In the Princes’ Footsteps: A Review of Coworth Park, Dorchester Collection, in Ascot, England
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To The Point
Situated in the picturesque English countryside, Coworth Park is a true indulgence in British hospitality. Pros: competitive room rate for a five-star hotel with extras through FHR, and horse lovers can rejoice. Children allowed in quiet areas only at certain times. Cons: expensive food and beverage, service lacking a personalized feel at times.
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When we approached Coworth Park, I knew we’d made the right choice for our weekend in the British countryside. Riots in France thwarted my birthday in Paris with my husband, so I commenced a last-minute search for a spa hotel not far from London with a great restaurant. Enter Coworth Park.
[Update 4/2/2019: Coworth Park is part of the Dorchester Collection of Hotels, owned by the Brunei Investment Agency, controlled by the government of the Sultanate of Brunei. The Sultanate has passed a law introducing the death penalty for people convicted of having gay sex or committing adultery. The law will go into effect on April 3. While we can’t change laws, as consumers we can speak with our wallets. For more information on helping persecuted LGBT people globally, follow @rainbowrailroad, a nonprofit organization supported by TPG.]
The Dorchester Collection includes some of the finest luxury hotels in the world, like The Beverly Hills Hotel and its namesake, The Dorchester, in London. With 240 acres, Coworth Park seemed like the perfect place to escape from London (and the children) and live like Prince Harry and Meghan Markle for a weekend. In fact, Prince Harry and Prince William stayed in the hotel the night before Harry and Meghan’s wedding. We chose it over Cliveden House, where Meghan stayed the night before their wedding.
I planned to ring in my birthday kid-free at the Prince de Galles in Paris a recommendation from The Points Guy himself. However, protests in Paris were scheduled for the same weekend near our hotel, we had to scramble to find another hotel with same-day availability within a few hours of London. We had already flown in family to watch our children for the weekend, so we had to go somewhere!
None of the prestigious hotels in the Dorchester Collection, including Coworth Park, were available on points or with a loyalty program. However, Coworth Hotel was available through Amex’s Fine Hotels & Resorts program.
I couldn’t book Coworth House directly on the FHR website, so I called their Platinum number, which took 35 minutes, as they called the hotel to check availability. The agent assured me that all FHR hotels would soon be available online to book directly (opening up access to the magical 5x bonus) and bookable with points. The lowest-category room, the Stable Superior Room, was $560 per night. I booked it with my Platinum Card® from American Express. I earned 1 Membership Rewards point per dollar on my purchase, which was fine, because we wanted the perks of FHR.
The FHR benefits included free daily breakfast for two people at either restaurant, a room upgrade and early check-in at 12pm (subject to availability), late checkout at 4pm and a $100 food-and-beverage credit (we needed it!). Luckily, they had last-minute availability, and we left within a few hours.
Alternatively, we could have booked through Hotels.com and used my Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card for 10x the miles on the room stay and used it toward our 10th night free with Hotels.com, effectively a 20% return. However, the room rate was higher on Hotels.com, plus we wanted all of the perks of the FHR, so we booked over the phone. (Offer ends Jan. 31, 2020)
Coworth Park was in Ascot, outside of Windsor and 26 miles outside of Central London, and had free parking on the property. We saw a Lamborghini and Rolls-Royce when we pulled up in our Uber — fancy schmancy. It was just under an hour’s train ride from Waterloo Station in London to the nearby Virginia Water Station and a 10-minute ride from there, but we decided to take an Uber from our flat in Central London, which took an hour. It was 30 minutes in normal traffic from Heathrow Airport (LHR), making it a perfect first or last stop on an English or European tour.
The hotel could also arrange any type of arrival, including by horse(!) or helicopter (!!).
Our intention of booking a spa hotel and to stay on a 240-acre estate was to not leave the grounds the entire time, which proved to be an expensive but relaxing choice. You could easily go to Windsor for the day to see the castle that was the site of Harry and Meghan’s nuptials, or head to Ascot in the summer to see the famed races. We found it more royal to stay on the grounds with “our” horses, drawing room and even more to explore.
As we pulled up, we were greeted by Coworth Park’s esteemed doormen in head-to-toe tweed. They grabbed our bags and whisked us inside to the check-in desk. The check-in experience was not particularly special: We were alerted that the only dinner reservation left was 9pm, the only lunch reservation for the next day was 2:45pm and the only spa appointment for the weekend was the following day at 11am. We accepted the available slots and made a mental note to book ahead next time. Normally, guest services would call and arrange everything ahead of time, but as we had only booked a few hours before, it hadn’t happened. The front-desk agent wished me a happy birthday in a perfunctory manner.
The lobby itself was decorated with a large Christmas tree and set the tone for the fairy-tale feel to the estate at Christmas, complete with decorations and roaring log fires at every turn. Guest services informed me that there were 22 Christmas trees fully decorated within the hotel, spa and restaurants. A doorman later told me that they replaced their trees up to four times each holiday season.
It was 12pm and our room was not ready, so we grabbed our map of the grounds and our swim gear and jumped into a golf cart manned by one of the doormen. He immediately mentioned the 240 acres (this is a major talking point) and said the air was just better at Coworth Park. We were buying everything he was selling. We saw a well-dressed couple in Wellington boots doing a country walk, and I immediately forgot about our life in London. I was happy to join this exclusive English country lifestyle.
After we finished at the spa (more on this later), our front-desk agent showed up in a golden cart to take us to our room. She whisked us around the grounds and brought us to the Stables, the lowest level of rooms. She said we had been upgraded one level to a Stable Deluxe Room. (It was hard to know if this was in honor of my birthday or FHR.)
Mansion House rooms were the most popular (it was the next level up from ours), but we enjoyed the walk to the Stables area and back, plus the proximity to the Barn for breakfast and lunch.
I asked whether they could have accommodated our children in the room. I explained our children were young (1 and 3) and asked if they could stay in our same hotel room, and they said they would have tried to a fit a crib (free of charge) and child bed with rails ($90 per night). They also had suites and interconnecting room at higher rates.
The agent gave us a thorough tour of the room, including showing me a vanity within the desk that I would not have seen otherwise.
The décor was 100% modern farmhouse, with a heavy horse motif in the Stables. There were bucolic details everywhere: the horse photography on the wall, leather handles on the windows and even the “do not disturb” signs.
The difference between our room and the lowest level room was a sofa at the end of the bed with a little extra room rather than a chair.
The bathroom immediately grabbed my attention, thanks to the copper roll-top tub complete with reading shelf and a book. I spent two hours reading in the bath later that night, which is a luxury I’m not sure I’ve ever enjoyed before.
The hotel stocked rooms with amenities from Mitchell and Peach, an English brand that was also used in the spa but, oddly, not sold on site. I had not heard of the brand before but really liked the products.
We didn’t watch the TV, but it was there with a guide. The dressing area at the end of the bed held the safe and had room for all our items. As is usual for England, there was a wardrobe rather than a North American closet. Overall, the room looked well-kept and clean.
Food and Beverage
The hotel had several restaurants, and we tried them all over two days, ranging from snacks at the spa restaurant Spatisserie (see what they did there?) and two meals at the more quintessential English countryside restaurant The Barn to an afternoon tea in the drawing room and a tasting menu at Restaurant Coworth Park, which has earned a Michelin star.
We started with a snack and coffee at Spatisserie, which rang in at $54 with service included and set the tone for what was to come in terms of food and beverage pricing.
After our country walk, we walked into the Mansion House and saw the stunning drawing room, complete with roaring fire and live music. The restaurant manager explained that there were no available slots for afternoon tea, so we sat at the bar instead.
The manager returned after 15 minutes and said a table had opened up next to the fire. When we explained that we had the tasting menu at 9pm, he suggested that we share an afternoon tea and just pay for an extra pot of tea. I really appreciated that he quickly used his discretion to suit our needs. Later, when he saw me taking a photo, he asked that I wait while he stoked the fire. We paid $92 with service for the one afternoon tea service with an extra pot of tea.
We returned at 9pm for our tasting menu at Restaurant Coworth Park, known for its modern British dishes. For our dinner, we ordered a seven-course tasting menu, amuse-bouches and a cheese board. (It’s worth noting children were only allowed in Restaurant Coworth Park before 6:30pm.)
The room was dark, which made for nice ambience but terrible photos. I would suggest booking earlier so you can look out over the rose garden. We had a nice window table but could only see our reflection and darkness.
My favorite dish was the first, a caviar tart with Cornish crab, yuzu and cucumber. My husband most enjoyed the salt-aged Waterford Farm beef.
When the meal began, the hostess brought me an envelope with a birthday card in it. It felt a bit formal to me, but I appreciated the gesture. At the end, they brought a small cake with a candle, which we were too full to finish but tasted lovely. After the impressive service at the drawing room, I expected a bit more from the Michelin-starred restaurant. I noticed that they never cleared our crumbs from the table between courses, and there were other minor details that annoyed me, like needing to ask that our bread plate be cleared. These details did not detract from our experience, but made me question the value of the meal and the restaurant’s rating.
Our tasting menu for two with one additional cheese board, two cocktails and one glass of wine clocked in at an even $400 with service.
Our included breakfast (thanks, FHR) was at the Barn Restaurant. There was a cold buffet and a la carte options. My full English breakfast and fresh orange juice while overlooking the grounds prepared us well for our horseback ride.
We returned to the Barn for lunch on Sunday afternoon and had a traditional English roast. The restaurant appeared to be full with posh locals who were out for a Sunday roast. The English countryside fashion was on point, and I felt a bit underdressed in my North Face and L.L. Bean boots rather than fur, quilted Chanel bags and riding boots. Our set menu lunch with one drink cost $141 with service.
I turned my phone off for a record-breaking 36 hours while at Coworth Park, but my husband reported good cell service and Wi-Fi throughout the resort, including on the loungers by the indoor pool.
The spa was a standalone building with a beautiful and clean aesthetic featuring a restaurant, pool, steam room and gym included with the stay. The amethyst geodes along the edge of the pool lit up at night, giving it a New Age look.
Children were allowed in the pool between 9am and 11am and 3pm and 5pm, so we steered clear of these times. One thing I loved about the resort was that it was family-friendly but kept set hours so families didn’t disturb other guests. I appreciate this as a parent who occasionally brings my children to high-end properties but who wants to use the facilities while not making enemies.
The pool had underwater music blasting, which I found amusing. I found it a bit cold and could have done with a hot tub for my North American bones, but my husband enjoyed getting his laps in.
In the summer, it has a private sun terrace with loungers, but we were visiting during the cold months.
I returned to the wing on Sunday for a spa treatment in one of the spa’s eight treatment rooms. The relaxation room for pre- and post-spa use ended up being my favorite area in the whole hotel. With tea, cookies, magazines and the softest blankets ever, I curled up on a soft lounger and stared out onto the green lawn. I even took a little nap, the most luxurious of activities.
My treatment was the spa’s signature treatment, and they tailored it to my preferences. The treatment room was stark, but the technician was talented and calming. In fact, it was the first time I’d fallen asleep during a facial, and my skin glowed for days afterwards. My 90-minute treatment cost $208 with service.
While I had a treatment, my husband skipped the gym and went for a 5k run, getting in two laps around the polo fields. Coworth Park left maps of the running trails in the rooms, although it was easy enough to get around without them.
We wandered into the equestrian center on one of our walks, and I chatted with the staff for the purposes of this article, not intending to ride. I was last on a horse at summer camp when I was 10, and my husband has never been on a horse. We discussed the riding program, which starts at age 4, and they said it was open to day-trippers.
The most noticeable feature was how clean it was and how well-groomed the horses looked. There was a surprising absence of horse manure by sight or smell. I saw a 20-point checklist on a whiteboard of things to complete before taking someone out on a ride. The staff was so professional and reassuring that I soon asked whether we could ride during our stay. They said they had an opening the following morning before our checkout. At $115 per person for a guided, hourlong hack, it felt like a good deal (for Coworth Park), so we signed up.
The horseback riding ended up being the highlight of the trip for me. I rode Enzo, a gentle and stunning white horse that I’ve since seen plastered all over Instagram. My husband rode Oscar, who was a bit trickier. The staff correctly guessed it was better to leave me with the easier horse.
Our instructor led the way and even acted as a photographer for us. Most of all, she calmed my nerves when I felt anxious after an unsteady jump on Enzo. It was perfectly calm and quiet and the most blissful end to our enchanted countryside weekend.
We learned that Coworth Park is the only hotel in England that allows you to board your horse when you stay. Also, it has the only polo fields attached to a hotel in Europe. They house 15 horses in the winter and 60 in the summer, when polo players take up residence during the playing season.
The kids club was near the equestrian center. It was open 10am to 1pm and 2pm to 5pm Friday to Sunday when schools were in session and every day at the same hours during school vacations. The kids club cost $20 per child per day with no minimum age.
The resort was immaculate and made me completely forget that we had planned for four months to be in Paris for my birthday weekend. Our decadent and relaxing English countryside escape came with a high price tag, but, as my husband pointed out, it’s a lot less than buying our own horses, spa and country house. I would skip the Coworth Park restaurant tasting menu upon my return and stick to The Barn restaurant or the bar. They didn’t make a big to-do about my birthday, but it seemed very appropriate and British of them to acknowledge it when appropriate and move on.
I left understanding why Prince Harry and Meghan Markle turned down a residence in Kensington Palace and decided to raise their children in Windsor. I’m already scouting times to go back after my oldest son is 4 and I can get him on one of the ponies.
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