Review: Lucknam Park, Chippenham

Lucknam Park

Lucknam Park, Chippenham
Room type: Cottage Suite
Duration: 30th May > 3rd June, 2016 
Booked with: Andrew Harper
Offers: 74% off last-minute deal

Pre-sales

I emailed before arriving and I’m still waiting for a response to it.  But I will not be too harsh, as perhaps I missed the email due to how discombobulated I was.  It still defies the laws of physics to talk about it now.  What an amazing deal Andrew Harper’s last-minute offer was.  My own definition of last minute is running out of the door with my trousers around my ankles as I’m desperately trying to get to Heathrow for a plane that is due to leave within the next hour, but I’m at least 2 hours away.  Andrew Harper believes “last-minute” is anytime within the next 2 months.  I wish more could follow in their noble example.

I’ve not stopped laughing since I received confirmation from the hotel.  This confirmed the price, which was a nice moment of relief as I was expecting a Nigerian prince to turn up and say my stay was only confirmed if I could personally deposit money into his account.  My jaw muscles have started to spasm now from all the laughter.  Just as I was about to get over the joy of a bargain, I arrived and found they had given an upgrade to a Cottage Suite.  At these rates it starts to make economical sense to move in.

Getting there

30 minutes from Whatley Manor.  20 minutes from Bath.  4 hours from my house.  Wherever you are coming from, you are in for quite the pleasant surprise.

Lucknam Park entrance at night

Setting

Lucknam Park’s grand entrance

As always, I asked for a tour on arrival and was given one, although it barely lasted a minute.  Here’s the reception, here’s the library, here’s the bar and down there is our restaurant.  Over the courtyard is the spa.  It all seemed rather underwhelming.  After doing a self-guided tour of the gardens, things started to look up.  By the time we reached the new wing of the building, which contained the state-of-the-art spa and modern restaurant, smiles were starting to form.

You are in the classic, picturesque, English countryside resort.  Beech trees guide you down the long driveway to the main building, where you’ll be greeted by a surprisingly youthful and chipper set of staff – a pleasant dichotomy between the archaic decor.

Rooms

I never used to believe anything could be better than a room upgrade.  But there is.  It’s getting a room upgrade on a booking that already received a 74% discount.  This is what lottery winners must feel like.  When DVDs came out, I never saw what the fuss was about and couldn’t tell the difference between VHS and DVD.  After a few weeks I could never go back to VHS again.  This is the equivalent.  How am I expected to go from £200/n for a suite, back to normal life again?

I would have happily accepted the Park Room; I would have been ecstatic by a suite; but The Cottage Suite that had sweeping views over looking the stunning beech trees, well, that can only be defined under the emotion of hysteria.  Welcome chocolates were also supplied, which had a note welcoming me back, even though I had never been before.  They must already think I’m part of the family.

As I’m unable to feel pure joy for periods longer than several minutes before the darkness sets in, I would still need to comment on some issues.  They hard an unusually hard time understanding what a Tempur pillow is and were unable to provide anything even close to one.  It was like asking for some water, only to be given some ice cream.  The radiators were also not working and we had to have portable heaters, but no one ever decided to mention this.  Only as my limbs started falling off did it become apparent.  Welcome to summer in England.

I don’t care if there were another family in the room with me, I would still be happy
Not even in fairytales do they provide a living room at these prices
If you look closely enough, you can see all my dreams coming true.

Amenities

I would not have wanted to visit this hotel prior to the new wing being built.  It is surprisingly small for a building that looks so grand on the outside.  With the new wing, you have the benefit of a much more modern feel and extra facilities.

  • Library room
  • Michelin star restaurant
  • Spa
  • Restaurant
  • Bar

Spa

Model of the spa

What a nice touch – a full model of the spa.  It sits in the hallway looking completely out of place amongst the old furnishings and so too should such a modern spa look completely out of place in an old country estate, but somehow they’ve managed to make it work.

The facilities here are truly world class.  From the dressing rooms, to the light effects on the entrance, to the entire spa and restaurant area, it feels like every single element has been carefully thought through in order to ensure that in 10 years time this still stands up against the competition.

  • 20m Indoor swimming pool with an electric fire beside it
  • Indoor/outdoor hydrotherapy pool
  • Sauna, Steam room, Japanese Salt, Amethyst Room and Tepidarium
  • Sauna and steam rooms in the changing rooms
  • Being able to go in dressing gown to their spa/main restaurant until 6:30
  • High-speed Internet

The spa facilities are amongst the best that I’ve ever seen, with the longest opening times I’ve seen – 7am to 10pm – and perfect Internet connectivity.  But I would still choose Whatley Manor over Lucknam Park for a variety of reasons.

  • It is significantly busier in Lucknam Park, especially due to the swimming pool being there and a large number of locals using the facilities.
  • The air temperature is not as warm as Whatley Manor or The Connaught
  • The nearby restaurant is far away enough that you would not want to leave all your possessions behind as you went there.  At Whatley Manor the cafe overlooks the main spa area and is immediately next to the loungers.  As it’s so busy, it’s likely you will lose your spot on the way back.
  • No drinks are served.
  • Kids are allowed, although there is a limited time of the day when they are not.
  • It felt at times like a pensioners meeting area
  • The property suffers from having the spa as a completely separate part of the building.  This means walking across an – very likely cold and wet – courtyard in your robe, or having to get changed when you arrive.
Hydrotherapy pool and swimming pool
Hydrotherapy pool leading to outdoors
Swimming pool
Lay down, relax, and dream of all the money you’re saving by staying here.

Activities

Unlike Whatley Manor, there are things to do at Lucknam Park.  Like Whatley Manor, I did none of them.  My partner decided that she take advantage of their daily yoga sessions.  At £15 for an hour, it’s hard to believe that only 1 other person was there.  These types of deals should be widely circulated to every corner of the globe.

View into the courtyard

Food

Having fine-dined prior to Lucknam Park, I decided not to bother with their Michelin star restaurant.  Recently, I’ve found myself too disappointed with them to want to spend another £300+ on a meal.  If they opened for lunch and offered a fixed-price menu, I may have considered it.  Not to worry, as their other 2 restaurants offered a perfectly fine opportunity to try out their culinary offerings.  It is worth knowing that guests are not given priority here (many resorts will always keep space for their residents), so you will need to make sure you book.

Park Restaurant breakfast menu

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Breakfast is served in either their new restaurant or their main dining room.  The menu is completely different between the two restaurants, with my preference being on the new restaurant.  They have healthier choices, with a better selection of drinks and some quick dishes, such as bacon sandwiches.  I would also pick it for having a better view and more relaxed vibe to it; the main dining room is where the Michelin star restaurant is based, so you won’t begrudge it for being elegant, but elegance in silence is a not a dish best served.  The hotel was either very empty during our stay, or they instil a maximum breakfast occupancy rate of 4 people, as it was like a ghost town.  Breakfast was somehow included in the already ridiculous price.

Pork belly

The food was always of a very good standard, without standing out as exceptional.  Lunch and dinner had very , reasonable pricing for almost everything, yet then amongst the ever-growing list of bargains I would notice some chicken with peas for £25.  As is the norm with these countryside resorts, the room service menu consisted of around 3 starters, mains and desserts.

Park Restaurant

There are improvements needing to take place here.  The breakfast was cold on the first day; on the bank holiday Monday the kitchen ran out of a large amount of food; the limited menu meant that after 4 days you would be begging for inspiration – I found myself eating the same dish several times; you have to sign for every meal, but I can understand this due to how busy Lucknam gets from non-residents.  Most bizarrely, and something I’ve never experienced before, the same dish would end up being served completely differently day to day.  I ordered a delightful ice-cream sundae, so being the predictable kinda fella I am, I ordered it again the next day; it had as much in common with the previous one as I have in common with a Keith Richards.  We may be made of the same stuff, but no one is confuse us for one another.

The Brasserie

Service

The service element feels more polished than Whatley Manor, with a clear display of experience.  I did not feel like I’m somewhere where everyone is looking for guidance on what to do.  There are some nice touches of service here, which has clearly been thought through, such as chocolate bars and water being provided when you leave.  Whilst I did not met the GM, I did not feel anything was lacking as a result of this.  The majority of time was spent in the spa, where almost all resorts are understandably handoffs in their approach towards this.

The one key area where they need to focus on would be room service.  Almost the entire wrong food selection was sent to our room for room service on the first day, with one item on the menu being told to us on delivery that it did not exist.  After pointing at it, they accepted it existed, but still could not deliver it.  Second time lucky on the next day and we were almost there, but the main course was once again wrong.  Then on the 3rd night it took over an hour to receive room service, which consisted of some desserts and a drink.

Roses by main reception.

Worth Knowing

The best Internet connection of any resort I’ve ever been to.  In testing their connection on speedtest.net, they actually had a 100Mbps upload.  For somewhere completely in the middle of nowhere that struggles for phone reception and with a clientele who probably don’t know either what the Internet is or what year it is, they sure went out of their way to make sure no one complains about connectivity.  It would not surprise me to find out it’s an MI5 safe house.

The Good

  • Nice to see such a detailed bill on leaving, that showed exactly what was ordered, instead of simply “breakfast”
  • What.  A.  Deal.

The Bad

  • Room service needs some improvements.
  • Normal life must resume again.

The Luxurious

  • World class spa facilities

Conclusion

Several people told me that Lucknam Park was quite stuffy.  This was not my experience with it at all, even though I felt their clientele was mostly aimed at those of the more pensioner variety; one lady stood out as she was enjoying her siesta in the reception area, likely having just celebrated her 150th birthday that day.

Whilst this is a fine hotel, it suffers from feeling like one; Whatley Manor has the feeling of being at home, whilst Lucknam feels like a hotel.  This is very similar to North Island vs Fregate, where Fregate felt like being in a hotel whilst North Island feels like being on a luxurious private island.  Of course, at these prices I’m certainly going to suggest coming back in future, but excluding any special offers, I would choose Whatley Manor.

Lucknam Park

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