Visions of me escaping to the country for a quick getaway sans the kids have been at the forefront of my mind since returning to work after the Christmas break.
So when the opportunity to stay at the four-star Flitwick Manor Hotel near Woburn in Bedfordshire cropped up, I grabbed it with both hands and wasn’t letting go.
I pictured myself sipping tea and eating cake while leisurely reading a newspaper or magazine, followed by a spot of creative writing at the writing desk in the room – and perhaps even a hot bath.
And what I experienced wasn’t too dissimilar. In fact, first impressions were impressive and I felt like I had well and truly escaped.
Flitwick Manor Hotel
Deep in the heart of the Bedfordshire countryside, in the small town of Woburn, lies the 17th century Hallmark Hotel Flitwick Manor. As you’d expect from a 17th century property, it oozes grandeur – and in more ways than one as I was about to find out after spending the night there.
From our home in Kent, it took VIP and I just under two hours to reach the four-star Georgian Manor, which offers just 19 guest rooms. Now they say first impressions count and they’re not wrong; despite our arrival being in the evening (when it was dark), we felt like aristocrats as we drove up the tree-lined driveway that led up to a very grand looking manor house.
With the gravel crunching under the car tyres as we crept towards the manor house, and with both the driveway and property beautifully illuminated, we couldn’t help but feel wowed – even before stepping inside the hotel.
Rewind 24 hours
The previous day I had studied the hotel in a bit more detail online. It’s something I do every time I go away as I like to know (a) exactly where I’m going (b) what I can expect from my stay and (c) what’s in and around the area.
I was getting all excited about escaping for the night without the kids in tow and was showing my business partner the building and characterful rooms.
“If you ever stay in one of those beds, do you think you’d pull the curtains around you?” she asked, pointing to a room featuring a very grand looking four-poster bed.
“Nah, I doubt it,” I replied. “I think they’re just for show. Besides, I won’t be in that fancy room anyway.”
And you can guess what happened? Yup – I was eating my words, but delighted at the fact that I’d be sleeping like a queen that night in a four-poster bed. I was telling VIP about my earlier conversation about the four-posted bed and he asked me if I knew why they were invented.
“No, enlighten me” I suggested – and he did. So I’ll enlighten you too; apparently they were invented for a number of practical reasons in the medieval period (around the 16th century).
First and foremost they kept out the draughts. They also aided with privacy (naturally) as sometimes bedrooms were shared with servants and maids. And finally, they were something of a status symbol, whereby wealthier folk could show off their nice fabrics. You learn something new every day don’t you?
After we checked-in, a staff member led us swiftly through the labyrinthine corridors of the venerable old building, sometimes upstairs and sometimes down. I found myself wondering how I'd get back to the front desk, but even if I got lost I'd have fun trying.
“All of the rooms are named after families that have at some point made their home at Flitwick Manor”, we were told by the staff member as queried the portraits on the corridor walls.
She produced a long thin antique key as we arrived at Albemarle which was to be our room for the night. It was a name I wouldn’t forget as I have a friend that used to live in a road called Albemarle not a million miles away from where I live.
As the door opened, I could see at a glance that the room was just as characterful as the rest of the hotel. The few points of light in the room were soft and threw the fittings and furnishings in a romantic glow.
To the left of the room, adjacent to a window which overlooked a cobbled courtyard, was a small table with two chairs. An ice-filled bucket sat between the two chairs, silently chilling a bottle of prosecco, and immediately behind that was small plate of delicious-looking cakes that had next to no chance of making it to morning.
We had about an hour to kill before dinner, so I decided to explore the room in a little more depth, soaking up the atmosphere and paying particular attention to the beautiful writing desk and the wash-kit that had been left on it. I made a mental note to sit at that desk the following day to do a spot of writing.
After poking around for a bit, I noticed one of the doors in the room was locked and that I couldn’t open it, so of course I started making up some spooky ghost story based on the man in a portrait on one of the walls while VIP rolled his eyes at me.
VIP doesn’t believe in ghosts but I do, but given that I hadn’t heard any strange noises or spooky signs, I felt safe enough to have a shower undisturbed and took myself off for a spot of ‘me time’. When I emerged feeling refreshed (courtesy of the complimentary toiletries), I found VIP had started tucking into the prosecco whilst reading a book. And you know what? It was nice to see him having some downtime and feeling content; we’re always so frazzled running around doing jobs at home and it's great to take time out every now and then.
The evening meal
Suitably dressed, we left the room and managed (surprisingly easily), to find our way to the dining room where we were greeted and shown into a separate room which housed a bar.
It was a large grand room (no surprise there) but it was also surprisingly cosy. What I liked was that some of the tables – including ours – housed games for people to play. Ours had a Cluedo inspired game which appeared to be based on the manor which I thought was a nice touch. We didn’t get it out to play as I wasn’t sure how quickly we’d be taken in to be seated, so we chatted and people-watched instead, which is always fun to do.
What was also a bit different – and was something that I really liked – was that our order for dinner was taken while we were sitting in the lounge area. We then sat there for a while longer – until our meal was almost ready – before being led into the dining room to sit down to eat.
Thinking about it, this is how royalty must live; choose what to eat while relaxing and chatting with family, friends or acquaintances, rather than having to sit at the table waiting for the food to arrive. And then just before it’s ready to be served, they head to the table. Come to think of it, forget royalty – this is what my kids experience every night.
As we entered the dining room, orchestral re-workings of pop songs offered a nice background ambience (ideal for letting the conversation flow), and we were presented with paprika bread and butter on a miniature slate. I made a second mental note to copy this at home when we next had guests over for dinner.
Having decided to skip starters (I’m a pudding girl through and through), VIP opted for slow roasted belly of pork with sweet potato dauphinoise, French beans and courgette, while I chose oven baked chicken supreme served with sun blushed tomato, basil and mozzarella wrapped in pancetta – all of which was washed down with a bottle of Rioja. It was the first time I’d had any alcohol since my cancer diagnosis in late February and, surprisingly, I really enjoyed it.
And the food? Well, with a menu that mixes British and European dishes (and having been awarded two AA rosettes), I can vouch that the food was delicious. I could have savoured the flavours all night had it not been for the fact that I was looking forward to dessert.
VIP doesn’t have as much of a sweet tooth as me but he does have a fatal weakness for a cheese board, so when I spied that on the menu I knew he would be all over it like a cheap suit. I on the other hand was tempted by the ‘Deconstructed Morello Cheery Cheesecake’ as it sounded intriguing. Made up of meringue and lemon posset – it didn’t disappoint and we both left the table feeling suitably stuffed.
Bump in the night
Sorry to disappoint, but nothing actually went bump in the night, although I did believe that I felt some sort of presence in the room. Perhaps I wanted to believe it, but I did say to VIP that the hotel must be haunted – it was so old that people must have passed there. The presence I thought I felt wasn't intimidating though – it felt like we were just being observed, so I felt safe enough to not pay too much attention.
In the middle of the night (when VIP had trouble sleeping from indigestion), we both heard a loud tapping sound. VIP put this down to the rain outdoors, but I wasn’t as convinced.
Breakfast was an unhurried affair, much like dinner, and we both enjoyed a wonderfully cooked and prepared breakfast – fit for a king and queen.
VIP chose the eggs benedict (a toasted muffin with ham, poached egg topped with hollandaise sauce), and I went for traditional smoked salmon with scrambled egg, which gave us the fuel we needed to head back to the room, pack our bags and be on our way.
We had a lovely stay at Flitwick Manor and I’d throughly recommend a stay if you’re in that neck of the woods – even if it’s just to get a taste of what it must feel like to be royalty.
Two days after our stay at the property, VIP sent me a text message with a link to a short documentary about Flitwick Manor. It starred Michael Aspell and was about how Flitwick Manor was haunted and recounted experiences of guests who had stayed there.
I was so glad that he sent this to me after our stay there and not before, otherwise I doubt I would have slept a wink that night! Still, it was nice to know that I didn’t imagine a presence in the room – and now I was the one rolling my eyes at VIP for not believing me.
If you’re keen on a stay at this wonderfully presented manor hotel, a special offer rate (clocked on the Hallmark Hotels’ website) costs from £149 per couple, which includes a ticket to Bletchley Park, representing fantastic value for money.
Finally, if you're booking a stay, try and get out for a walk round the grounds, enjoy a spot of reading or writing at the writing desk and savour the delicious food they’ve got going on. The rest and respite will get your mind and body recharged and will remind you that every now and then it’s a great idea to just go ahead and treat yourself.
Offering a total of 19 rooms, including singles, doubles and superior doubles – and even a honeymoon suite, there’s plenty to rate Flitwick Manor Hotel.
The rooms themselves feature flat screen TVs with Freeview, tea and coffee-making facilities (praise the lord), 24-hour room service and complimentary toiletries.
There’s super speedy WiFi for the tech lovers (that would be me then), and some nice activities and attractions in the nearby vicinity, ranging from a stroll around the village of Flitwick, to a visit to the nearby Woburn Safari Park or Bletchley Park, once the top-secret home of the World War Two Codebreakers.
*I was offered a free night’s stay at Hallmark Hotel Flitwick Manor in return for an honest opinion of my time there.
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