. As well as a grand oil portrait of the poet, found above the lobby’s impressive limestone fireplace, there are also other nods to the romantic pen-man found in the new hotel, such as excerpts of his poetry inscribed upon some of the walls. But, look a little deeper, and there’s also plenty of lyricism in this building’s reimagination.
This is the second opening from The Signet Collection – a brand which already has form when it comes to getting the rhythm of a hotel just right. Its first property, The Mitre in Hampton Court, won awards within months of opening due to its quirky-modern interiors blended with a savvy take on the past.
This winning combination is repeated at The Retreat. Carved out of a property which dates back to 1772, interior designers Taylor and Turner have revamped the once tired rooms (in recent years it existed as a mid-market Mercure hotel) with their zippy take on quintessential countryside style. Across the 55 bedrooms, the tone is fun-fuelled, grandma-chic – petrol blue, pistachio green and rose-pink painted walls are juxtaposed with bobbin mirrors, Rosi de Ruig paper lamps, scalloped-edge side tables and brightly-printed headboards. Stripes are used with chintz; ikat prints are mix-matched with blooming florals and statement wallpapers are used with wild abandon. Throughout every space, there is a joyful feel.
For something extra special, book one of the three signature suites. The Bushby Bacon suite – named after the gentleman who first built the house – has the most dreamy bathroom, with walls and a bathtub hand-painted with wisteria by British artist Fiona McAlpine (she caught sight of the real wisteria outside the curved windows and wanted to bring the outside in). It also has a cute second room, with coral-pink bunk-beds, ideal for guests with little ones.
With its hand-blocked pineapple wallpaper, a pomegranate-printed Sanderson bed canopy and jaunty striped headboard, the Sutton Suite feels modern yet in keeping with the age of the building. It also has a spectacular roll-top copper bathtub in front of large bay windows – ideal for those ultimate bathing moments (yes, this can be a thing here).
The Percy Shelley Suite, meanwhile, is perhaps the grandest and feels super-spacious with a separate lounge area. The sage-green palette is lifted with vintage Morris & Co wallpaper and charming, antique furniture. But perhaps its best feature are the glorious views over the Wessex Downs.
With its creaking floorboards, large sash windows and pantries for guests to dip into, checking in to The Retreat at Elcot Park feels like you’ve arrived for a house party – just like you are visiting your landed-gentry friends for the weekend (if you should be so well-acquainted). Downstairs, this vibe is cemented throughout the public rooms, which ooze plenty of personality. The Atlas Room, just off the lobby, for instance, is an old fashioned lounge space with tasselled stools, cosy armchairs, and backgammon boards. It is dedicated to Percy Shelley’s love of travel with world maps and botanical prints (when you order afternoon tea here, even the plates have palm trees on). Next to this is an elegant private dining room – painted in an Eau de Nil colour – with walls covered in vintage oyster plates (from Signet’s founder Hector Ross’s own collection). You can imagine celebrating a special occasion within these walls.
Through the Atlas Room, you come to the all-day brasserie and bar, 1772. Just like at The Mitre, culinary directory Ronnie Kimbugwe brings his magic touch. The menu is packed with all those dishes you never knew you wanted, but which you immediately crave upon seeing them on a menu: Rock Oysters or Crispy Devon Squid to nibble on while you nurse a glass of fizz. Then there’s a ‘just what I fancy’ Burrata and Tomato Caprese Salad. This is also just light enough to start with, because – no doubt – for your main course you’ll probably be torn between the comforting Chicken Milanese and Truffle Creme Fraiche – with a side of Truffle Fries, of course – or the indulgent, oozy Lobster and Crayfish Tortellini. Desserts are fun: Bombolini donuts and Dark Chocolate Crunchie – taking you straight back to the playground.
Dining at Elcot Park will certainly be one of the big attractions for guests. The second restaurant, Yü offers more of a fine-dining experience with a seven-course tasting menu (there is also a vegan option) celebrating Pan-Asian cuisine. Oriental salads; gyoza; sushi and sashimi; miso chicken and teriyaki ribeye, plus mochi ice cream to finish, are all delectable bites to eat. They are elevated further by being served on emerald-green, bone china plates designed especially for the hotel by William Edwards in Staffordshire. You dine in an intimate blood-red room, decorated with antique woven fans, on rattan chairs. The space has an old-world feel about it – beautifully in contrast with the verdant, rural scenes outside.
The hotel will also soon open a third dining spot – The Orangery – for light bites and afternoon tea, as well as having several private dining spaces. One of these has a walled, whisky library and another has its walls covered in a bespoke de Gournay hand-painted wallpaper – adorned with bamboo, birds and butterflies – and an amazing, original gilt mirror (it was discovered behind plasterboard during the renovation).
When not dining, you’ll definitely be relaxing. Find the Art-Deco-style stainless-steel, spiral staircase (built in the 90s and described by Vinnie, the GM, as “marmite”) and descend to the basement. Here, the cream-on-cream Signet Spa brings the ‘treat factor’ to The Retreat, with three therapy rooms offering bespoke Ila treatments, a mud rasoul room, salt floatation room and hydrotherapy pool. Outside, the heated infinity pool will be open for the summer, and will also feature a Whispering Angel pool bar to offer a touch of St Tropez to Berkshire.
From the croquet lawn to the tennis courts, there’s enough to keep guests busy over fun-packed days. The Courtyard area also adds to the ‘ultimate weekend away’ ambiance, with a wine shop, bakery and hair salon due to open soon. In time, the plan is for the space to also host farmers’ markets and community events. It’s the sort of thing that every country house hotel should have.
Outside the entrance of the Grade II-listed hotel, stands a giant Monkey Puzzle tree – said to be the oldest in England. During the renovation, a new driveway was purposely built to showcase its splendour, so that it is the first thing guests see on arrival. Turns out, The Retreat is also one of the best launching spots for hot air ballooning in the UK. So, whether you are on the ground or up in the clouds, you’ll are truly able to take in The Retreat’s authentic sense of hospitality.
Rates start from £150 per night (for a classic room) and up to £620 per night for The Percy Shelley Suite. retreatelcotpark.com