Take your place at the inn

No bet­ter place to spend the fes­tive sea­son than here, says the writer travel2011

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - TRAVEL 2011 - DEB­O­RAH CUR­TIS- SETCHELL OGMERSFIELD

DPark And Spa has a dis­tinct Jane Austen ring about it, con­jur­ing up no­tions of Re­gency Eng­land and pe­riod piece dra­mas.

And it is ex­actly the right sort of place to en­joy a tra­di­tional fes­tive sea­son.

This clas­sic man­sion in the heart of ru­ral Hamp­shire cer­tainly has in­fi­nite Hol­ly­wood po­ten­tial. It has been lived in by both kings and bish­ops, is within close prox­im­ity to Al­ton vil­lage and the house where Jane Austen lived and wrote and in the same county, which spawned Charles Dick­ens. How­ever, thank­fully, the lat­est of the Four Sea­sons Col­lec­tion, eludes olde worlde sil­ver screen lo­ca­tion hunters, while at­tract­ing the dis­cern­ing modern sybarite, who ar­rives typ­i­cally by helicopter and hot air bal­loon, rather than by faux car­riage. Yes, for unadul­ter­ated con­tem­po­rary epi­curean value, Dog­mers­field Park is un­sur­passed as the ho­tel ‘for all sea­sons”, es­pe­cially the fes­tive sea­son.

I swept up the long un­du­lat­ing drive­way sur­rounded by 500 acres of ver­dant park­land, in the midst of an In­dian sum­mer, with the sun blaz­ing down on re­gal swans drift­ing sur­re­ally across the sparkling sur­faces of sur­round­ing lakes.

The only hint of au­tumn re­flected in the con­trast­ing red car­pets, un­der copses of golden oaks and ma­jes­tic lone elms and maples, trade­marks of this mag­nif­i­cent land­scape, so tan­ta­lis­ingly close to the bright lights of Lon­don. Fur­ther down the road lies, ex F1 cham­pion Jody Scheck­ter’s renowned Laver­stoke Park, which sup­plies sev­eral of the or­ganic lo­cally grown veg­eta­bles and meats (not least of all Christ­mas tur­keys) on ex­ec­u­tive chef, Cyrille Pan­nier’s tit­il­lat­ing fu­sion menus.

At Dog­mers­field Park, not only the deer, foxes and pheas­ant roam freely, gourmet pic­nics are the or­der of the day. More en­er­getic guests can jog or walk for miles (in fact all the way to Lon­don) from the nearby quaint vil­lage of Bar­ley Mow to his­toric pubs, like the Fox and Hound at Fleet along the Bas­ingstoke canal – in Vic­to­rian times the main high­way – bor­der­ing this his­toric prop­erty.

One is spoilt for choice when it comes to el­e­gant coun­try pur­suits and the state- of- the- art equip­ment im­me­di­ately at hand. Horse rid­ing, fal­conry, trout fish­ing and clay pi­geon shoot­ing are par for the course – less so is the ho­tel’s show-stop­ping pri­vate canal boat, boast­ing a fire­place and flat screen tele­vi­sion an­chored on the canal, next to a cu­ri­ous Aberdeen An­gus Bull and avail­able to hire, for leisurely pub cruises or ice-bound win­ter bar­be­ques. There are gleam­ing Land Rovers on standby with knowl­edge­able lo­cal driv­ers to ferry you be­tween the sta­bles and the fish­ing lodge – all within a stone’s throw of the cos­mopoli­tan din­ing room where food is pre­pared to per­fec­tion, by the very model of a modern Michelin French chef, who col­lects 18th and 19th cen­tury cook books.

No visit to quin­tes­sen­tial Jane Austen coun­try could be com­plete with­out a visit to the im­mac­u­late Four Sea­sons Spa, a spa to ri­val any Ro­man vari­a­tion, fol­lowed by the ul­ti­mate high tea..

As sea­sonal rit­u­als go, it doesn’t get more mag­i­cal than Christ­mas at the only ru­ral Four Sea­sons on the planet.

“Let there be Light!” – must be the mantra of any self re­spect­ing Christ­mas an­gel, of which there are many in this precinct, dis­pers­ing that divine el­e­ment so uni­ver­sally syn­ony­mous with the fes­tive sea­son – fire­light, can­dle­light, tree lights. It is this in­gre­di­ent, which con­trib­utes largely to the re­sound­ing su­pe­ri­or­ity of Dog­mers­field Park, dur­ing all four sea­sons.

The warm, glossy neo-ge­or­gian in­te­rior of this Four Sea­sons is a bril­liant tes­ti­mony to the per­fect har­mony of nat­u­ral and ar­ti­fi­cial light.

There are a host of themed chil­dren’s cos­tume par­ties in the com­mu­nal ar­eas of the spa. Off-duty par­ents can still serenely nur­ture their glass of bub­bly in front of a blaz­ing fire­place, in the “With­draw­ing Room” while their clan skate mer­rily across Tundry Pond, or to­bog­gan hys­ter­i­cally down Chalky Lane Hill with sev­eral of Santa’s “elves” in tow.

The man­sion is exclusively for in­house guests over this pe­riod and the aura of a never-end­ing house party pre­sides. On Christ­mas Eve a lo­cal choir from Hart­ley Whit­ney dressed in Ed­war­dian cos­tumes gather in the snow, at the foot of a land­mark tree and her­ald the an­gels.

Trees be­ing the peren­nial fea­ture of this unique Four Sea­sons prop­erty, you can rest as­sured the “fes­tively dressed” ones, grac­ing the re­cep­tion area and Sea­sons Restau­rant, match the sky high out­door species in terms of grandeur. The lights cas­cad­ing from frosted branches twin­kle as brightly as those Beth­le­hem stars

Ex­u­ber­ant chil­dren are pro­vided with hand-em­broi­dered stock­ings and hot choco­late and gar­nished baby car­rots are left near roar­ing fire­places in an­tic­i­pa­tion of Fa­ther Christ­mas and his gifts.

Ev­ery­one re­ceives a gift on Christ­mas day and you can con­sider yours “heaven scent”, if you un­wrap one of the mirac­u­lous flower- based Espa prod­ucts in your own stock­ing.

There sim­ply is no other place in Eng­land to wal­low in win­ter won­der, than the Four Sea­sons in Hamp­shire.

TIME­LESS: En­joy an un­for­get­table Christ­mas as you take a step back in time at the Four Sea­sons in Hamp­shire.

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