26 April 2018
Richard, Richard, Richard, Edmund, Valentine, Richard, Valentine – it’s hard work keeping up with the generations of Knightleys, largely due to the fact that they kept naming their sons after themselves.
The family arrived in England with William the Conquerer in the 1400s and set up home in Fawsley Hall, a royal manor that had been built in the seventh century.
With new inhabitants came new renovations – including the south wing, where Queen Elizabeth I was received in 1575 while her palaces were being cleaned, and the Georgian wing in the early 18th century. Sadly the line of Knightleys came to an end at the beginning of the 20th century with the death of Rainald Knightley and his wife Louisa, and the contents of the estate were auctioned off a year later.
Surrounded by abundant Northamptonshire countryside in the small hamlet of Fawsley, the medieval building now sits in the Hand Picked Hotels collection of 20 boutique historic country houses, owned by financier Guy Hands and his wife Julia.
There are only a handful of things to see in the surrounding area (notably, Blenheim Palace, Bicester Village and Warwick Castle, just under an hour away), so this retreat is more about indulging in a little ‘me’ time and revisiting your history of art degree.
The architecture at Fawsley Hall is a fascinating mismatch of styles from past centuries thanks to the Knightleys (yes, probably the Richards). Not only is there the Georgian wing with Gothic influences and the Elizabethan hall, created for Elizabeth I’s arrival; but the grounds are a valuable example of the work of 18th-century landscape architect Capability Brown and the north wing the work of 19th-century architect Anthony Salvin.
And we haven’t even got to the bedrooms yet. Each suite is named after nobles and aristocrats linked to the building. The crème de la crème is the Queen Elizabeth master suite, fit for royalty with a four-poster bed and ornate bath tub. However, it is the Louisa Mary Bowater that I will be staying in, named after the last Lady Knightley of the house.
It’s an impressive space with chandeliers hanging from the ceiling and plush velvet curtains. The room looks down over the box garden below and has a panorama across the surrounding farmland, where you can see speckles of sheep and hear their distant bleats.
Before check-in, my guest and I head to the spa, where we spend the next five hours being pampered. We opt for a 55-minute body scrub (there are special rates for spa packages should this be your idea, too), followed by a a back, neck and shoulder massage. Afterwards, we lounge outside in the remaining rays of the summer sun and plop in and out of the heated outdoor jacuzzi. There is also a sauna and steam room to relax in, although the latter is somewhat disappointing with only a light splutter of steam and a slightly stale smell of damp.
This doesn’t stop us from indulging in the facilities, though, and we buy two mugs of ginger tea and sip them on a sun lounger.
Buffed and moisturised from head to toe, we get ready for dinner and head down to the Cedar Restaurant. It feels like we’ve journeyed back to Tudor times, surrounded by grey flagstone floors and branches of wax candles hovering around the room. The menu, however, is far more modern. My guest opts for the generously sized fishcake starter, while I spoon up a decadently creamy goat’s cheese panna cotta.
This is followed by sea bream with crab and dill fishcakes and a rump of steak. Both are comfortingly filling and the fresh, seasonal flavours seem in perfect harmony with the surrounding landscape. We have a little space for dessert and order two crème brûlées, which are daintily decorated with summer fruits.
Finally, we adjourn to the Tudor Bar for a nightcap and I feel my waistband straining under the pressure, much how I envisage Henry VIII’s would be at this point. As I take the first sip of my sweet whisky sour, I toast the Richards, Edmunds and Valentines and the lovely legacy they have left behind.
Louisa Mary Bowater suite, from £374, Fawsley, Daventry, Northamptonshire, NN11, handpickedhotels.co.uk