The North Wessex Downs with its industrial heritage, the Kennet and Avon Canal’s listed bridges and integral locks, and the town of Marlborough with its characterful old buildings are all within easy reach of Donnington Valley Hotel, Golf and Spa – a luxury 4-star resort tucked away in the beautiful Berkshire countryside. It’s easy to forget that this gem of a golf and spa hotel is almost on London’s doorstep, and just an hour’s drive from historic Bath and the picturesque Cotswolds.
For golfers, the 18-hole course surrounding Donnington Valley Hotel attractively cloaks the rolling hills and boasts a Grade II listed Victorian building as its clubhouse. Grab a bite to eat from the bar and enjoy a drink on the clubhouse terrace which overlooks the 9th and 18th twin green; it’s a great spot to relax after your round. For his and her’s leisure time, Donnington Valley Hotel offers a stunning spa and the multi-award-winning WinePress Restaurant with an expert sommelier on hand to lead you down the vineyard path.
The mix of ridges, mogul-like dips and hollows, water and woodland, make the course a fair test of golf. Although many holes are quite forgiving and relatively easy – especially on the front nine – don’t get complacent. The holes on the back nine are tight, and wayward tee shots will be punished. Scorecard doom could be waiting on the four closing holes, where water comes into play on three of them. Invest in a course planner – the course is not as harmless as it looks, and you’ll be faced with a number of blind shots. Greens are generally quite fast and sloping, but receptive and very true.
The starting hole, a par 5, is a favourite with one of the golf pros: It’s got a slight dog-leg so you can’t see where you’re going from the tee; trees line the fairway on the left; the fairway slopes heavily from left to right; and two pot bunkers protecting the green can easily catch you out.
The 15th hole, another par 5, is memorable and aptly named the ‘Big Dipper.’ It is a very long and hilly hole, the fairway dips dramatically, and you can’t see the green until you’re at the top of the hill with a 150-yard shot still to play. Both the 16th and 17th tee shots need to fly a reservoir: on the tricky 16th par 3, club up, there’s a big rise in height and, on the 17th, make your drive as straight as an arrow.
Donnington Valley Hotel’s signature hole is the picturesque 9th, a par 3 and the easiest hole on the course. It’s very short, 100 yards from the yellow tees, there’s a pond short of the green, and trees make the entrance to the green narrow. During the summer months, there’s a great atmosphere at this hole. It’s in front of the clubhouse terrace where golfers gather to drink, chat, watch and clap.
Pass by Donnington Castle, a stone’s throw from the hotel, to view the ruined medieval building with its surviving gatehouse. Start with the nearest temptation, the market town of Newbury, less than three miles from the hotel. Take a stroll along the Kennet and Avon Canal, an impressive feat of engineering re-opened in 1990 after decades of neglect. It runs through the heart of the town. Pass by the Newbury Lock and wander up to the swing bridge, it’s an attractive spot. About turn and meander canal-side to see hundreds of Newbury’s snow-white swans that reside on this canalised section of the River Kennet whose enticing towpaths are popular easy-going cycling and walking routes. Alternatively, Newbury Racecourse is first-rate with courses for flat races and over jumps. For a touch of class, and a behind-the-scenes peek of where the hit television programme Downton Abbey was filmed, take your carriage to Highclere Castle – a beautiful Victorian property sitting in 1,000 acres of tranquil parkland which is open to the public 60-70 times a year.
Come evening, R&R at Donnington Valley Hotel is effortless. With four different lighting options the hotel can set the mood with the flick of a switch, ensuring pre-dinner tipples are enjoyed in the subtly-lit and laid back bar – a cosy retreat where you can also eat. Cleverly reworked country classics are on the menu in the excellent WinePress Restaurant, and with a wine cellar containing around 450 wines from all over the world, there’s a sommelier on hand to make recommendations.
As for the contemporary rooms, treat yourself to a spacious executive room overlooking the fairways – Egyptian cotton duvets, bathrobes, marble bathrooms and all the mod-cons, even fresh milk in the fridge. Savour pamper-perfect spa experiences in luxurious treatment rooms, work out in the gym on the latest Matrix equipment, or dip a toe in the alluring 18-metre pool.
Nothing is too much trouble for the staff at Donnington Valley Hotel, Golf and Spa – the hotel is excellent across the board, the friendliness way above par. This is a 4-star hotel which offers 5-star service with a smile, and it should score well with food and wine fanatics, spa-lovers, and golfers alike.
Linda Jackson is a golf and travel writer. Former associate editor of Great Golf Magazine, her work has been published in over 40 different titles, including The Guardian and The Wall Street Journal.