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LUXURY HOTELS: Coworth Park, Ascot, England
Style: Tweedy with a twist
Scene: Ascot and Royal Berkshire
Seen in the lobby: Euro-bankers and City escapees, chic French families with incredibly well-dressed children

I've looked outside, and I can't see a tweed-liveried doorman waiting with a little covered buggy to drive me to dinner. This is disappointing. It's the after-Coworth effect.

Let me warn you about leaving Coworth Park: as you drive out through the gates, it's going to come as shock to find that all the cars on the roads of rural Berkshire are not gleaming Bentleys, Jaguars and Audis. That all the English countryside is not as gorgeously groomed as Coworth's parkland, that all service is not charmingly attentive in a natty tweed suit, and that you might come to four o'clock in the afternoon and not find the most perfect little macaroon next to your cup of tea.

front of house
front of house
drawing room
dried tuna
cocktail time
riding lesson

Opened just a month before our visit, Coworth is the Dorchester's new country cousin. Country as in 240 acres of Berkshire, with equestrian centre, polo grounds, croquet on the lawn and wellington boots available for country walks. (If you're feeling excessively rural, in spring the staff can help you forage for the makings of your own beech-tree tea.)

This is also the kind of country that comes dressed in a smart orange-and-brown livery (yes - that would be a specially-woven tweed for the uniforms of the reception staff). The kind of country that has a purpose-built eco spa on site, with a chill-out lounge you never want to leave. The kind of country that's an easy 26 miles from central London.

So here we are, cantering gently through an English country estate on perfectly groomed horses, with colour leeching from a twilight autumn landscape, and the horses' smart orange leg-bandages vibrant in the dusk. This is my country estate for the weekend, you understand.

As we trot past the porticoed entrance to the Georgian manor house, a doorman in orange-flecked tweed livery appears, perfectly timed, to take our photograph. Then it's a five-star stable for our horses, and a gentle soak in a gleaming white-marbled bathroom for me, before an eight-course dinner.

Horsey interest isn't compulsory (there's top-notch golf at the Wentworth Club next door), but it will be fun being able to ride through Windsor Great Park (just across the road) next year. And I'll bet it's glam staying here during Royal Ascot Week, or during the polo season when the place is teeming with handsome Argentinians and you can take in a chukka on the Coworth grounds.

Not to overplay the theme, our room is a loft in the transformed former stable yard, a short buggy-ride from the main house. It's all crisp whites and soothing wheat colours, with witty equestrian references in the white-painted horseshoes clustered on the walls, the leather-covered banister rails and window handles, the riding crop-shaped finials on the curtain poles. Over in the manor house the rooms and suites make are rather more contemporary-meets-Georgian (with stylised trees as the corner posts of the four-poster beds).

Elsewhere in the grounds there's the gorgeous little 18th-century Dower House, self-contained with three en-suite bedrooms, drawing room, dining room and gourmet kitchen, where you can self-cater or be waited on by your on chef and butler. Ask the nation's favourite ex-WAG: Cheryl Cole used it as her "Girls' House" for the X-Factor.

We all love glamour in a hotel bathroom, and Coworth delivers with glossy white marble floors, shower roses the size of umbrellas, and freestanding copper baths. But here's a new measure of indulgence: a "Book of Idle Pleasures" propped on the book rest in the bath.
 We all love glamour in a hotel bathroom... here's a new measure of indulgence: a "Book of Idle Pleasures" propped on the book rest in the bath.

After a respectable amount of lounging around in a seriously heavyweight bathrobe it's time to doll up and take a short walk across the grounds to dinner in the main restaurant. Food at Coworth Park is masterminded by Michelin award-winning chef John Campbell, so we decide to avoid the agonies of decision and opt for his eight-course tasting menu.

You know it's going to be an entertaining meal when the pre-dinner snack is a small bowl of light-as-air... pork scratchings. (Delicious!) And so it continues, with a thimbleful of "parsnip soup" (a light foam atop a delicate consommé), followed by a witty reinvention of pilchard and tomato, succeeded by essence-of-flavour dried tuna, then possibly the most succulent morsel of pigeon you've ever tasted, a mouth-melting foie gras, a luscious moment of venison, a soupcon of a deconstructed apple crumble, finishing with a notion of chocolate (with beer! And lime!).

Adding to the entertainment were the wines for each course chosen for us by the junior wine waiter. We dubbed him our Sly Sommelier, and one of the surprises he sprang on us, to accompany the foie gras, was a red dessert wine from Sicily: the Ben Ryé, Passito di Pantelleria di Donnafugata. My bouche hasn't been this amused in ages. And the carefully orchestrated performance of the service, with waiters moving in a choreographed ballet, completed the sense of theatre.

Afterwards we totter through to the drawing room to collapse on sofas for coffee and a very poor attempt on the choice of chocolates from the chocolate board. Apologies to the pianist tinkling the ivories on the grand piano: it's time for staff to summon up a buggy to drive us back to our room, where we fall into astonishingly comfortable beds.

How can it be that next morning we manage to even think of breakfast? We justify it on the grounds of trying out the informal Barn restaurant, which turns out to be appealingly rustic, with shared tables and benches in mis-matched bare wood, and cheerful staff in polo shirts (orange, of course). It's important to have a hearty meal on board when you've got an arduous morning in the Spa ahead, and the eggs Benedict are worth making a space for.

On a day when the rich colours and smells of the autumn countryside are beckoning, it almost seems perverse to take yourself off to a closeted treatment room. But the Spa at Coworth is well-suited to its setting - a low eco-building, half-buried in the ground with a plant-covered roof, backed by a curving stand of cedar trees. The views out over the parkland are meditavely tranquil.

The swimming pool, steam room, gym and cafe are open to all hotel guests. But - trust me - when you're making your hotel booking and find yourself encouraged to book a spa treatment at the same time, it's not shameless up-selling on the part of the telephone receptionist. It's because so many guests want the full experience once they see the facilities.

I was recommended to try Coworth's signature spa treatment: the 80-minute Dr. Alkaitis Organic Skin Food Facial, which features a delectable menu of organic, biodynamic "skin foods". But as I was suffering the sniffles I opted for a fantastically indulgent personalised aromatherapy massage, which for me featured rose and eucalyptus oils. It was sensational, and afterwards we sipped mint-and-cucumber water lounging on daybeds in the relaxation lounge, leafing through the latest glossies and a gorgeous library of books.

When we felt ready for a bit more effort we took ourselves down to the azure-blue pool below, and managed a few laps in-between more lounging, and a bit of heat in the steam room. Then it was time for a restorative late lunch in the Spatisserie before we had to wrench ourselves away and depart.

As we made our farewells, one of the youthful reception staff noticed my tangerine-coloured leather gloves. "Very Coworth," he said, admiringly. Driving away we paused to watch Equestrian Manager Laura Richardson putting one of the grand prix horses through its paces a side lawn. Apparently Laura's an 11-time British dressage team competitor. As her mount floated and danced across the grass, we regretted not having booked a dressage lesson with her: that would have been something. Next time.

Check in:  Coworth Park, Blacknest Road, Ascot, Berkshire, UK SL5 7SE, tel +44 (0)1344 876 600, [email protected]
Ultimate Luxury:  The gourmet weekend for six in the Dower House, with the services of your own butler, and Michelin-starred chef John Campbell cooking for you and giving a three-hour cooking lesson.
Most Indulgent Moment: The Dr Alkaitis Organic Skin Food Facial: so good, you'd want to eat it.
Insider Secrets: The equestrian centre can provide, riding boots, leggings, gloves and hats in every size.
The Little Things: Orange marmalade-flavoured mini-macaroons waiting for us in our room.
Junior Luxies: The Kids at Coworth programme starts with a check-in goodie-bag, Kids' Concierge and Kids' Club, plus a Den for teenagers with computer games and DVDs. (We did hear of the group who came for the weekend to celebrate a two year-old's birthday: the adults enjoyed a long lunch in the Barn while the children checked in to the Kids Club.)
Dress code:  Well-polished Audi Q7; LV luggage; Aigle riding coat rather than formal hacking jacket; a little Anna Sui dress for dinner.
Dent in the platinum:
Luxury Link: www.coworthpark.com

Jennifer Stevenson 9/12/10. Updated 2/7/12

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