Jonny Wilkinson, Lawrence Dallaglio, Will Carling. Walk through the corridors of The Petersham hotel in Richmond and you are instantly reminded by the signed photographs adorning the walls that this is a home-from-home for all English rugby enthusiasts.
In fact, The Petersham used to act as the national team’s unofficial HQ. Not surprising as you can see Twickenham, the spiritual home of the oval ball game, when you look out across the River Thames from The Petersham’s refined rooms.
But it’s not just a posh sporting clubhouse. Portraits of Ant & Dec, Mick Jagger and Kate Winslet were also smiling down on us.
The great and the good of the entertainment world evidently like to come here to rest their heads, or do lunch if they live locally.
The privately-owned Petersham is an elegant old place full of period features that has been perched on the side of Richmond Hill since the middle of the 19th century.
Out of the window you can see green meadows and it’s easy to forget that you’re not all that far away from the hustle and bustle of the capital (just eight miles to be precise). It has the feel of a country house hotel close to the city.
But while London is hectic, life in Richmond is definitely lived at a slower pace. After finding the 60-bed hotel, parking and being shown to our comfortable room complete with balcony overlooking the Thames, we enjoyed a pleasant lunch in the light and airy restaurant.
Alex Bentley’s cooking is one of the main draws at The Petersham – he built his career as Head Chef of Monsieur Max in Hampton, Middlesex, where he held a Michelin Star for five years.
Tummies full, we headed off on foot to see what this well-to-do borough has to offer.
The sun was shining and it was a pleasant walk down to the riverside and along the towpath. People of all ages were out for a Saturday stroll or bike ride and an ice cream and all was well with the world.
Trendy cafes were doing a roaring trade and so were the people hiring out rowing boats as it was a perfect day for just messing about on the river.
We had the boys with us – aged three and six – so a river cruise seemed like a good way to keep them entertained. There’s something very calming about chugging along past nice houses with private moorings and feeling the gentle breeze in your face.
Richmond is also home to a good selection of designer shops, but we managed to keep mum away from most of those and instead headed farther along the river to Richmond Green.
A cricket match and families enjoying picnics made for a quintessentially British scene, although the steady stream of jets coming in and out of nearby Heathrow took a while to get used to.
Back at the hotel, we had a room service pizza and the boys drifted off to sleep, dreaming of a big day ahead.
The next morning we caught a taxi to Twickenham and they got their first taste of this sporting citadel.
Faces were painted with the cross of St George and we all proudly wore the red rose on our chests as we cheered on England in the London leg of the worldwide Emirates Airlines Sevens tournament.
Then it was back to The Petersham to pick up the car and drive home.
We never got to visit the Twickenham Museum or King Henry VIII’s Hampton Court Palace (both of which had been on our itinerary). But we could always do that next time.
Rates at The Petersham hotel in Richmond start from £185 per night, based on two people sharing a standard double room.
Price includes full English breakfast and VAT. For more information please visit petershamhotel.co.uk, or call 0208 940 7471.
Civilised Sundays at The Petersham start from just £89 per person based on two people sharing a standard Double or Twin room on a Sunday night. Price includes a three-course dinner for two in Restaurant at The Petersham, full English breakfast and VAT.
To see what’s happening at Twickenham, go to rfu.com/TwickenhamStadium