History doesn't record whether Bath's most famous resident, Jane Austen, actually visited the grand Palladian mansion that is Lucknam Park; now a five-star country house hotel just a few miles from the city centre. The building was constructed in the early 18th century by James Wallis, a tobacco trader whose fortune rested on the 7,000 lbs of tobacco he shipped over from Virginia. I have no doubt that, had Austen had known of its provenance, Lucknam Park would have provided her with perfect fodder for a glittering romance.
"Who can be tired of Bath?" exclaims Catherine Morland, the heroine of Northanger Abbey, in one of a series of soliloquies devoted to praise of the city where Austen lived and wrote for five years. And as the taxi sweeps myself and my own Mr Darcy up the park's mile-long drive lateish on a chilly Friday evening – the dusk light picking out the silhouette of thick lime and beech trees on either side – I have to agree.
Lucknam Park is undeniably grand – a perfect Georgian backdrop to one of the lavish costume dramas beloved of the BBC. Yet despite the undeniable air of luxury and privilege that surrounds the house – not to mention the plethora of discreet arrivals by private helicopter – friendly, unobsequious staff and cosy touches help create an ambiance that is both homely and elegant.
Fresh flowers, roaring log fires and even well-used board games in the ground-floor public rooms help ease the transition from check-in to chill-out, while the ever-present views, via large picture windows, of more than 500 acres of inviting parkland, successfully soothe away the stresses of the working week. Deftly delivered to the well-stocked library with our pre-prandial gin and tonics, where the prevailing mood is convivial, regular Lucknam visitors soon urge us to book one of the many outdoor pursuits available on-site. The listed parkland is, of course, an ideal backdrop to archery, clay pigeon, laser clay and pistol-shooting, while the much-admired Equestrian Centre offers both of us the opportunity to take up the reins for the first time in years.
Lulled by the warmth of both the fire and the welcome, we later stroll into the Restaurant Hywel Jones by Lucknam Park, where under a panoply of glittering chandeliers, we are given first-hand experience of what earned head chef Hywel Jones his Michelin star. The rare-seared, blue-fin tuna with smoked haddock and sweet potato fritters proves an ideal first course, but for sheer colour, I would opt for the confit of organic salmon, with shellfish, carrot and tarragon next time.
My main course was a delicious pot-roasted partridge with parsnip fondant, creamed Savoy cabbage and vegetable purée, but my partner's Cornish fillet of John Dory served with white onion purée and baby leeks was equally delicious. We took little urging to sample the desert of iced honeycomb parfait, banana tart and bitter chocolate sorbet. Having enjoyed the generous selection of British and French farmhouse cheeses, as well as the desert wine proffered by the hospitable and knowledgeable French sommelier, it was time to take a closer look at our accommodation.
The Cornflower Suite at the front of the house was beautifully-decorated in light, delicate pastels and offered that quintessential mix of country-house frills and modern-day luxury that contemporary travellers have come to expect. Large flat-screen TVs in both the bedroom and adjoining sitting-room and a top-quality music system were a welcome surprise, while the large picture windows revealed a panoramic view of that sweeping drive and grounds. The limestone bathroom with its power shower, double sinks and piles of thick white towels, robes and slippers, proved as comfortable as it looked, as did the soft mattress and the mountain of feather and down pillows urging us to rest a while.
I was glad, on the following day's tour, to find that all standard and de-luxe rooms and suites are decorated differently, albeit with Anne Semonin toiletries, generous bowls of fruit and complimentary Wi-Fi as standard. Taking a peek at the fabulous Tower Suite; one of only two grand master suites, but sadly pre-booked for the weekend, I saw a TV the size of a small cinema screen and an opulent marble bathroom big enough to hold an entire cabinet meeting.
A huge breakfast served in our own sitting-room the following morning was sheer indulgence, but after lounging around in our bath-robes for an hour, we attempted to work at least some of it off with an hour's horse ride on the estate. A three-hour hack through some of the pretty villages nearby is available for more experienced riders.
Deciding, I think wisely, to delay our planned visit to the Brasserie – complete with pizza oven – until after our body treatments, we repair to the state-of-the art spa building, which we find located at the end of a charming walled garden. Mr Darcy opts for a scalp and head massage, which uses shiatsu and aromatic oils to thoroughly de-stress the shoulders and cranium area, while I go for the full-scale crushed sea salt and seaweed body envelopment experience. The salt, fresh lavender and mandarin peel leaves my skin feeling like silk, while a de-toxifying seaweed treatment boosts toxin release and helps overall purification.
Suitably relaxed after our treatments, but determined not to overdo the calories, the Spa Brasserie's Healthy Corner options include smokehouse trout, lemon and ginger-poached chicken and roast Cornish mackerel as well as an array of freshly-cooked pizzas and more mainstream meals.
With our taxi due at 4pm, we had just enough time for a stroll through the beautifully-kept park, as well as a last goodbye to the Cornflower Suite and the Georgian splendour of Lucknam Park. This is one costume drama that will certainly be repeated.