Short stay: De Vere Latimer Estate, Chesham, Buckinghamshire, UK
Completing the rebuilding of centuries-old Latimer House in 1838, architect Edwin Blore was congratulated on recreating the spirit of “Merrie Olde England” by one contemporary reviewer. Nearly two centuries on, De Vere has taken on the baton of nostalgia. White beehives dotted along the drive lead to a reassuringly solid red-brick-cream-sandstone mansion.
Numerous towering chimneys promise cozy warmth. A half-timbered Morris Minor estate looks back to a simpler age. When German prisoners of war arrived in the early 1940s they thought they had joined the British aristocracy. They sent “wish you were here” letters home, oblivious that their rooms were bugged.
Translators passed on their conversations revealing the location of the V1 and V2 factories. If those factories had not been bombed, D – Day would have been far more precarious.
We are given a map of the extensive 30 acres of the estate and directed to our junior suite in the mansion. An e-mail links us to the staff’s personal recommendations of where to go and what to see in the Chilterns.
Our lofty junior suite has dual aspect views across the Buckinghamshire countryside. In this idyllic green Chilterns scene, it is hard to believe that Amersham station, at the end of the Metropolitan line, is only a five-minute taxi ride away.
After the £7m recent refurbishment, the room has a soothing palate of beige, light greys and oatmeal. A leather-look sofa and headboard, plus two deeply welcoming chairs, bring notes of a gentleman’s club. Light grey shelves house an eclectic selection of ornaments and books: a guide to Korean art, DIY underground skate parks and vintage style. Hanging lobster-basket style lights combine with reading lights over wingback chairs to illuminate an exceptionally spacious room. Black-and-white prints of the house and grounds provide a sense of history and place.
There is an aristocratic feel to a white-tiled bathroom with its silver wall lights and lordly dimensions.
Yet, with its heated towel, rainfall shower and H2K organic toiletries the bathroom is utterly contemporary.
Close to the mansion house, a modern build houses a small but well-equipped gym, sauna and temptingly warm swimming pool. In the true style of the rambling country house, there are numerous lavishly furnished rooms for guests to chat, sit and read. This is the quintessential setting for the great British ritual of afternoon tea.
On a fine evening, drinks on the balcony, overlooking the Chess Valley, is an irresistible option. Celebrating the new house that rose from the ashes, the 1838 Restaurant and Bar, with its open kitchen leads into a light conservatory style area.
Beyond, tables await in a sheltered courtyard, for al fresco dining. The menu, with interesting vegan choices, provides options that are largely seasonal and locally sourced. The De Vere “posh” prawn cocktail is distinctly luxurious with the addition of caviar and Cognac Marie Rose. Similarly decadent, wild mushrooms combine smoothly with truffles in the arancini. For traditionalists, there are Casterbridge 28-day dry aged Sirloin steaks.
Caviar makes another decadent appearance on the sustainably sourced sea bream fillets that rest on a crushed pea and potato cake. That is accompanied by perfectly crisp spears of asparagus. Amongst the dessert options there are tiramisu slices, Key lime pie and chocolate caramel tart though a regional artisan cheeseboard is very tempting.
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Step from the hotel’s grounds straight onto the Chess Valley Walk. Stretching 10 miles from Rickmansworth to Chesham, close to the chalk stream River Chess, sometimes there are sightings of kingfisher, water vole brown trout, dragonfly and orchid.
A short drive through the Chilterns takes guests to The Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre at Great Missenden. While there is more supreme story-telling at the Warner Brothers’ Harry Potter Studio Tour. Wizardry wonder goes to Watford.
Other nice touches
De Vere has partnered with Bloomsbury to launch a book club. Guests can borrow a book from a selection of recent launches, topical reads and modern classics.
Latimer’s library, with its sumptuous sofas, is the perfect sanctuary for an hour or two of reading a compulsive page-turner.
A night in a deluxe room, with breakfast, begins from £165.
The best bit
You are walking in history’s footsteps. A disgruntled King Charles 1 was held at Latimer after his capture during the English Civil War. Sir Winston Churchill, having granted an unlimited budget, was a frequent visitor during the war years, eager to learn of the latest secrets the prisoners had inadvertently revealed to a team of 90 translators that included many German Jewish refugees.
After the war it was rumoured that Latimer was used by MI6 and it is thought that the estate provided a back-drop in John Le Carre’s writing. Though, the story is not over. When the building was sold on in the 1980s, one contract clause forbade the tunnels beneath the house to be opened for 50 years.
The final verdict
Although there has been a house on this site, one of the prettiest spots in the Chilterns, since the 12th century, this has to be the Latimer Estate’s finest hour. De Vere’s sensitive refurbishment has made the most of the grand staircase, the dark wood-panelling, stained-glass windows and the sheer aristocratic grandeur of the place.
Add in slick service and you have the perfect country retreat.
Disclosure: Our stay was sponsored by De Vere Latimer Estate.