A stay at Burnham Beeches
First impressions go a long way, especially when arriving at a hotel for the first time, and Burnham Beeches hotel in Buckinghamshire made quite the impression – both good and some with room for improvement.
On the positive side, the square, light-coloured building set at the end of a sweeping lawn decorated with a pretty pergola looked rather impressive, even if closer up it could have done with a fresh coat of paint. In style and colour it almost could be mistaken for a mini-Sopwell House, the luxury hotel and spa near St Alban’s, which is high praise indeed.
The hotel (formally known as Cant’s Hill) was originally built in 1727 as a hunting lodge. Royal hunting parties used to stay here, in what was once a part of Windsor Great Park, so it certainly isn’t lacking in history.
The modern hotel consists of two parts – the older, stylish wing and the newer red-brick extension. Guests arriving at Burnham Beeches might be put off by the rather tatty reception building which links the two parts of the hotel, but underneath the slightly tired exterior of Burnham Beeches was actually a rather sweet hotel, with good food and some very hard-working and loyal staff.
Facilities at Burnham Beeches
Burnham Beeches bedrooms
There are 78 bedrooms and four suites at this four-star hotel, which range across the older and newer wings of the hotel building. Our superior double bedroom, in the newer part, was very much in the standard ‘business-hotel’ mode, with a superking-sized bed, TV, wardrobe, smart bathroom with bath and shower, and all the useful room extras including free wifi, an iron and ironing board, espresso machine, hair-dryer and room safe.
It was fine if rather soulless for a country house hotel, and it was only on further investigation the following morning that we realised we could have stayed in a far more charming room in the older part, for exactly the same price.
A superior double in the other wing had a high ceiling, ornate wallpaper and best of all, a large, roll-top bath taking pride of place in the bay window, which had sweeping views of the lawn. It was like being in a completely different hotel.
Top tip: when you book at Burnham Beeches, make sure you specify what type of room you would like and in the older or newer part of the hotel, as it makes for a completely different hotel experience.
Spa, bar and restaurant
The hotel also has a restaurant, a small bar, wedding/conference facilities and a small leisure centre with a small (about 10m) indoor swimming pool, hot tub, a couple of loungers and a gym with various fitness machines.
Two rooms in the older part of the hotel have been converted into beauty and wellness rooms – the Soul Spa – and on the Sunday morning I enjoyed an excellent neck and back massage (30 min, £40) from Hannah while my partner had his first ever pedicure (45 mins, £40) and seem to very much enjoy it.
Burnham Beeches afternoon tea
Once we had checked into our modern bedroom, we headed into the Tea Lounge for traditional afternoon tea. This was a popular choice, even on a cold January Saturday afternoon, and we could soon see why: the room itself was opulently decorated, with the large, bay windows facing the front lawn, and the afternoon tea itself was taken very seriously.
There was a choice of seven different teas, including Earl Grey, Darjeeling, Green Tea and Red Bush, served loose leaf with little tea strainers. It was good value at £29.50, and you could add a glass of Prosecco too for £37 (which we did – the setting seemed to call for it).
Afternoon tea at Burnham Beeches is served on traditional cake stands, which adds to the sense of occasion. On the bottom layer was a feast of sandwiches – with the crusts cut off, of course – oak-smoked salmon and cream cheese, free-range egg mayonnaise with mustard cress, and Berkshire ham with English mustard. The bread was soft, the fillings plentiful and they were just right – and the bonus treats of Coronation chicken on brioche and Welsh rarebit tart were even better.
Nestling in a napkin bed on the middle layer were warm scones, plain and raisin, and while they were a little dry, the generous helpings of jam and cream helped make up for it. Finally – and we were pretty full by this point – we tucked into the top layer of chocolate cakes and fruit tarts and considered this an excellent way to spend a weekend afternoon. There are also vegan and children’s options as well as just scones with jam and cream if you can’t manage the whole selection, and it certainly went a long way to restoring the Burnham Beeches experience.
Exploring Burnham Beeches nature reserve
Burnham Beeches hotel is, as you’d expect, close to the famed Burnham Beeches nature reserve, with ancient beech trees, abundant wildlife and a mass of walking, cycling and horse-riding trails. Its unspoiled natural beauty and proximity to many London film studios means many films have been shot here, from An American Werewolf in London and Robin Hood to the Harry Potter franchise and we spent a lovely couple of hours rambling around the historic woodlands, having found a car park just a few minutes’ drive from the hotel.
Burnham Beeches restaurant
Dinner at Burnham Beeches was another unexpected highlight of our stay at this Buckinghamshire hotel, although due to the number of guests choosing to dine in, the traditional Oak Room dining room was full when we arrived.
We were seated instead in the next-door breakfast room, which was bright and loud and not at all what we were hoping for, but we were thankfully moved into the main room before too long when a table became free.
This was more like it, with its oak-panelling and candlelight, and the food itself was surprisingly good.
Stephen ‘won’ both courses, with his mussels on toast (£12.50) and 28-day matured venison with kale, juniper jus and blackberry (£32) – the cuttlefish crackers were a real delight – but my dishes of Burrata winter salad and Stone Bass fillet were also good, even if the latter inexplicably included lots of apricots (which weren’t on the menu). The waiter promised to investigate but never returned, so the apricots remain a mystery.
The cheese course was also a bit of a mystery. We selected three out of the five available cheeses – Baron Bigod, Barkham Blue and Solstice, but instead a plate arrived with the blue and a random cheddar. We were told that this was all the chef had, but after asking if this could be checked, the waitress reappeared with the requested selection.
The staff were working very hard, but were possibly short-staffed as there was a wedding that evening (it was quite separate from the rest of the hotel, so the noise was kept to a minimum and it finished at 11pm anyway).
Burnham Beeches hotel breakfast
The same was true at breakfast, where staff members Harry and Gosia provided a heroic service to keep everything going in spite of a packed breakfast room.
There was a good range of cereals, pastries, yoghurts and juices but the cooked options were served buffet-style which meant in my case, a lengthy wait for bacon to be replenished.
Thankfully Gosia provided some excellent double espressos and we retired to the main lounge with the weekend papers, wishing only that the fireplaces were lit which would have made for a lovely, warming and cosy atmosphere.
My main criticism of Burnham Beeches was definitely the reception area, which from the outside was so shabby that I nearly went straight home.
Inside, there had been attempts to make it look more cheerful, with some colourful sofas (but no carpet or rugs to cover up the gloomy floorboards), but the reception desk itself was hardly more welcoming. For some reason, staff sit right at the back of the desk rather than upfront to welcome guests, giving the impression they are working on something completely different and you are interrupting them with questions.
While some staff members came up to the front to talk to guests, they often didn’t, leading to awkward half-shouted conversations to the back of the room.
In spite of this, there is much to like about Burnham Beeches, and with a couple of tweaks by its owners Corus Hotels it could turn into a very nice country house hotel: more staff, a refresh of the paintwork and a serious rethink about the reception area which gives completely the wrong impression. But with near-full occupancy on a cold January weekend, then they might not feel it’s worth the investment – let’s hope they do and really give Burnham Beeches the entrance it deserves.
Hotel information and to book Burnham Beeches
Burnham Beeches hotel,
Rooms start at £128 for two people.
Valentine’s at Burnham Beeches
Burnham Beeches is offering a Couple’s Retreat package in an Superior Room, Valentine’s cocktail on arrival, three-course dinner with a bottle of house wine, breakfast and a 25-minute massage or express facial at the Soul Spa treatment rooms. From £352 per couple from Sunday to Thursday, or £372 per couple on Fridays and Saturdays.
Looking for hotels with afternoon tea?
Gourmet stay at Gravetye Manor, a West Sussex gem
Grand Cotswolds luxury at The Hare and Hounds, Tetbury
Boutique village charm at The Painswick, Gloucestershire
Milsoms Kesgrave Hall, Suffolk charm and style
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