Like afternoon tea, polo matches and fox hunting, the English countryside is a staple of sophisticated British life. And thanks to the hit British television series Downton Abbey -- which will release a feature-length film in theaters this fall -- Americans are more keen than ever to experience it for themselves.
Incentive planners can help them do so by hosting a group program at one of England's many upscale rural properties.
Alas, although it can be a stop on your itinerary, Highclere Castle in Newbury, England -- where Downtown Abbey was filmed -- can't be your home base as it doesn't offer overnight accommodations. Instead, consider new arrival The Langley, a Luxury Collection Hotel, Buckinghamshire, which opened this month in Iver, just outside of London. Located in historic Langley Park, the hotel occupies the former country estate of the third Duke of Marlborough, who used it as a hunting lodge when it was originally built in the 1700s.
Having undergone a six-year, multimillion-pound renovation, the centuries-old property now encompasses 41 guest rooms across two buildings: the main house and the Brew House, an outbuilding that at various times in its history has been used as a stable, a clock tower and a brewery.
Part of Marriott's Luxury Collection, the property also features a destination restaurant; a drawing room for tea and light bites; a bar offering cocktails, cigars and cognacs; over 3,300 square feet of meeting space for groups of up to 120 people; a private screening room; a guest kitchen for cooking classes; outdoor activities like clay pigeon shooting, horseback riding and croquet; a gym; an outdoor swimming pool; and a 17,000-square-foot spa with a private VIP suite, vitality pools, hammams, a juniper-wood sauna with pink Himalayan salt walls, an amethyst steam room and a marble-lined indoor swimming pool.
"Buckinghamshire is a picturesque county full of rolling green hills and stunning gardens, grand castles and quaint towns with rich history," said Anthony Ingham, global brand leader, the Luxury Collection. "The Langley is yet another stunning example of the Luxury Collection's commitment to restoring historic icons across the globe, and our guests will deeply connect with our first hotel in this remarkable destination respite just outside the buzzing city of London."
Four More Upscale English Escapes
Of course, The Langley is but one member in a distinguished family of prestigious English-countryside properties. Here are four more, each of which promises to give incentive groups the royal treatment:
• Four Seasons Hotel Hampshire (Hook). Located in the northern Hampshire town of Hook, outside London, is Four Seasons Hotel Hampshire, which occupies a restored 18th-century manor on 500 rural acres. Along with 133 guest rooms and nearly 7,000 square feet of meeting space, the hotel -- which has a cosmopolitan-meets-countryside vibe -- has a fine-dining restaurant, a more casual bistro, a bar, a private dining room for groups of up to 26, a library for afternoon tea, an equestrian center, an indoor infinity pool with a connected outdoor "vitality" pool, an "adventure" pool for families and kids, a ropes course, two tennis courts, a gym and a spa.
• Gidleigh Park (Chagford). Although the hotel was built in the 1920s, the Gidleigh Park estate dates all the way back to the reign of William the Conqueror in the 11th century. Located on the edge of Dartmoor National Park, where it's set on 107 rugged acres punctuated by the River Teign, the property has 24 guest rooms inside a Tudor-style country house. Highlights include an 18-hole putting green, a grass tennis court, extensive walking trails, private dining rooms for up to 50 guests and an award-winning destination restaurant.
• Barnsley House (Cirencester). In England's hilly Cotswalds region, Barnsley House combines traditional country charm with contemporary comfort. The main house dates back to 1697 and is made of locally quarried stone. Along with four acres of formal gardens, there are 18 guest rooms, a restaurant, a pub, a spa with an outdoor hydrotherapy pool, a meeting room for groups of up to 30 people and a private cinema, also for groups of up to 30.
• Lime Wood (Lyndhurst). Situated 80 miles southwest of London, near the Hampshire village of Lyndhurst, Lime Wood is set in the heart of New Forest National Park, which served as the private hunting ground of William the Conqueror more than 900 years ago. Located in a Regency-style country house are 28 guest rooms -- some with wood-burning fireplaces and stoves -- as well as a restaurant, a bar, a cooking school and a three-story spa that includes a sauna, a mud house, an indoor hydro pool, an ozone-treated indoor lap pool, a heated outdoor pool and a rooftop gym. There also are meeting and event spaces for groups of up to 50, as well as several private "forest" accommodations, including two cabins and two cottages.