We don’t suggest you wear 17th century hooped skirts and a powdered wig when you go to The Mitre in Hampton Court, but you wouldn’t be out of place if you did.
Located across the road – literally within throwing distance of a hissy fit – from Henry VIII’s favourite palace, The Mitre has a history all its own, basically as a holding pen for Charles II’s tarts (and other sundry courtiers) back in the 1600-and-somethings when he was busy turning the flipside of the palace into something a bit more neo-classical. We’re nothing if not erudite.
Now, a building with this much history could go one of two ways. It could either become a museum or it could be weighed down by its past, afraid or legally unable to update. Luckily, The Mitre has found a third way. Obviously, it can’t bulldoze all that Grade I-listedness – and why would you even if you did know someone high up on the council? – but it can freshen it, lift it, update it and enjoy the sheer history of it.
So you still have some four-poster beds, but they’re crisp and funky, some with canopies, some without. You still have historical-looking free-standing bath tubs but they’re designer, maybe with surreal little ceramic stools by the side of them. And you still have wallpaper – and lots of it – some of it hand-painted but the designs are less grandma’s parlour, more edgy mid-century graphic and flight-of-fancy Orientalist. Colours, meanwhile, are a Farrow & Ball nod to the history: teals, egg yolky yellows, zingy limes, dusty millennial pinks. And the views from the rooms are sometimes right down the Thames itself.
Because when it comes to location, you can’t get more riverside than The Mitre. Right on it, it is. Meaning that the restaurant options downstairs, if the weather is nice, are beautiful – and remember that the Thames at this height – we’re actually in Surrey – is beautiful and green. You can almost imagine Elizabeth I in a barge coming down from London for a mini-break. You can actually still come by boat, though it does take three or four hours. So top up that hipflask.
Seen from across the river – the station bringing trains from Waterloo is over there, so you have to cross the bridge. A whole three-minute walk – The Mitre has a two-storey overhang on the Thames itself with restaurants on both floors, flanked by terraces for dining and drinking. You can even get a boat up to the door.
And it’s not all style and location over substance either as the restaurants prove beyond any reasonable doubt, mixing traditional with up-to-the-minute. In Coppernose (Henry VIII’s nickname), an eau-de-nil paneled room over the river, you can have a breakfast of open bacon sandwiches, sweet corn fritters or a full English, while in the 1665 Riverside Brasserie below it you can go for oysters or popcorn cauliflower, Devon crab and lobster tortellini or the full vegan menu, which is nice to see in somewhere this historic.
As for stuff to do, if you can bear not to be in your room quaffing the flavoured gin or in the funny little library with decanters on the tables, it’s hog heaven for anyone even mildly interested in history. Hampton Court is beautiful and fascinating, with its Tudor tennis court and maze and plentiful gardens ripe for picnicking on, while the meandering walk down the river to Kingston takes just over an hour. Or you can get a boat.
In these turbulent times, when it’s still safer to staycation (doesn’t that word feel depressing?), you could do a lot worse than popping back in time for a long weekend at The Mitre, lace-up breeches and pilgrim shoes entirely at your own discretion.