It was like being on some fancy film set and so it was easy to see why Steven Spielberg chose to stay here. The great Jewish movie-maker would have appreciated the attention to detail.
Spielberg is in good company – the Queen and Prince Philip have been guests and Winston Churchill was a frequent visitor. Therefore I was more than happy to have a snoop around Luton Hoo Hotel during a memorable one-night break I’d booked as a surprise for my partner.
My only grumble is that I could have done with another night or two at this five-star country retreat, but Ilisa and I still departed fully refreshed.
The hotel is close to Luton Airport (not that you’d notice) and on the borders of Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire, but the only connection with the airport is that this venue should leave you on cloud nine.
I do have a confession: I did not pack a jacket for dinner and felt a right nincompoop when I found out that one was required for the Wernher Restaurant. I should have realised, because it is not only fine dining but one of the most stunning-looking restaurants you will ever frequent, with the designer of The Ritz Restaurant in London hired to do a similar job here.
The senior member of staff who discreetly handed me a smart jacket would surely have impressed Spielberg. She’d pretended I had left it in my room and no-one in the lounge was any the wiser. It was a fine performance and I was able to get back to listening to the talented pianist as we sipped cocktails.
Then from a small drama to a dramatic setting as we entered the breathtaking Wernher Restaurant.
Sitting amidst the marble grandeur and hanging tapestries, you hope the food matches up. Well, Ilisa and I were in for a treat.
She is kosher and I can be a fussy eater but, from the amuse bouche to the perfectly-cooked fish, every mouthful was heavenly. After a melt-in-your-mouth meringue dessert and petit fours, I could hardly do up my jacket. Oh well, they could have it back now!
On the subject of suitable attire, I cannot forget how when we arrived at the fabulous 18th century Mansion House that morning – the centrepiece of Luton Hoo – we were greeted by porters wonderfully dressed in charming morning suits.
It was like being in a bygone age and, whether rich or not, easy to feel a bit like an aristocrat.
The forgotten jacket had not seemed my only mistake. When we had entered the premises, I could not understand why my sat nav told me I still had four minutes to go. It was fine… the technology was working nicely, but the drive to the Mansion House takes a while, such is the size of the estate. Be sure to travel at a snail’s pace to take in the splendid surroundings.
Ilisa and I had been working hard and were much in need of this overnighter. We drove past their long golf course and that got my juices flowing for a round.
But I had promised to keep my clubs firmly putt away! (Note to golfers: don’t make such foolish promises).
Luton Hoo and the neighbouring area have played host to much movie-making over the years. Spielberg had stayed while directing War Horse in 2011. Another Jewish talent in the industry, Israeli actress Gal Gadot, had also checked in for the filming of Wonder Woman a couple of years ago.
One of my favourite actors, Hugh Grant, had helped shoot the second wedding in Four Weddings and a Funeral in the main hotel.
After stepping foot inside the fantastic Grade I listed building, we took our time appreciating the Edwardian-style decor. There are so many outstanding features, including silk lined and panelled walls, marble fireplaces, elegant carpets and wonderful artwork. The Antiques Roadshow would have a field day.
In fact, it was thirsty work and we took a seat in the lounge by the window for Afternoon Tea, which did not disappoint. The selection of teas was impressive. No one batted an eyelid when I tried three varieties, including a sumptuous lemon and ginger – although some guests may have looked at me funny when I went for the ‘treble’ again… this time the home-made scones!
If you fancy working off some of the delicious nosh, there are tennis courts, including one from Victorian times, bicycles to borrow and a gymnasium.
I headed boldly for the gym in the Country Club, where the stables used to be when the estate was home to the Wernher family, who were very much part of the English establishment.
Truth be told, I took a slight detour and enjoyed a spa treatment instead!
This delightful area is a short walk from the Mansion House, although you can get a porter to drive you there in a green or black taxi, which is a marvellous touch and does not involve a meter running.
My deep tissue massage was first class and my therapist showed a magic touch as all my knots seemed to disappear. I eased my tension further with a stint in the sauna, but did not venture into the large indoor swimming pool, though it was popular.
Talking of popular, Luton Hoo is booked up throughout the year for weddings, bar and bat mitzvahs and various other celebrations.
Ten years ago they built a separate hotel and banqueting area, Warren Weir, for such occasions and it is very tastefully done. We saw them setting up one wedding and there is a constant flow of brides and grooms in this neck of the woods.
Ilisa did not drop any clues as to whether she fancied returning to get a quote, but as we took our time exiting the grounds the following morning, I did feel she loved me a little bit more…
Mark stayed at Luton Hoo Hotel, Golf & Spa, where an overnight stay and Traditional English breakfast starts from £220 (based on two sharing), www.lutonhoo.co.uk