Hoo’s Who. Seriously. It’s that good. The revivification of Countess Markievicz. Luton is the new Paris. Katie Ice swapped a (not so plain) runway for the (plane) runway. The revolution has begun. Game on. As for that legendary niche leap…. the model as ballerina! The hotel’s all it’s cracked up to be and more. Postcard home material. Luton Hoo is to Luton what Versailles is to Paris. Luton Hoo. The country house that looks like a French hotel and is now a Frenchified hotel. Just when things couldn’t get more glamorous, they do. Katie pulls up in a chauffeur escorted Bentley. She looks, as ever, as if she has just stepped off a Parisian photoshoot. Turns out she has. Lady in red and fuchsia pink. Louis Roederer Brut Premier filled volutes in hand, with a lust for living and a gusto of giving it our all, we breeze through the French doors and begin dancing like dervishes across the lawn, spinning in wonder at the infinite beauty of the place and life itself. Is it a lawn? No, it’s a dancefloor this evening. Is that a path? No, a catwalk. A niche? Podium. Pleasure Gardens? Pleasure Gardens. Luton Hoo is a playground for the beautiful and restless.
The estate is some 400 hectares (the same size as Castle Leslie in County Monaghan) with boundary belts of woodland cushioning the impact of the M1 and Luton Airport a couple of kilometres away. It’s amazingly tranquil with lots of wildlife – muntjac deer graze in the grasslands in full view of our bedroom balcony. The River Lea runs along the whole length of the estate and widens in two places to form lakes. We make a variety of photogenic horticultural discoveries from the elevated formal terrace to the sunken rock garden. The 1760s Robert Adam designed stable yard lies south of the house set back from the avenue amongst woodland. A monsoon erupts as we ensconce ourselves in Adam’s Brasserie in the converted stable block. Knickerbockers-returned-to-their-former glory. The walls are hung with stills of actors from the many films set at Luton Hoo: Stephen Fry in Wilde; Hugh Grant in Four Weddings and a Funeral; Julianne Moore in Surviving Picasso; Sophie Morceau in The World is Not Enough; Jonathan Rees Myers in Vanity Fair.
In 1767 John Stuart the 3rd Earl of Bute, who’d been Prime Minister for barely a year, employed architect Robert Adam to design a country house for his newly acquired estate. Robert Adam (1728 to 1792) was the Robert Adam (1948 to still going strong) of his day. The following century, it was Smirked (Sir Robert Smirke gave it a Greek revival makeover) under the direction of the 3rd Earl’s grandson, burnt, and then re-Smirked (new owner businessman John Leigh rebuilt it much the same as before). At this time, the Ionic portico dominated entrance front resembled that of Mount Stewart in County Down. South African diamond magnate Sir Julius Wernher and his wife Lady Birdie bought Luton Hoo at the turn of last century. The pair really went to ville, appointing The Ritz Paris refurb architects Charles Mewès and Arthur Davis (who’d met at the École des Beaux Arts) to transform the house into a Louis the Hooey château with more oeils de boeuf than a cattle mart. It became a country Haussmann.
Elite Hotels acquired Luton Hoo in 1999 and following a restoration and rejuvenation of the house and estate, opened it nine years later to paying guests. The greatest change to the main house was raising the roof from single pitches to mansards – how terribly French! This allowed the insertion of dormer windowed guest rooms on the second floor. In addition to the 38 bedroom suites in the main house, architect Andrew Clague designed a standalone neo Georgian block hidden in the woodlands to provide another 38 suites. Further guest accommodation was created in the converted stables. The Aurora Group bought the hotel and estate in 2021.
Robert Adam architecture; Capability Brown parkland; Fabergé eggs; Gobelin tapestries; Grinling Gibbons woodwork; John Sargent portraits… all the class signifiers are ticked and present. If it was good enough for Queen Mary… There’s even a sapphic staircase. The bulk of the Wernher Collection, more than 650 works of art, is how housed at Ranger’s House in Blackheath. Over Buffalo mozzarella with avocado, Giant Israeli cous cous and mint, and Chocolate orange tart with fresh macerated strawberries served in the drawing room, Katie exclaims, “I love Paris!” In England she models for Mary Martin London. “Mary is like Vivienne Westwood. She is creating fashion for everyone. Mary and Vivienne are both wildly talented – and eccentric! I love hats like my mum. I love when people wear heels, when they dress up. I’m originally from Kielce – it’s such a huge leafy city. I miss Poland but I love England. I’m very sentimental.” It’s all a bit like The Hotel, Elizabeth Bowen’s novel published in 1972, “Gratifying how one’s intimate world contracted itself, how one’s friends always wove themselves in! Society was fascinating, so like a jigsaw puzzle!”