To visit one of Oetker Collection’s Masterpiece Estates is to experience the rarefied lifestyle of Britain’s aristocracy first hand.
James Collard explains how these remarkable properties have played such an important role in British history – and why they’re now the perfect place for a celebration.
For centuries, country houses have exerted a powerful presence across the British Isles and Europe, visible symbols of aristocratic life – the seat of great families, and the spectacular setting for some very grand house parties. They vary enormously, from Elizabethan manors with formal gardens and leaded windows to classical mansions set in parkland, or ancient châteaux transformed into comfortable – if vast and dramatic – family homes. During the 20th century, many of such houses were the victims of sweeping social change, demolished or turned into museums. But a number have survived, and now – under the auspices of Oetker Collection’s Masterpiece Estates – some of the finest examples are opening their doors so that guests may experience country house life with a party of friends and family.
The appeal of a weekend or a week in the country is timeless – although we all get something slightly different out of it. Some of us head to the country for rural pursuits like shooting and fishing, others for long walks in the great outdoors. And once indoors, there are splendid surroundings to be luxuriated in, and a house steeped in history. For all of the above – and the perfect setting for a convivial break – Masterpiece Estates’ growing portfolio offers an extraordinary diversity of superb country houses. There’s the Irish castle that was once the home of a Broadway star married to an English aristocrat; a 17th-century Scottish mansion; an imposing Provençal château; a lodge on a famous estate in England’s scenic South Downs; and more… Each of these has a singular appeal. What all Masterpiece Estates possess, however, is the highest level of service and hospitality, with a host on hand should you need anything – from a day’s shooting to a cultural tour, or the most exquisite of gatherings, celebrated in style.
The Garden Room at Kinross House in Scotland
Described by Daniel Defoe as “the most beautiful and regular piece of architecture in Scotland”, Kinross House is a late-17th- century mansion overlooking Loch Leven, and home to an important art collection. Steeped in history, the lovingly restored home has 14 bedrooms, while the adjacent Coach House has a further 10. The vast grounds include formal gardens, woodland and, on a nearby island, the ruined Loch Leven Castle, where Mary, Queen of Scots was once imprisoned – which can be visited by boat.
Kinross House was built in the late 17th century by the architect Sir William Bruce
The ancestral home of Lord Cowdray is a country house set in extensive grounds in the gently rolling hills of West Sussex. With 22 en-suite bedrooms, the interiors of the house are sumptuous, and the facilities exceptional – from indoor and outdoor pools to a billiards room, tennis court, a polo eld that is renowned the world over, and even a bowling alley. The grounds, meanwhile, include the romantic ruins of Cowdray House, a Tudor mansion where Elizabeth I was once a guest.
Cowdray Park in West Sussex, ancestral seat of Viscount Cowdray
Lismore Castle in Ireland’s County Waterford has had some celebrated owners, from poet and explorer Sir Walter Raleigh to chemist Robert Boyle, a British Prime Minister, and the Broadway star Adele Astaire – sister of Fred – who married into the Cavendish family, the English aristocratic clan that has owned Lismore since the 1750s. Sleeping up to 27 guests in great style, the castle has an important collection of Old Masters, while the superb gardens contain contemporary sculptures, but it retains the intimate feel of a family home – albeit a very grand one.
Lismore Castle in County Waterford, Ireland
There has been a Boconnoc House in this beautiful spot in Cornwall in England’s scenic West Country for so long, it even appears in the 11th century Domesday Book. But the current house – which guests arrive at via a two-mile-long (3.2km) private drive – is an elegant 18th- century mansion containing superb reception rooms and bedrooms sleeping 18 (with accommodation for a further 22 in cottages nearby). This is a spectacular country house in the English tradition – and it has been refurbished lovingly by the Fortescue family, who have lived here for generations.
Cornwall’s Boconnoc estate, which was mentioned in the Domesday Book
Gordon Castle is the centuries-old home of the Gordon Lennox family, for countless generations seat of the Dukes of Gordonand, since the mid-20th century, lovingly restored by a cadet branch of this aristocratic clan. One of Scotland’s great sporting estates, there is superb fly shing, supported by expert “gillies”, beautiful grounds, including a walled garden, and the castle itself, which combines elegant Georgian interiors with a dramatic ancient tower steeped in Scottish history. Fully staffed, with a host on hand to anticipate your every whim, Gordon Castle sleeps 18 guests.
Gordon Castle in Morayshire is considered one of Scotland’s nest sporting estates
Stockton House was built in 1600, on the cusp of the Elizabethan and Jacobean eras, but has recently been stunningly restored to make it a classic English country house with the occasional contemporary twist – such as the dining area with a vast window overlooking an elegant outdoor swimming pool. The exterior features handsome gables, decorated with flint, while indoors there are fine entertaining spaces, such as the famous Great Chamber. And the location is Wiltshire’s Wylye Valley – and some of England’s nest countryside – the perfect setting for this characterful private residence.
Stockton House, a 17th-century country house located in Wiltshire’s picturesque Wylye Valley
This celebrated sporting estate is located in a glen, or valley, often described as the most beautiful in the Scottish Highlands, a region famed for its natural splendour. There’s ample shooting, deer stalking and shing to be enjoyed here – and glorious accommodation for up to 20 guests overlooking Loch Affric in the stunning Victorian Lodge and Stable Cottage, which once belonged to famous 19th-century sportsman, Lord Tweedmouth. And what a landscape it commands: 10,000 acres of wilderness that fully deserves its National Nature Reserve appellation.
Glen Affric o ers a range of sporting activities overseen by some of the world’s best gamekeepers
In the chalky downlands of West Sussex lies the Goodwood Estate, home of the world-famous Goodwood Racecourse – and Hound Lodge, which was once home to 100 hunting hounds and is today an elegant yet cosy bolthole. Restored by leading architect Ptolemy Dean, the beautiful interiors house a collection of hunting prints – including works
by the two key hunting artists of the 20th century, FA Stewart and Lionel Edwards. Twenty guests can be accommodated in 10 rooms, named after the canine stars of the historic Goodwood Hunt.