Country living in Woburn
Need to hit pause on life's hectic schedule? I hear ya! That's why I checked in to The Woburn Hotel for an easy breezy weekend break to lap up some cosy country charm and tasty grub to boot.
The Woburn Hotel is known as the ‘gateway’ to the 3000 acre Woburn Estate, which includes Woburn Abbey and Woburn Safari Park. It’s right in the heart of the village itself, too, which is gorgeous and prime for exploring, making it a perfect little country retreat for a weekend away from it all.
There are 55 rooms including 7 quaint cottage suites which look out over the secluded courtyard area, just off the main street, but close enough that you can pop out for a wander or a cheeky pre-dinner drink if the mood takes you.
It’s a popular wedding destination, with the option to get married at the Abbey’s Sculpture Gallery too, so the staff here are a dab hand at making things go without a hitch. And there’s a separate function room so other hotel guests aren’t bothered by the celebrations going on into the night.
It’s boutique, but more ‘cosy country’ than ‘chi-chi glam’. While the main hotel and restaurant have a bit more of a modern twist, with some splashes of colour and arty additions, the rooms have a traditional and relaxed vibe.
The Repton Room (named after the estate’s landscape gardener) is a sharply decorated lounge area where you can indulge in afternoon tea – It’s what Woburn is famed for, so don’t leave without trying it! – while The Tavistock Bar has more of a ‘Ye Olde English pub’ feel with its rustic beams and inglenook fireplace.
Our room, ‘Wispers’ (sounds dreamy already), is one of the cottage suites, which is separate from the main hotel. It’s attractive from the outside with a rustic red brick frontage and its own front door painted in Hunter welly green.
Inside it feels like something straight out of the pages of Country Living magazine in that cosy, homely kind of way – beautiful duck egg and French grey hues and oh-so-subtle florals and checks adorn the curtains and bedspreads, and there’s plenty of space, thanks to the mezzanine level up in the rafters, which doubles as a lounge/chill out area.
There’s a super comfy bed, laden with scatter cushions and cosy blankets, a large enough wardrobe to accommodate all of the clothes I own, and in the bathroom there are lovely complimentary White Company toiletries to smother myself in.
Despite being semi-detached (it sounds funny referring to a hotel room like that!) it feels very private, with heavy floor-to-ceiling curtains to drape across the courtyard-facing window (where a wedding party are enjoying some al fresco drinks) as we change for dinner, and it overlooks a secluded garden on the other. Plus the light floods in from the mezzanine windows above, so it’s definitely not dark and dingy.
SCOFF AND QUAFF
The 2 AA Rosette restaurant, Olivier’s, has been named Restaurant of the Year in Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Hertfordshire and Northamptonshire three times by ‘The Foodie Guides’, so it’s got quite a rep to live up to. It feels elegant and sophisticated with its deep blue walls and eye-catching art on the walls.
The menu has a modern European feel and all the dishes have been created from ideas and collaborations between Exec Chef Olivier Bertho and his team.
I opt for goat’s cheese-stuffed tempura courgette flowers to start which are crispy, creamy and tangy in one bite. My husband picks the scallops – they’re served with a creamy sweetcorn purée, black pudding crumb and crispy chicken skin, which he can’t get enough of.
For the main course I stick with my cheesy theme and plump for the beetroot and brie souffle, which is light and fluffy yet oozy and indulgent all at once, and I’m glad of the fresh, crunchy avocado, spinach and pine nut salad on the side to cut through the richness.
My husband’s beef fillet with honey-roasted shallots and crispy bacon looks hearty and is a plentiful portion which he says is full of flavour and well-cooked too.
To finish, we share a Belgian waffle with homemade malt ice cream and a cheese plate (in case I hadn’t already had enough cheese!) to counter the sugar overload.
We headed to the Tavistock bar for a nightcap, but there’s also a handful of pubs and wine bars within stumbling distance on the high street.
With Woburn Safari Park on the doorstep it’s a good shout if you’ve got older kids. Family rooms and children’s menus are available. You can bring babies and toddlers too, of course, and travel cots are available on request, but something to bear in mind is that there’s no listening service, so if you’re hoping to leave the kids slumbering away in the room while you enjoy a peaceful dinner à deux you might be disappointed. On the other hand you could look at it as an excuse for a night off as we did!
OUT & ABOUT
Woburn is a super cute Georgian village with beautiful buildings dotted along the main street. It’s ideal for a pre-dinner or post-brekkie amble.
Just across the road is the gorgeous interiors shop, Zoohause, housed in the impressive Old Town Hall building, and squirelled away just behind, in an area known as The Pitchings, is the super cute gift shop, Minchin and May, a traditional village store and a Champagne and wine bar, Flootes.
If it’s wine you’re after, call in at the Woburn Wine Cellar, or just park yourself at one of the pubs or bars along Bedford Street, like The Black Horse, which has a lovely little garden, or the Woburn Ale House which specialises in Craft Beer.
And of course, a trip to Woburn wouldn’t be complete without visiting Woburn Abbey. After a gorgeous spell of sunshine we were cursed with non-stop downpours during our stay so we didn’t see much of the gardens, but it was well worth looking around the house itself (even if just to stay dry!). There are some intriguing collections (silver toast racks anyone?) and super ornate rooms, including one designed especially for Queen Victoria when she visited.
Do check out the Armada portrait of Elizabeth I in the Long Gallery too, amongst some other more dubious portrayals of the aristocracy of the time! The Duke and Duchess of Bedford actually live in one of the wings today – can you imagine what after-school play dates are like for their kids’ friends?
And we’ll definitely be going back to check out the Safari Park with toddler in tow soon.
THE MUDDY VERDICT:
Good for: Couples in need of a bit of a re-set, looking to slow down the pace of life in a classic English countryside setting, but with plenty to do nearby to fill a weekend.
Not for: Insta addicts on the prowl for photo opps at every corner might find the Woburn Hotel a little on the trad side, but that’s the beauty for other guests.
The damage: Rooms start at £193 per night including breakfast and dinner at Olivier’s is really reasonable for the quality at around £6-£10 for starters and £16-£23 for mains.