The Retreat at Elcot Park: An award-winning bolthole in the Berkshire countryside

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There’s a lot of pressure on British countryside hotels to deliver five-star service in a vanishingly short amount of time. Guests travelling to the Maldives or Mykonos or Meribel are likely to be unpacking for a few nights at minimum: plenty of time for hotels to dazzle newcomers with a weekly carousel of USPs, and for newcomers to explore, unwind and entirely immerse themselves skiing or snorkelling or sizing up beach bars. A bucolic break, in the UK, on the other hand? Probably only a night or two to impress you – in my case, The Retreat at Elcot Park had a mere 18 hours. Not long, especially given my high expectations thanks to its prominent position at the top of The Times’ list of the best places to stay in the UK.

What’s needed to make such a short stay absolutely worth the travel and cost (and, for anyone with small kids, the admin of offloading them)? There are a fair few tick boxes. Beautiful grounds. Statement interiors unique enough to differentiate from the – realistically – dozens of similar hotels I have visited in the name of ‘work’ (it’s a hard job… and all that). Decent cocktails and a restaurant that has atmosphere, great food and lovely staff. At least one pool, as well as blissful treatments and spa facilities in tip-top condition. Oh, and some miscellaneous quirks (we’ll come on to these).

Well, first off, I assume aided by having only opened last year, The Retreat at Elcot Park is in immaculate condition – both inside and throughout its beautiful green grounds. The skies are grey (it is, of course, still England) but the croquet set on the lawn gives me a vision of how the hotel would look in the gorgeous sunshine of the day before. There’s a tennis court, so bring racquets if you’re keen, two electric motorbikes for hire and a ‘Welly Wall’ of all sizes for guests to borrow (bright rainbow shades for the kids) – so when it comes to the energy-expending activities and quirks, check, check.

The first part of the hotel I experience, though, is in fact the spa: we arrive at 3.22pm and my massage is booked for 3.30pm. They are unbothered by my bustling in with pace and apologies, and deliver a massage so relaxing I nearly fall asleep. Let the unwinding begin – and the scoping out of the sauna, indoor hydro pool – lovely – and outdoor heated pool. There’s a salt flotation chamber (tick) which I’d have tried on a longer visit, and the room info also lists weekend ‘inflatable hour’ in the pool, 3-5pm; a massive win for those visiting with children to exhaust.

the retreat at elcot park

I drift back to our room, the Sutton Suite, which boasts verdant greenery jostling for attention through all four windows and a luxurious amount of floor space. The shiny copper bath is, aesthetically, my favourite hotel tub to date: so big that the only sign of me in it, my husband photographs the evidence, is a magazine seemingly hovering mid-air. There’s strong wallpaper energy everywhere of the type I am not brave/foolish (delete as applicable) enough to attempt at home. Pastels and jewel tones, prints and patterns all work well together and the relaxing vibe, massage and two more great quirks (a bottle of ginger liqueur, and crisps from the help-yourself pantry down the hall) almost send me to sleep.

retreat at elcot park bath

But that would mean missing the evening’s star event – supper at 1772, the brasserie, bar and Orangery area of the hotel named for the year the original house was built (heritage and history – check, plus if that interests you, the striking Highclere country pile, of Downton Abbey fame, is down the road). There’s also pan-Asian fine dining restaurant Yu which I’d loved to have tried had we been visiting on one of its opening days (Wednesday to Saturday). 1772, however, is lively for a Monday night; there’s a quiz in the Orangery and plenty of people around to add a buzzy backdrop to our cocktail-sipping.  

It’s a rich meal even though we start with ‘Nibbles’ rather than starters (I definitely should have stopped at one bag of pre-supper crisps…): hunks of sourdough bread with whipped butter and olives, and cauliflower popcorn – a very moreish salt-sweet combo. We choose the heartiest options of lamb and beef – both cooked just right – before sharing puddings as we find it impossible to stick to just one each. And so to bed, sated and sleepy.

Up relatively bright and early purely due to our predetermined time of departure, we explore. The lovely little extra touches continue; a courtyard outside is home to a Lay & Wheeler wine shop, Clodagh’s Store and coffee bar, and a hair and nail salon. There’s also what seems to be a thriving events programme: currently listed are cocktail masterclasses, a creative writing weekend and a Farmers’ Market – so guests, and locals I assume, are spoilt for choice. We finish our all-too-brief visit with a breakfast spread so generous you really don’t need to pay for the additional dishes on offer, unless your heart is set on a full English or smoked salmon. This retreat certainly is one to commend, and with plenty more to eat, drink, do and see, I can’t wait to return.

Rooms from £150 per night including breakfast, suites from £360, visit

Read more: The best luxury hotels in the Cotswolds

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