Standing outside Stoke Park mansion, I suddenly had a feeling of déjÃ vu. Yes, I had definitely been here before.
At the time I had just surreptitiously placed a tracking device in the boot of Auric Goldfinger’s car, having beaten him at golf. And his side-kick Oddjob had demonstrated his lethal capacity by chopping off the head of a nearby marble statue with his flying bowler hat.
Now there’s a chance that might have actually been Sean Connery playing James Bond and that I’ve watched Goldfinger once too often. But I knew I recognized the place from somewhere and further investigation revealed that 007 had filmed here on another occasion too – the other was the somewhat less classic Tomorrow Never Dies.
What I can say for sure is that Stoke Park today – not just a top-end golf club but also a five-star hotel – is every inch glamorous enough as a backdrop to your Bond fantasies.
As if to prove the point, no sooner had we checked in than we were relaxing on our private sun terrace under the clear blue skies, sipping Champagne and eating juicy strawberries.
But there are plenty of ways to unwind at Stoke Park. For the sporting there is a 27-hole championship golf course, naturally, but also 13 tennis courts, an excellent gym and a large indoor swimming pool.
A Terrake tailored massage was not a Bond-style pummeling by an enormous Swede, determined to do you serious bodily injury but a gentle, relaxing escape.
And, in the unlikely event you are still wound up after that, you can soothe away your remaining cares and worries in the steamroom.
For me, though, there is no better way to relax than with a top class meal and Stoke Park can deliver that too to the weary traveller.
At Humphry’s chef Chris Wheeler counterbalances the grandeur of the historic mansion house with his equally elegant but much more modern twist on British cuisine.
That means delicate respect for great ingredients like his Dorset Crab with a soft-boiled quails egg. And then there’s big flavors like the roast tournedos of beef with bone marrow, served with horseradish potato cakes and salsify.
But Chris – who was a complete charmer when we met him – also has a fun side. The Humphry’s Snickers desert deconstructed the idea of the chocolate bar with chocolate and peanut mousse, a particularly successful salted chocolate caramel and many more little treats.
Incidentally there was a little box of Stoke Park chocolates waiting for us back in our room – and very nice they were too with a shot of coffee from our bedside Nespresso machine.
Combine all that with the same excellent, but unimposing service, and it’s no surprise that Marco Pierre White describes Humphry’s ‘an experience you want to relive again and again’ – and we hear more accolades may soon follow.
The Georgian mansion itself is the latest manifestation of an estate which has a 1,000 year history. And the bedrooms are named after some of those who have had the greatest influence over the park.
American visitors may enjoy the fact that one of these was John Penn, who poured a large proportion of the cash the US government paid him for selling them his family’s 26million acre plot in Pennsylvania to purchase the estate. Anyway, our room was grand enough and comfortable enough for this to seem like a fairly sound investment.
Fully relaxed the next morning it was time to explore a little further. Luckily Stoke Park’s stunning gardens, designed by the incredibly talented 18th century landscapers ‘Capability’ Brown and Humphry Repton, hide the ugliness that is the nearest town of Slough from sight.
But, if you ignore Slough at all costs, this is an amazing corner of England to explore. Historic Windsor – the Queen’s ‘home’ with its phenomenal castle – is a short drive away. You can also use this as a base explore the traditional English countryside of Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire.
Don’t overlook the less touristy sights either. One of my favorites is Runnymede, where King John was forced to sign the Magna Carter in 1215 – a unique set of ‘human rights’ laws and an inspiration for the American constitution. So it’s appropriate that hidden behind the trees is a memorial to John F Kennedy, donated by the Queen to the US. And on the hills above is the Air Forces Memorial to the fallen Commonwealth fliers of World War II – the views from here over the Thames Valley are so stunning you could almost be soaring through the clouds with them.
Stoke Park is a short hop from London by train and taxi and is easily reachable from Heathrow. But to enjoy the surrounding area properly you really need a car.
We got ours from VroomVroomVroom, a dead simple car hire site – one of the quickest and easiest we have used. They cover Europe, the US and Australia and offer the best prices with no hidden fees. With all the hassle taken out of it, it was good to be behind the wheel again.
And I suspect that – gadget packed as it was – the Audi we hired would even be good enough for Bond. Sadly they don’t offer solid gold Rolls Royce’s yet but I really felt Stoke Park had let me live out my 007 fantasy enough without that.
Stoke Park is in Park Road, Stoke Poges, Buckinghamshire, SL2 4PG, UK. Call +44 (0)1753 717 171 to find out more or visit stokepark.com.
You can organize your car booking at vroomvroomvroom.co.uk.
Watch the classic Goldfinger Bond scenes from Stoke Park here: