Just over an hour from west London in the picturesque village of Banbury sits Fawsley Hall—a lovely and historical country house, which has been converted into a 58-room hotel, spa and event venue, perfect for weddings, meetings or just a rural getaway. We recently checked in to check it out.
Members of the Knightley family began building the house in the 15th century and inhabited it until the 20th. Lady Knightley lived there last, until 1914; for a Downton Abbey-style snoop into a bygone era, read a copy of her journals, found in each guest room. The house has a colourful history: Edmund Knightley, whose job was to snatch Catholic lands as commissioner for the Suppression of the Monasteries, was duly knighted by a presumably grateful Henry VIII. Though later the relationship with the monarchy turned wobbly (one member of the family was imprisoned for allowing the printing of Puritan material), in the 16th century relations were still cozy. Richard Knightley hosted Elizabeth I on several occasions, and the room she occupied on her final visit has become the hotel’s 1575 Suite—perfect for families as it has an adjoining bedroom. Of course we popped in for a quick peek:
Because of its proximity to London, arriving on a Friday evening or even a Saturday morning is feasible. We decided to turn up a few hours before dinner so we could go for a country walk to work up an appetite. The hotel recommended the Knightley Trail: rolling hills, lazy sheep and ancient churches—the idyllic country ramble. Appetites revved up, it was time for some dinner in one of the hotel’s two restaurants, Equilibrium or Bess’s Brasserie. The former is better suited for a romantic evening à deux, so we opted for the more informal brasserie, which has an extensive menu for adults—tapas, pasta, grills and a Sunday roast—as well as a standard kids’ menu.
What to do
After dinner we strolled into the Great Hall for a nightcap. The opulent setting was perfect for a very serious game of Monopoly. At 9pm the hotel screens a film in its cinema—unfortunately a little late for kiddies, but there is talk of establishing an earlier family-friendly showtime. Ample lawn and boa games keep the children occupied, and during the day the whole family can play a round of croquet on the lawns.
The next morning we had breakfast before heading to the pool for a family swim. The pool is open for kids for a few hours in the morning and the afternoon, so if you’ve brought the young ‘uns be sure to make it down during those times. You can go for a workout at the fully equipped gym, or if you’re after a little pampering, the hotel also boasts a spa—great for a romantic weekend, or one with the girlfriends, or if you’re with your partner you can tag-team taking care of the kids.
A hop, skip and a jump…
Other prime properties lie near Fawsley Hall—from Althorp, the Spencer family estate where Princess Diana is buried, to Warwick Castle, with its fantastic ramparts and towers. Stratford-Upon-Avon, for all the Shakespeare sights, is within easy reach, as is Churchill’s birthplace, Blenheim Palace, with its kid-pleasing Pleasure Gardens, featuring a miniature train, butterfly house, maze and the all-important adventure play area. Or haul the kids to nearby Oxford to visit beautiful Bodleian Library, punt along the River Cherwell, or take the Harry Potter tour.
Fawsley Hall welcomes children without specifically catering to them (Center Parks it ain’t). But if you’re looking for a chilled country weekend—with the family, your partner or your girlfriends—Fawsley Hall fits the bill.