UK Travel | The Great House at Sonning

UK Travel | The Great House at Sonning

A TEA & TATTLE MINI BREAK

A couple of weekends ago, I met my best friend (and Tea & Tattle Podcast co-host), Sophie, at Paddington station to take the train to Reading together. From there, we grabbed a taxi to drive us the short distance to The Great House, a luxury riverside hotel in Sonning, Berkshire.

It had been a few months since Sophie and I had seen each other in person, and even longer since we’d spent more than a few hours together, so I was very much looking forward to a proper catch-up. We were both in need of a restorative break after a particularly busy month, and I was very much looking forward to taking life at a slower pace for the next 24 hours. The prospect of riverside walks, good food and long, hot baths was incredibly cheering, and I couldn’t wait to arrive at the hotel.

The 40 minute train journey went by in a blink of an eye as we caught up on each other’s news, and we managed to hail a taxi immediately at the station, so it felt no time at all before we were catching a glimpse of the hotel as the cab manoeuvred its way across the pretty little bridge that led into Sonning.

Sonning is a charming, sleepy little village graced by the presence of some rather spectacular celebrities (George and Amal Clooney have a house in the area and are said to frequent the local pub, but sadly we didn’t spot either!). Neither Sophie nor I know Berkshire very well, so we were pleased to get a glimpse of English countryside new to us both, but also within such easy distance from London and Oxford (where Sophie lectures).

On arriving at The Great House, we were greeted with friendly smiles at the hotel’s reception desk, speedily checked in and shown to our room, a riverside deluxe.

ROOM WITH A {RIVERSIDE} VIEW

The riverside deluxe lived up to its name, with gorgeous views of the river, boats and willow trees from our window. Sophie and I decided to take some time to relax, enjoy the room and make a cup of tea before heading out for a stroll along the riverbank.

We were both delighted with our surroundings, which featured exposed brick walls, quirky prints and retro furnishings. I loved the old-fashioned bedside telephone, radio and fridge, as well as the stacks of vintage Penguin paperbacks on both bedside tables. Goodie bags had been thoughtfully left on both our beds, and we were excited to unpack bottles of cider, beeswax candles and boxes of sweets. The holiday spirit was truly kicking in!

I was extremely impressed by the bathroom (when you live in London, a bathroom of any notable size really is exciting), which was massive and boasted one of the nicest tubs I’d ever seen, as well as a magnificent walk-in shower that wasn’t much smaller than my office at home.

I made a mental note to take a bath later in the evening, and was pleased to see piles of magazines, including the latest Vogue, in our room, which I planned to flick through whilst luxuriating in bubble bath.

It’s clear that the staff at The Great House give careful consideration to the needs of their guests, and I was very pleased to find a wide selection of teas and a whole 1/4 pint carton of fresh milk in our little pantry and fridge area. I made myself a cup of English Breakfast and Sophie an Earl Grey, and we got down to the serious business of living up to our podcast name and having a good natter.

After an hour or so, we decided to take advantage of the glimmer of sun that was starting to break through the overcast skies and set off for a walk.

RIVERSIDE WALKS AND PUB DRINKS

Winding our way through the hotel’s spacious lounge and restaurant, we exited the terrace side and walked through a little gate at the end of the lawn, coming out onto the river path.

The stretch of river running through Sonning is exceedingly picturesque, and we admired the white, lacy clouds of cow parsley clustered along the riverbank and the lush green landscape. Willow leaves rustled in the breeze, making me think of The Wind in the Willows. Kenneth Grahame lived in Berkshire and was inspired by the countryside when writing his famous novel, and it was all too easy to imagine Ratty or Mole popping up on the riverbank. As it was, though, we only saw the odd cow and dog-walker!

Having mutual friends who lived in the area, we’d arranged to meet them for a drink at The Bull Inn in the early evening, so we headed back in the direction of the pub (a convenient 5 minute walk from the hotel).

The Bull Inn is a beautiful, old-fashioned pub, featuring oak beamed ceilings and wisteria climbing the timbered walls (it must look spectacular when in bloom!). Ordering glasses of white wine, we took our seats outside to enjoy the fresh evening air and exchange news.

After chatting for a while, it was time to return for supper, so we said goodbye and set off down the lane, passing the pretty village church on our way back to The Great House.

SUPPER

Sophie and I had worked up an appetite with all our walking and talking, so we eagerly made our way to The Coppa Club restaurant at the hotel. We were given a table right by the terrace, so we could continue to enjoy the view of the river and the hotel’s lawn, strewn with deckchairs for guests enjoying the long summer evening.

We ordered two glasses of rosé and picked up our menus, basking in the late-evening sunlight pouring through the large windows.

The all-day Coppa Club menu has a wide selection of tasty dishes at very reasonable prices, so it’s easy to see why the restaurant is so popular with Sonning locals as well as guests of the hotel.

To start, I ordered crispy fried squid with Sriracha mayonnaise and paprika, followed by veal schnitzel with all the trimmings (fried egg, capers and anchovies), and flourless chocolate and almond cake with orange crème fraîche for dessert. We’d also decided to share some side dishes: some mixed greens (peas, broad beans and asparagus) and skinny fries.

I thoroughly enjoyed my meal. Crispy fried squid is always a favourite of mine, and I liked the addition of a slightly spicy mayo. The schnitzel was just as good as any I’ve had in Austria, and as for the dessert…! You know chocolate is my weakness, and this was one of the best flourless chocolate cakes I’ve had. It was so rich I couldn’t eat all of it, but the mouthfuls I had were absolutely delicious.

Sophie said her choices were fantastic as well. She went for a fresh crab, avocado and crostini salad to start, followed by corn fed chicken with potatoes and house slaw, and a mini butterscotch pudding for dessert (a rather more restrained choice than my own!).

After our lovely meal we waddled our way back to the room, and Sophie propped herself up on the massive (and very comfy) cushions to read in bed whilst I grabbed Vogue and ran a hot bath.

BREAKFAST

The next day, we got up at a fairly leisurely pace, making some more tea and taking turns to use the magnificent shower. We both mentioned how much we liked the toiletries provided, which were by FAIR CosmEthics and smelt heavenly.

Sophie had to get to Oxford by lunchtime, and I had a long to-do list waiting for me in London, so we made our way down for breakfast at 8.45. The Great House has a very large downstairs dining space, with comfy corners filled with large, squishy couches and shelves stocked with books, as well as an impressive bar and numerous tables.

Breakfast was served in an attractive corner of the restaurant, featuring pale wooden floors and a large fireplace.

We ordered tea and coffee, and Sophie settled on the Full English breakfast, with fried eggs, bacon, sausage, beans, mushrooms, black pudding and toast. It looked amazing!

I was very happy with my own choice, though,  of avocado toast with  poached eggs and kiln smoked salmon.

By the way, note the gargantuan cup of tea in the photo above – big enough to satisfy even my early morning tea needs!

A HOTEL TOUR

After polishing off our breakfasts, I left Sophie to get her things together as I was given a tour of the hotel by one of the lovely managers, Trudi.

I was interested to learn that The Great House had only recently undergone an extensive renovation, redesigning the rooms and extending the hotel to include the various buildings scattered around its small courtyard. The hotel now offers many more rooms, ranging from their smallest ‘cosy’ to impressive suites and an event space ideal for weddings. For those with canine family members, you’ll be happy to know that dog-friendly rooms are offered too!

++ Coach House Apartment ++

The Coach House apartment is a truly impressive space, featuring an extra room that can be used for either sleeping or as a TV room. It even has its own popcorn making machine, making movie nights even more appealing.

++ Clock Tower Family Suite ++

I especially liked the Clock Tower Family Suite, which had the most adorable little beds for children, as well as a spacious lounge area.

++ Clock Tower Suite ++

 With its large meeting table and separate bedroom and seating area, the Clock Tower Suite is the perfect choice for any business gatherings.

I was also shown some other deluxe and cosy rooms, and I was so impressed by the top-notch design and comfort of all the rooms. The common aesthetic helps to provide a consistent quality of experience, whatever the room size.

Finally, just as the rain was starting to fall in earnest (a pleasant Sunday had given way to wet and windy Monday), I was whisked across the courtyard to see the large, long event space, dedicated to weddings and other big gatherings.

I loved the beautiful fireplace at one end of the room, and the french doors that opened out onto a spacious patio, with lawns leading to the river. Apparently, it’s quite common for brides to arrive by boat!

After my tour, I quickly got my things together, so we were downstairs in time for our taxi, which the receptionist had kindly arranged for us.

Sophie and I parted at Reading Station, having agreed we’d had the most marvellous time and plotting further adventures together!

++ Rooms start from £60 a night (what a bargain!) at The Great House. Click here for more information and to book. ++

Note: our stay and meals at The Great House were complimentary for the purpose of review. All opinions expressed are my own.