I love staying in hotels. They can be ultra-modern city gaffes with spa and pool, seaside establishments that lean more towards shabby chic, or, my very favourite, historic splendour. I don’t deny that a mini-break generally doesn’t come cheap but for a writer who doesn’t really do conventional holidays (two weeks in the wherever) they are the perfect antidote to the vicissitudes of life. It was in this frame of mind that I took advantage of a very generous birthday cum Christmas cum New Year present given to me by one of my brothers, and booked into Wood Norton Hotel.
As always, my other half treated the experience as a great opportunity to ‘power down’ and spend ‘quality time’ together while knowing that the chances of me staying awake long enough to have a bath and eat dinner and breakfast were not a dead cert. For ‘power down’ read ‘conked out’ because something exceedingly strange happens when I step off the world, as I know it. If I also combine it with a digital detox (no I-Pad, no phone, in short, no communication), I can literally glide into a hotel room, test the firmness or otherwise of the mattress and, before I know it, sleep the clock round. Unfortunately, I ran true to form this time too.
But I digress. Built in 1897 by Duc D’Orleans, Wood Norton is a triumph of 19th century architecture outside and oak wood panelled rooms and ceilings inside. It stayed within the French family for a number of years and during the Second World War, the BBC bought it when it shifted operations from London. Although it was sold again, the BBC still retains a training facility next-door and, on the night we stayed, there was a party of ‘Beeb’ personnel filling their boots in the bar.
From the moment we strolled into Reception, it felt as if we’d briefly entered a less pressurised world. It’s one of those places where there are lots of nooks and crannies in which you can take afternoon tea, which we did, or slope off to have a quiet conversation and drink. The vibe is comfortable meets old world glamour. It’s dead easy to imagine all those French aristocrats chugging on cigars and pouring themselves another measure of Cognac.
Our room was spacious and, joy unconfined, cool – I mean this in the literal sense. (Who wants to eat dinner, have a few drinks and then sweat the night away in an overheated hotel room resistant to any kind of ventilation?) The five course tasting menu, part of the package, was outstandingly good and far exceeded our expectations. Just in case you think, ‘greedy pigs’, each course was tiny and perfectly pitched to create plenty of room to move onto the next course without feeling overly full. Vaguely alarmed by the smell of old bonfire before we’d eaten a mouthful, we soon discovered that the source emanated from a glitzy Heston Blumenthal influenced ‘amuse bouche,’ containing smoked apple and pyrotechnics. The duck and fig starter was a fabulous taste explosion. For a main, I ate turbot, a fish I haven’t consumed in years, and my other half had rabbit, but bunny not as you’d recognise it. This was a glorious concoction, his words, not mine, of firm and smooth lapin. Had it not been for ‘Fatal Attraction’ looming large in my psyche, I would have ventured a taste. The wine menu was extensive and well priced. Again, part of the deal, we had a lovely bottle of Pinot Noir. If I had one criticism, the lighting throughout the restaurant (and, indeed the rest of the hotel) would have made the average glow-worm seem dazzling by comparison. Often, dingy illumination signifies that there is something to hide – not at all the case – so it was a real pity that magnificent food didn’t receive the full glare of publicity that it deserved.
And the staff? From the manager and receptionists to bar and waiting staff, it was professional, friendly and ‘can do’. What more could you ask for? Perhaps a spa with pool, I wondered, but that, I’m glad to report, is a work in progress. Can’t wait for the next big sleep there.
Wood Norton Hotel is just outside Evesham, Worcestershire