Luton Hoo Hotel in Bedfordshire, less than an hour from London by car or train, is the former home of John Stuart, the Earl of Bute, a Prime Minister to King George III. In recent times, the property has been a location for popular film and TV productions such as James Bond and Inspector Morse. The hotel is very near Luton airport but aside from seeing planes overhead, the estate is surprisingly tranquil and makes for a fantastic mini-break. The Earl purchased the manor house in 1763 and commissioned architect Robert Adam (who also designed Kenwood House and Syon House) to restore the property.
When visiting the house not long after this, Samuel Johnson said “in this house magnificence is not sacrificed to convenience, nor convenience to magnificence.” The same could be said today about the property that’s now known as Luton Hoo Hotel, an ideal destination for history and film buffs or anyone who simply enjoys staying in a beautiful English manor house. Luton Hoo is set within 1065 acres of parkland (including a lake, waterfall and trails) and formal gardens designed by Capability Brown, as one of the landscape designer’s first projects.
Luton Hoo passed through a number of hands after the Earl of Bute, including the diamond magnate, Sir Julius Wernher who bought the house in 1903 and employed Charles Mews and Arthur Davis, the architects of the Ritz Hotel in London, to remodel the interior in a “belle epoque” style. During WWII, the house and grounds were commissioned by Eastern Command and played an important role in wartime operations testing tanks before they were taken to war service. And right after the war in 1948, Winston Churchill gave a famous speech on the grounds to 110,000 people to thank them for their support during WWII. Wernher’s descendants sold off over 1,000 acres in 1997 to the independent hotel chain Elite Hotels, who also own Ashdown Park in East Sussex, Tylney Hall in Hampshire and The Grand Hotel in Eastbourne. Luton Hoo officially opened as a hotel in 2008, celebrating its tenth anniversary last year.
Luton Hoo has 228 bedrooms and suites, the latter of which are named after famous guests who stayed there. We stayed in Prince Phillip’s much loved uncle Lord Mountbatten’s suite, while down the corridor is the Queen Elizabeth room where Her Majesty used to stay back when Luton Hoo belonged to their friends, the Wernhers. In fact, the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh spent part of their honeymoon here in 1947.
A video tour at Luton Hoo Hotel
The decor throughout the Grade I listed mansion is as grand as you’d expect, with lots of marble, large vintage mirrors and replicas of famous paintings. Also in the main mansion house are a bar, restaurant, lounges and a snooker room. Most evenings there’s live music; the evening we were there, pianist Charlotte Sterland entertained in the main lounge.
A surprise at one end of the mansion is a lavish Russian Orthodox Church with a large portrait of Tsar Nicholas I. This was constructed by Sir Julius Wernher’s son Harold for his wife, the Countess Anastasia Mikhailovna de Torby, a Russian aristocrat.
Another reason to visit Luton Hoo hotel is for the Wernher Restaurant (named after Sir Julius Wernher who owned Luton Hoo from 1903). The restaurant is headed by Ruth Hansom, the first ever female winner of Young National Chef of the Year, who was formerly a demi chef de partie at the Michelin-starred Ritz London. Ruth’s Modern British menu includes twists on classic mains such as roasted halibut with jerusalem artichokes, dover sole with scallops and shrimp and duck breast with beetroots and pinenuts.
The expansive grounds of the estate include a croquet garden, an 18-hole golf course, tennis courts (a Victorian grass tennis court plus all weather tennis courts), grounds with trails leading to the lake and the rock garden. London black cabs, an unexpected and fun touch, are available to drive guests from the Mansion House to the spa and around the grounds.
The Spa at Luton Hoo is in the former stables and jockey’s residence and in fact housed two champion race horses, one of which, Charlottown, won the Derby in 1966. The Spa features a sauna, steam room and indoor pool with floor to ceiling windows with views of the surrounding grounds and woods. ESPA facials and massages are on offer and half day spa packages, including an evenings starting from £65.
In the courtyard outside the spa there’s a cozy bar and Adam’s Brasserie for more casual dining than in the Wernher restaurant in the main house. The brasserie is decorated with photographs of dozens of film stills from films shot at Luton Hoo. You might recognise the ballroom in the main house as James Bond/Sean Connery’s gym in Never Say Never Again. Four Weddings and a Funeral, Eyes Wide Shut, War Horse and Wilde were all shot here too.
Luton Hoo Hotel, Golf & Spa, The Mansion House, Luton, Bedfordshire LU1 3TQ T: +44 (0)1582 734437 A junior suite for two in the Mansion House is from £430 (including breakfast); a double room in Parkland/Country Club is from £210.