If you like a little mystery on your minibreak, then the Grade I listed De Vere Latimer Estate nestled in Buckinghamshire's Chiltern Hills is just the place for you. My husband Andrew and I booked a night’s stay in the 19th century country house – only a short tube ride on the Metropolitan line from London’s Baker Street - and from the moment we pulled up at the mansion’s grand entrance, we were captivated by its grandeur and intriguing history.
The De Vere Latimer Estate and its stunning grounds
'The Spy House' as it's known, is much more than your average hotel retreat, with its origins dating far back to 1194. Historical figures such as Edward I's daughters once resided there, Charles I was imprisoned at the house in 1647 and during WWII the manor was used as a centre for Intelligence gathering, where German prisoners of war were held.
Post-war, the house is rumoured to have been an MI6 training college and secret tunnels remain below the building to this day. A fire badly damaged the house in 1834, leaving only the chimneys and cellars. It was rebuilt in a Victorian-Gothic style by renowned architect Edward Blore, who also worked on Buckingham Palace and Chatsworth House. Talk about fascinating! We could have spent all week learning about Latimer Estate's past.
The library at Latimer Estate is the perfect spot to unwind
The hotel has just undergone an impressive £7m refurbishment, successfully preserving the property's original features with modern day style. We particularly loved the historical artefacts dotted around the house, from old fashioned typewriters and telephones to war-time photographs on the wall. Even the original stain-glass window has been restored after its recent discovery in the hotel’s cellar.
The original wooden staircase leads guests from the lobby up to 31 new deluxe rooms and suites, all designed beautifully in an old-meets-new style. Our suite was fabulous, boasting a king size bed, enormous en-suite bathroom with luxurious bath, flat screen TV and digital radio. The drinks cabinet in a large suitcase was a fantastically quirky idea.
One of the hotel's wonderful bedroom suites
After relaxing in our room, we went downstairs to the aptly named 1838 restaurant for dinner. The glass ceiling, eclectic design and indoor trees give a cool yet classy vibe and the courtyard outside is the perfect spot for a romantic supper. We were spoilt for choice with the menu. I settled on the warm duck leg salad followed by pan fried sustainable seabream and seared king scallops, while Andrew ate the sauté king prawn and crab mayo salad starter then a rib eye steak for main.
The 1838 restaurant where we ate breakfast and dinner
The dishes were divine, as were the accompanying artisan breads. We slightly overindulged with our desserts - lemon & lime ricotta cheesecake and pecan pie with banoffee ice cream – but just couldn't resist trying two puds! For after-dinner drinks, the 1838 Bar or Huntley Bar next door are cosy spots to continue the night.
The Huntley Bar is a great place to enjoy a pre-dinner cocktail
The next day, after a very deep sleep, we decided on a swim before breakfast. I was thrilled to find I didn't have to step foot outside the hotel to arrive at the pool; a handy route via indoor corridors leads you straight to the leisure facilities. A swim, sauna and steam room were a great way to start the day. We then enjoyed a delicious cooked breakfast buffet in the 1838 restaurant, followed by a stroll in the hotel's formal gardens.
The hotel's swimming pool with sauna and steam room
The mansion is set in an extensive 30 acres of grounds perched on top of the rolling Chess Valley hills, with a romantic Victorian pond and a man-made lake at the bottom of the valley. It's the perfect location to get married, and the hotel is a licensed wedding venue. We enjoyed wandering through the grounds imagining what might have gone on here years ago. Top marks to the hotel for providing Hunter wellies for guests to use for muddy walks – the 'welly line up' in reception is brilliant.
Breathtaking views over Buckinghamshire's Chess Valley
We rounded off our stay with a little tipple of prosecco in the stunning Library, relaxed on a comfy sofa as we took in the atmosphere of the famous house. The De Vere Latimer Estate certainly makes a wonderful getaway and its mysterious past transports you to another time. Thoroughly recommended!
Rooms start from £129 per room per night and for those staying in the mansion house rooms start from £189 per room per night, based on double occupancy. Visit www.DeVere.com/DeVereLatimerEstate for details.