Travel After Lockdown Part one –
Since “lockdown” was eased, as a travel incentive provider, we have been desperate to find out how hotels, airlines etc. have adapted so they can welcome us back safely. It’s hugely important for us to be able to talk to clients and prize winners about their forthcoming experiences with confidence. We want first hand experience that people can travel safely so our clients feel happy making recommendations to the brands they look after.
SO, with that in mind, Tash from the team packed her overnight bag, jumped on her husband’s VESPA and headed off to Luton Hoo. A countryside retreat in Bedfordshire, it’s been location to two Bond films, Four Weddings and a Funeral, and the Queen and Prince Phillip spent some of their honeymoon there!
Here are Natasha’s notes and thoughts on our first stay since “lockdown” was lifted.
Parking up the Vespa at the front entrance was straightforward, a member of staff moved down the entrance steps and welcomed us with a broad smile, keen to know how far we had scooted and wanting to know all about the history of our stylish companion. After chatting at a short distance from one another and rearranging my helmet hair into a more presentable style, we were guided through the main entrance where a discreet hand sanitiser dispenser could be used before moving into the reception area.
A simple, well made glass screen surrounds the reception desk. Spotless, seamlessly fitted and with a sense of permanence it felt very comfortable talking to the member of staff behind it. There were armchairs and tables in the vicinity, these looked to be discreetly positioned at a distance from the reception desk for you to use whilst waiting for assistance instead of forming a ‘queue’.
She took our details from the online reservation already made and required just one signature. I used a pen which she then wiped over discreetly and put back into the holder.
We were immediately shown how to download an App for the hotel which would provide us with everything we need to know, from what is on the menu in the Brasserie to how to find your way around the grounds. This App replaces the need for leaflets and the traditional ‘Guest Services’ book in your room. You now have everything you need to know during your stay in the palm of your hand.
If you required any luggage taking to your room, this remains an option – a member of staff wore white, cloth gloves that were then changed once the delivery was made. We were happy to carry our bag whilst being led to our room by a very enthusiastic member of staff. He indicated how he would normally swipe the room key and ‘swoosh’ open the door for us however indicated how he was now required to show us how to do this ourselves using a simple plastic card, the same type we have all been using when staying in hotels before Covid-19 times.
It was made clear that once rooms have been cleaned, they currently allow a 72 hour period before anyone else is checked in to enjoy it again. Friendly advice and peace of mind for those worried about staying in a different environment when we have all been used to the comfort of our own homes these last few months.
In The Room
Our bright, comfortable and luxuriously fitted room was beautifully prepared for our arrival. Discreet, stylish sachets of hand sanitiser were available for you to use in both the bedroom and bathroom area if you felt the need or desire to do so. It smelt good so readily kept our hand sanitising routine going! Other than that reminder, you could move around and enjoy the space freely.
The incredible view from the window was created by Capability Brown fit for a Queen, literally … our room was part of the suite the Queen and Prince Philip enjoyed as part of their honeymoon. The bathroom is the original and I can confirm, the enormous bath and amazing tap set up is a spectacular place to contemplate life as a Royal (room number 3 if you are keen to make a request!).
Bars and Restaurants
The Werner’s Restaurant in The Mansion House is for more formal dining and using the App, the proposed menu looks delicious. Currently, it is closed. It became clear during our stay that a slow and steady approach to reopening is taking place at Luton Hoo, once an increase in guest numbers is evident they look forward to opening the doors.
There is a very large, comfortable lounge area in The Mansion House. Generally, this is where Afternoon Tea is taken. Tables are discreetly spaced and marked with a white tablecloth and small gold sign ‘This table is safe to use’. Reassuring but not overly clinical or dictatorial. You were visited at your table where drinks orders were taken and consequently delivered to you by the same member of staff who wore white cloth gloves throughout our comfy sofa experience.
The Country Club area is accessed via an arched gateway and is a former stables area and is home to The Spa, Adam’s Bar and Adam’s Brasserie.
The Spa is currently closed.
Adam’s Bar is currently closed, we were advised that it will be opening soon, once guest numbers start to increase, they are considering the end of this month to be appropriate. This closure doesn’t spoil your stay – on comfortable, discreetly placed outside furniture we enjoyed some ‘Prinks’ outside Adam’s Brasserie with a couple of Peacocks for company prior to dining.
The dining experience felt very ‘normal’ and comfortable. We were guided to a well placed table, separate but not overly from others. You are encouraged to look at the menu on your phone app but they were ready with a freshly printed cardboard option if this was your preference – they made a point of saying ‘we are trying to touch as little as possible’. All items were brought to and from the table by the same waiter/waitress in a normal restaurant style. Breakfast was taken in the same area, again with encouragement to use the menu on the App. There is no buffet style for the time being, simply sit comfortably at your table and order as much or as little as you feel you can enjoy or walk off on the next stroll around the grounds. The staff in The Brasserie also wore white cloth gloves.
Table reservations are encouraged for both breakfast and dinner in the normal way simply to ensure you got one because of the need to space them out and to ensure they give people time to dine. All very well thought through and organised. No staff stumbling or fumbling with new routines.
No black and yellow warning tape on carpets, no one way systems, no gaudy signs reminding you to distance, just the odd polite reminder in key places to sanitise hands, be Covid aware – a reminder of what is appropriate and of the hotels responsibility … presented in picture frames in a smart ‘font’.
The Spa – there is no set date for the Spa to reopen however with the government announcement that indoor pools are able to reopen towards the end of this month they are hoping to be able to do so soon. We noticed that the pool area was being maintained, the pool was full and filters were running – just missing the guests in robes and slippers! The majority of beauty treatments that are carried out within the Spa are still not permitted by the government. The overall sense, as with the hotel, is that it is likely to be a slow and steady reopening.
The Ballroom – this area was being redressed after hosting the first Wedding since reopening. They explained plans were originally for 80 people however restrictions reduced the celebration to 30. They had worked the area to include a vast amount of technical equipment to stream the Wedding to those that were not in attendance. They were all moved to a separate area in the grounds called Warren’s Weir where they enjoyed some time and a meal together. It was so discreet and well managed, we almost felt cheated that we hadn’t been able to manage a sneaky peak!
The playing of golf has been permitted for some time now and is literally in full swing with small groups working their way around the course.
The grounds are large, 1065 acres to explore the majority of which were designed by Landscape Designer, Capability Brown. Currently it is possible to enjoy walking trails, golf and the tennis courts. As time moves on Luton Hoo will reopen shooting experiences and bike hire to guests.
During closure, a small team of gardeners have been onsite keeping nature under control. Overall, the look and feel is very naturalistic and not hugely coiffured – this might explain why we enjoyed the sight of a Deer on the path, Red Kite flying overhead and a Fox jogging along in the distance whilst we enjoyed an afternoon stroll.
You can be taken around or to different parts of the grounds or public areas by a London Black Cab if you prefer not to walk or if it is raining, the drivers wear a face covering.
Certainly slow and steady on the reopen, currently very low guest numbers, the approach seems to be slow and steady. We walked around the grounds and didn’t see a soul, drank alone in the huge lounge fit for 80 after dinner in the Mansion House, a handful of people in the Brasserie but with each table discreetly spaced you felt very comfortable and relaxed.
Not too dissimilar at all from hotel breaks we enjoyed before Covid which can only be a good thing – just the sense of a ‘new normal’.