Natalie French

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Whether you’re dreaming of a fairy-tale castle, a beautiful country bolthole or an alfresco wedding fest’ - Natalie French shares 10 exciting venues just a few hour’s drive of the big smoke. 

Fawsley Hall tingles with history. This impressive country pile, set in the rolling Northampton countryside, has entertained many Tudor Royals; you can even stay in Master Suite 1575 where Queen Elizabeth I rested her head. The Great Hall is next level ‘wow’ and an awe-inspiring spot for the drinks reception. Sip Champagne beneath the striking 14-metre ceiling, with original beams, while portraits of Henry VIII and his wives keep a watchful eye on proceedings. The bridal party can take advantage of Fawsley’s £1.5M spa refurbishment; a dip in the outdoor hydro-pool, come moonlight, screams romance. 

At the end of sweeping drive, you’ll find Tylney Hall: a Victorian mansion set in 66-acres of RHS Partner Gardens. There’s a choice of venues to suit all tastes, from the grand Tylney suite with vaulted ceiling, the intimate wood-panelled Newnham Suite or the stone gazebo in the manicured Italian Garden. What makes Tylney really special, though, is the majestic grounds – the perfect backdrop for wedding photos. Don’t miss a dreamy shot over the boathouse lake, tiptoe through bluebells on the redwood-flanked vista or strike a pose on the stone steps with a backdrop of wisteria.  

Looking for a more intimate wedding - surrounded by those closest to you? Check out Careys Manor’s ‘Love in a Bubble’ package. Think: beautiful New Forest location – free-roaming ponies, as standard - manor house setting and no obligatory guest list. Prefer to take the party outside? Opt for a festival wedding, aptly named ‘The Wedding Bales’ package. Don your wedding dress and wellies and take to your own 10-acre private field, complete with persian rugs, acoustic band, bell tents, hay bales, personalised cocktails and rustic flowers. Nothing beats dancing under the stars with your favourites. 

Literary lovers and hopeless romantics will want to bookmark Alexander House in Sussex -once home to English romantic poet, Shelley – no less. This red-brick Jacobean manor is set in 120 acres of gardens and parklands – with National Trust woodland just beyond the boundary. The hotel has a unique collection of colourful and modern spaces for ceremonies and celebrations for up to 90 people. There’s also 58 bedrooms, delicious Modern British food and its very own spa wing. 

Just 20 minutes’ drive from Windsor, five-star Cliveden House is fit for a princess; Meghan Markle stayed here on the eve of her wedding to Prince Harry. This fairy-tale venue is opulent, the service is impeccable and the VIP guest list extensive; besides its long connection to the royals, both Winston Churchill and Mahatma Ghandi stayed at this Grade I listed stately home. Cliveden has a choice of spaces to choose from or, embrace your inner queen and hire the whole house exclusively.  

The Crazy Bear offers something a little bit different with its eclectic décor, funky Moroccan-style lounge and Thai canapes. The Oxfordshire countryside venue can host weddings and civil ceremonies for up to 300 guests. The pièce de résistance is the light-filled Glasshouse - with its own private cocktail bar and 1am licence - which opens on to a secluded heated terrace with fire pit, croquet lawn, chess set and woodland copse and gardens.

As venues go, Blenheim Palace - with its 18th Century baroque architecture and award-winning Formal Gardens – is pretty spectacular. There’s six venue spaces on offer: The Orangery and Marlborough Rooms for impressive ceremonies; The Great Hall and Long Library for dining and drinks and, for blow the budget extravagant affairs, The Great Hall, Saloon & Long Library package for up to 300 guests. Can’t decide who to trim off the guest list? Fear not, the 2000 acre garden lends itself for a marquee, or two. 

Nymans is a truly magical National Trust property with far-reaching views over the West Sussex countryside. Intimate ceremonies, for 30 guests, take place beneath the pretty stone arches of the Loggia – aka the Italian summer house - a gothic-style building, adorned in roses and set in the Sunk Garden; additional guests can be seated on the secluded lawns. Nymans is a wedding photographer’s dream with a backdrop of dramatic sculptures, fountains and exposed stone work. 

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