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The Big Fall British Idyll

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Old-world country charm meets a splash of modern-day luxury at Heckfield Place. 

By Raphael Kadushin

Every couple of years England produces a big showy splurge of a country hotel that approximates our purest British romance. This year it is Heckfield Place and the anticipatory buzz has been driven by the long wait for its opening. Although work on the property began years ago, a series of financial delays, starts and stops, reversals and postponed debuts just kept continuing on, until Heckfield began to look more like rumor than reality. So, when the property finally opened late this summer expectations were feverishly high and the good news is that the long pause was well worth it.

Like the best recent English country resorts, Heckfield is a seamless blend of old school and new, the Mitford sisters meets the Delevingnes. Start with the bones of the property itself: a Georgian manor tucked into a 400-acre Hampshire estate, a 90-minute drive from London. Designer Ben Thompson wisely left the best of the original house intact when he contributed to the renovation; there is a full complement of swish marble fireplaces and vaulted ceilings. But the 38 guest rooms blend tweedy grandeur with a clean, artisanal. 21st-century sweep of  raw oak furnishings, lime plaster walls, hand-painted wallpaper, rush mat and knotted wool rugs.

More of a pastoral resort than mere retreat though, Heckfield also offers a very contemporary playbook of attractions. There is a screening room, a gym hosting the inevitable yoga and Pilates classes, and a spa featuring organic treatments. But no rural getaway can get away with anything but serious food now and Heckfield's most vaunted attraction is its culinary program. Leaving no inch of the surroundings untouched, Heckfield's landscapers have developed a ripe network of woodland, lakes, pleasure gardens, a walled garden lush with wisteria and lavender, and a biodynamic farm, all offering a bounty of produce for the kitchen to forage and source. The estate's culinary director is Skye Gyngell, a British by way of Australia Michelin-starred chef, and her menu at Heckfield's two restaurants follows the seasonal, farm-to-fork ethos that is pretty much a modern scripture now. Expect lots of just-laid eggs from the property's chickens, apples, quince, and plums from the orchard, peach ice cream, heirloom tomatoes, river trout, and updated meaty British roasts—lamb cutlets and short ribs. Cynics will call all this a caricature of the posh, modernist rural retreat, rich people playing farmers. And the property is a splurge. But unlike a lot of splurges Heckfield did right by all those delays and delivers a real mission statement. In the end it is the template of contemporary luxury; a deft balance of posh and sustainable, creamy marble and raw oak, old-master elegance and nouveau, Snapchatable finesse.

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