Clients Can Feel Like Nobility--In a "Manor" of Speaking

LONDON -- Clients who yearn to be lord or lady of the manor might consider visiting London as the gentry do, dividing their stay between country and city or basing themselves in a country estate and running to the city for shopping and shows.

A recent inspection of two estate properties revealed the advantages of this option for some clients.

Oakley Court, in Windsor, is a Victorian Gothic mansion, but with its crenellated, peaked roofs and soaring round tower, the imposing stone structure easily is mistaken for a castle.

Set on 35 acres along the River Thames, the property was constructed in 1859 in French chateau style, the better to console the noble owner's homesick French wife.

Adding to its theatricality, Oakley Court is rumored to have been the English headquarters for DeGaulle and the French resistance during World War II.

Throughout the past 14 years, approximately 200 films have been shot here, including "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" and "Murder by Death."

Appropriately, Oakley Court offers a special Halloween weekend package. The many gargoyles that dot the exterior enhance the mood.

Conversion began in 1979 and, two years later, the property opened as a hotel. Efforts were made to restore and retain period furniture and plastering wherever possible.

The result is 92 attractively furnished guest rooms and suites, some featuring four-poster beds.

Public rooms exude a distinctive Victorian air and include two restaurants, a drawing room with working fireplaces, a paneled library, a billiards room dominated by a 300-year-old table and a glass-enclosed conservatory.

Recently, an old chapel was transformed into a health club complete with gym, sauna and solarium. Guests can enjoy a nine-hole golf course, croquet and boating or fishing on the Thames, leaving from the hotel's private jetty.

Weekend break packages are available year-round as well as a number of themed weekends, featuring golf, trout fishing, boating or gourmet meals.

Mondays through Fridays, the conference and meeting market takes over. The property boasts 12 meeting rooms and boardrooms accommodating up to 220 people seated or 300 for receptions. Each room features natural daylight and fine teak furnishings.

Although the hotel hosts many incentive groups, "We could do with more from the U.S.," said Catherine Lambert, sales and marketing manager.

Rates, including VAT and full English breakfast, begin at $274 single, $309 double. Corporate rates are available.

Located just six miles from the popular tourist destination of Bath, Lucknam Park was a private home from 1720 until 1987, when it was converted into a hotel.

The manor house is a grade-two-listed property under British preservation laws for historical buildings.

The current owners purchased the Paladian mansion in rundown condition, and restoration started from scratch, according to business development manager Michelle Haynes.

A countrywide search was conducted for appropriate 18th century antiques, and these now enhance public rooms and guest rooms.

Each of the 42 bedrooms, including 11 suites, is spacious and individually decorated. Eight suites have fireplaces.

A gatehouse has been transformed into private accommodations with two bedrooms and bathrooms, sitting room, dining room, kitchen and observatory tower.

Lucknam Park comprises 500 acres of park land. Originally, the estate included a village as well.

Decor and furnishings reflect a grand residence rather than a hotel. The drawing room features period moldings and a fireplace for those chilly English days, while the library, also boasting a fireplace, is paneled in rich woods.

During my visit, guests clearly were enjoying these quarters, as they curled up with a book and cup of tea or gathered around the fire for a chat.

Four drawing rooms have been converted into the music room, library and private banquet rooms. The Cornflower Suite once was the nursery, and the Coral Suite was the master bedroom.

The main restaurant is housed in the former ballroom, lending a romantic ambience as diners envision the grand fetes which surely took place in the room.

Active guests can enjoy tennis, fishing, clay pigeon shoots and an indoor pool, along with an equestrian center. Riders, accompanied by a groom, can explore the vast grounds or visit nearby villages.

A separate building houses extensive health and spa facilities with a fully equipped gym, a whirlpool, a sauna, a solarium and a steam room.

On weekdays, the property hosts "small and select" corporate meetings, Haynes said. Most are banquets and board-level gatherings.

Rates run $230, single, $265 to $318, double. Prices include VAT, continental breakfast and use of the spa.

Both properties can be booked by calling (800) 44-UTELL.

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