Ian Clarke discovers the delights of a beautiful country hotel with a fascinating history dating back nearly 700 years.

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It’s not every day you can get Henry VIII, Jade Goody and Victoria and David Beckham in one sentence when reviewing a stay at a hotel.

But that’s the case when it comes to the four-star Italianate mansion Down House Country Hotel, which is tucked away in the picturesque Hertfordshire-Essex countryside.

It was almost 200 years from the date of the first-known house on the site that the monarch of the time – best known for his six wives – sold Down Hall and that led to it getting its Tudor appearance.

Fast-forward almost five centuries and the hotel hit the national headlines when it hosted the wedding of reality TV personality Jade Goody and Jack Tweed.

And if that is not enough of a celebrity link, Down Hall is close to Sawbridgeworth – the village which boasts Beckingham Palace, the home of “‘Posh and Becks’.

Variety is clearly a feature of the hotel’s history and heritage and also when it comes to its architecture.

Over the centuries it has been everything from an antiques business and conference centre to a school to a convalescent home for wounded soldiers.

But, and most importantly for my wife and I during our stay, Down Hall is not dwelling on its past or just milking its high profile.

The welcome from everyone who looked after us – from receptionists to waitresses – was as warm as the beautiful spring weather which we enjoyed during our stay.

They achieved the balance I like of being friendly and always being available when we needed help and service, but not too ‘full on’and allowed us the space to chill and relax.

There are 99 rooms at Down Hall which are graded in various categories such as classic, feature and executive.

The executive is larger than the classic with bathrobes, mineral water and upgraded toiletries and are in the newer part of the hotel, while the feature rooms also have two-poster or four-poster beds.

We stayed in an executive room and had double doors which led straight in to the landscaped gardens and courtyard.

It is easy to see why the venue is so popular for wedding receptions and there are so many ornate features which make a beautiful backdrop for photographs.

Forget the old adage of not working with children and animals – Down Hall is family-friendly and also recognised as one of the AA’s leading pet-friendly hotels.

We left our chocolate labrador and terrier at home but if you want to take your four-legged friends, then the pooch welcome pack enables you to spoil your dog while you enjoy the comfort and elegance of the hotel and its surroundings.

If you want to really take it easy then there is an atmosphere to encourage that. I would certainly recommend a game of giant chess in the garden.

The hotel’s leisure complex has an indoor pool with whirlpool spa bath and sauna to help with the unwinding.

If you are feeling more energetic there are 110 acres of woodland, parkland and gardens to explore, as well as two tennis courts.

Food is a very high priority and we pushed the boat out and had a sumptious afternoon tea in one of the range of historic lounges.

It was a delightful mix of neatly-cut sandwiches, scones with jam and cream and an array of cakes.

While I would thoroughly recommend sampling this mid-afternoon delight, leave plenty of time between that and dinner – we perhaps under-estimated the necessary time between the two feasts!

We had dinner in the grill room and the ingredients are sourced from the hotel’s vegetable garden.

For starter I had Greek salad while my wife had warm smoked duck salad, which comprised strips of duck with goats’ cheese mousse and beetroot puree.

For main course I went for braised belly of pork with chorizo and hariot blanc and Swiss chard broth. Mrs Clarke decided on Three Ways Lamb – kidney, liver and Barnsley chop – with truffle and rosemary potato, ratatouille and rosemary jus.

And we just had just enough room for Baileys cheesecake with marinated kamquats and chocolate cookie ice-cream. Coffee then followed back in the luxurious lounge and content was very much the watchword!

As day followed night, breakfast followed dinner and there was the choice of full English and continental – or indeed a combination of the two if you are really good eater.

I’m sure Henry VIII would have been very satisfied with the fare on offer. n

Down Hall Country House Hotel is at Hatfield Heath, near Bishop’s Stortford. Telephone 01279 730416, e-mail sales@downhall.co.uk or visit the website at www.downhall.co.uk

It has been owned by the Veladail Group since 1986. Down Hall is also a conference centre and has easy links to central London and Stansted airport.

For information on local attractions visit 
www.visitessex.com

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