Gorgeous flowers, gal – and no, no longer in Marvellous Milan but in the English countryside, 15 minutes from Heathrow. Right now, during the Olympics, when you fly into Heathrow it may be preferable to head west, away from the action rather than trying to get into London, where many main roads have lanes reserved for VIPs (and yes, we know we are all VIPs, right, but not according to the Olympic Family).
These wildflowers greet the arrival at Coworth Park, Wentworth, all 248 acres of it. Turn in off a well-marked country lane and the long winding driveway is marked 9.5 miles an hour. You take more notice than if it were ten.
This was a country estate of Prince Jefri, polo-playing younger brother of the Sultan of Brunei. Now his brother has taken it over, turned it into yet another of the Dorchester Collection’s stunning luxury hotels.
Two days ago we were at Principe di Savoia, now we are here. Oh what a wonderful world. Go into the three-floor main house, and look at the style of the Drawing Room, designed like all of the 69-room beauty, by Fox Linton, who made their name doing One Aldwych in London.
Out of the picture here are the bijou end tables physically attached to the ends of some sofas, little heart-shaped ‘dishes’ really, for putting a glass of Krug on.
Go out to check the spa, a separate two-floor building with a grass roof and an indoor pool. Wander around to see the converted stable block, which holds 39 of the total bedroom number.
Enjoy the two polo fields, still used regularly during the May to September season, and the 40-horse equestrian centre. Enjoy those wildflower fields. Back in the house and needing to tidy up, if you are staying in room 31, you have a wrought-iron four-post bed with a little bird on the silhouette headboard.
In the morning your newspaper comes in a proper, re-usable paper shopping bag with cord handles. Time for breakfast, in the Dining Room dominated by a 12-foot wide circular wreath of copper leaves, hanging from the ceiling.
English breakfast, nothing beats it. Eggs and bacon, and how do you like your toast? It comes, of course, with the crusts off. Our coffee comes in a teapot, French like all the china.
The butter is English, from Netherend Farm in Gloucestershire – we hear that at lunch and dinner a Local Shire menu serves only local produce. We like that.
We look around the room, and see little silhouettes, paper (or are they metal) of horses, the logo here. A baby is in a wooden high chair and fortunately behaving itself.
I am with the American Academy’s Joe Cinque and Karen Dixon, who came over ‘the pond’ from New York for the Olympics, the highlight of which, for them, appears to have been dining last night with the Dorchester Collection boss, Christopher Cowdray, on the Deutschland, a German river boat cruiser that has somehow found itself moored in the Thames.
I head for James Bond and Marilyn. Explanation time. A couple of Bonds – Goldfinger and Tomorrow Never Dies – were partly shot at Stoke Park, another of these mammoth English estates, this time 350 acres and 20 minutes from Heathrow.
Privately owned by the King family, Stoke Park is also known for its golf, its tennis and annual The Boodles tournament (next, June 18-22, 2013), and its spa and country club. It is also a 49-room hotel, based around a mansion shaped like a restaurant cloche that was designed by James Wyatt in the 18th century.
Go to the Pavilion, the new, ten-year old brick building that houses the indoor pool, indoor tennis, gym and spa, and 28 of the bedrooms. Up the stairs you see a photo of Marilyn. As in all the bedrooms, 202 has lots of wow, gotta-smile, pop art. Here is Marilyn again, looking at me as I write.
I am reminded of Sophia Loren’s famous comment, ‘Everything you see I owe to spaghetti’, love it. (Does she eat spaghetti when she lunches, as she sometimes does, with Giorgio Armani’s niece Roberta at the Armani Hotel in Milan, or when she stays, as she also does, at Principe di Savoia?)
I head for San Marco, the Pavilion’s lovely indoor-out (on the terrace) casual restaurant, and have a wild mushroom risotto with Vallebona Sardinian Extra Virgin Olive Oil. From wild flowers earlier in the day to wild mushrooms now. What will it be tonight, for dinner, as I fly off yet again?