'Four-poster bed, copper bath and gorgeous furnishings': a night at Down Hall Hotel

C&IT's associate editor reviews a country house hotel dating back to 1322 with Italianate architecture and luxury interiors.

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Opening up the doors and walking into Down Hall is an experience in itself. There’s a bustling reception desk that has a traditional feel about it.

Not dated, but notably welcoming and friendly, with high service levels and an out-of-town sensibility that is just not found in big cities.

Throughout the stay, staff were of course very busy, but had that little bit of extra time for some chit chat or a suggestion on what to do and where to go - something that has somehow been lost in our urban centres.

My luggage is quickly whisked away, before I was escorted by the hotel’s concierge who, he explained, was once a policeman, who long since took early retirement.

Savvy, as friendly as the day is long, he assured me that the room was ready, before discussing some of the fascinating history of the property.

He told me that the hotel is one of England’s most established country house hotels.

In fact, it dates back to 1322 and is an impressive Italianate mansion with luxury interiors and ornate ceilings. It’s set in Hatfield Heath, near Bishop’s Stortford on the Hertfordshire and Essex border, is 45 minutes from central London and a 20-minute drive from Stansted Airport.

The luxury double room I stayed in had a four-poster bed, copper bath and gorgeous furnishings, with views overlooking a fountain feature in the extensive grounds, which spill over and roll off into the surrounding countryside.

The two big headline spaces on entry were the massive lounge with fabulous chandeliers, frescoes, marble pillars – all softened with sofas, comfortable furnishing and roaring fires. There is also a much smaller, but equally fun and decadent space in the cocktail bar.

Food and beverage

It’s a good idea to take time to explore the 110 acres of surrounding woodland, parkland and landscaped gardens, and follow this up with an English afternoon tea in the historic lounge or Ibbetson’s tearoom.

For dinner, the Grill Room restaurant serves modern seasonal English cooking prepared with fresh ingredients from the hotel’s own vegetable garden.

I had sourdough loaf, with kalamata, nocellara olives and crème fraiche butter as appetisers. For starters, it was Brixham monkfish and heritage beetroot. And for the main course, a delicious Atlantic sea bream, with tenderstem broccoli, chive, hazelnut mussels, watercress and crème fraiche potato.

To finish, a baked plum with peanut, dulce de leche and honeycomb. 

Accommodation

There are 98 bedrooms individually designed to reflect the grandeur, elegance and character of this historic property.

These include spacious classic and executive bedrooms, or feature rooms with pencil beds and views towards the landscaped gardens. There is also an adjoining Eden Spa, though this is not complimentary, so treatments and spa use must be pre-booked before arrival.

Meeting spaces 

Staff were quick to explain how this luxury Essex country house hotel opened its West Wing following an extensive £1.2 million refurbishment in spring 2019.

The event space is connected to the main house but offers a stand-alone, self-sufficient space that has been redeveloped to cater specifically for conferences and corporate events.

The West Wing has a private lounge and bar, 54 bedrooms and a dedicated entrance with 4,150 square metres of function space.

The multi-purpose, modular rooms can accommodate corporate events for up to 220 guests through to intimate meetings, workshops and parties.

The Main House function space can be used for formal private dinners and corporate events that are looking for a space with a sense of history and grandeur.

The property is surrounded by 110 acres of Hertfordshire parkland, woodland and adaptable team building space.

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