If there were a competition for Britain's most beautiful castle, then Kent with the idyllic Hever Castle and the moated Leeds Castle would be one of the front-runners.
Chilston House Hotel, a dozen miles east of Maidstone, and conveniently close to the M20, is the perfect base for visiting these castles as well as Canterbury with its Cathedral and Chaucer exhibitions. Visitors to Chilston often enjoy a day of refined shopping at Royal Tunbridge Wells' Pantiles. Chilston Park Hotel also makes for the perfect stopover before an early morning departure through Eurotunnel.
There's an air of Downtown Abbey about Chilston Park Hotel. Wisely, Hand-Picked Hotels have restored this stately Palladian country home to the grandeur of somewhere around its heyday in the early 19th century.
The main house, with its central magnificent mahogany staircase and bold no-nonsense masculine colours, has three suites and seven feature rooms. Think four-poster beds, high ceilings, water-colours of 18th-century country life, expansive marble fire-places, wing-backed deep leather chairs and long-handled brass bed warmers. Sensibly 19th-century authenticity stops at the bathroom door: there's instant hot-water, brilliant lighting and heated towel rails. If you wish to slot back into the 21st century then there is a discrete gizmo box for connecting your devices to a large flat-screen TV.
Chilston wove its thread through history, its foundations date back eight eventful centuries, perhaps the family's power peaked with the rotund Viscount of Chilston, Arteas Akers- Douglas, serving as Home Secretary from 1902 – 1906. But Chilston's sad example helps you understand why writer Julian Fellowes was reluctant to continue the Downtown Abbey saga to its inevitable impoverished ending.
Overwhelmed by 20th-century taxes the last of the Akers-Douglas' family retreated to survive in just two rooms. Eventually, the derelict and disused Chilston was discovered by antique lover John Miller. It was he who initially restored the house salvaging collections of books, busts, furniture, grand piano, portraits and vases and starting up a small hotel of just 15 rooms. Guests can be found in the corridors musing over an intriguing collection of oriental prints or browsing through one of the many bookshelves. Enjoy one of the antiquarian books over a splendid Afternoon Tea.
You can almost sense the excitement of Fiona Bruce and her team of experts were they to visit Chilston, as they discover another historic ceramic piece or an aged bureau with concealed drawers. Refreshingly Chilston has been left in its original state wherever possible. Family photograph albums sit on the bookshelves and there are wonderfully stiff-backed family portraits, on the numerous mantle pieces, from the early days of photography.
Culpepper's Restaurant is a paean to the elegance of a lost age with its grandfather clocks, generously spacious starched white-clothed tables and deferential service. Handpicked Hotels have an enduring and successful partnership with Bibendum Wine suppliers. Opting for the tasting menu with wines matched to courses, by Bibendum's sommelier, enhances the flavours of Culpepper's immaculately sourced food.
In addition to Culpepper's, there are several rooms, some with views past the precise topiary to the lake, for private dining. These are very popular with those celebrating significant anniversaries or birthdays. Some groups begin with afternoon tea, pause to dress for dinner and there's something about Chilston that encourages guests to reach for dinner jackets or sophisticated evening gowns, before reconvening for pre-dinner drinks in the elaborately-panelled dark wood bar. At the end of a memorable day, Chilston has a total of 53 rooms available for guests.
Double rooms begin from £100.
Deals on Dinner, Bed and Breakfast may be available.
A dozen miles East of Maidstone, Chilston has easy access to the M20. To book your stay, visit Chilston Park