Verzon House, Ledbury
PUBLISHED: 18:02 04 February 2010 | UPDATED: 08:56 21 February 2013
As a seasoned international traveller, Peter Marks has enjoyed the hospitality of the world's hotels. It was only a matter of time before the canny businessman invested in his own properties, giving them distinctive and successful makeovers...
Many people dream about retiring to a place in the sun but Peter and Audrey Marks, having tried it once or twice, find that retirement just doesn't suit.
At the age of 77, Peter has recently bought Verzon House in Ledbury, and is relishing taking a very active role in the running and refurbishment of the beautiful country house hotel.
"Every day when I come in, I really enjoy it," explains Peter. "It's not the sort of job you do because you have to - the hours are very long and people talk about it being hard work, but it's only hard work if you don't enjoy it."
The couple, who have had a home in Monaco since 1973, fell in love with Verzon House as soon as they saw it, and exchanged contracts within a week. It marked the end of a year-long hunt to find the perfect country house hotel. "Many of the hotels we looked at were awful, so when the agent phoned to tell us about this place we thought it would probably be another wild goose chase!" laughs Peter. "But when we saw it, we thought that it was very nice and we felt it had great potential, so we put in an offer straight away."
It might seem like a hasty decision, but Peter and Audrey are not new to the hotel business, having already enjoyed huge success with two previous ventures. After running a textile business for many years, and spending a huge amount of time travelling between England, Italy and Monaco, Peter was a frequent hotel guest.
"I felt that one day I would really like my own hotel; I was a keen cook and knew that this was something where I could indulge my interests," explains Peter. And so, at the age of 50, Peter bought the Georgian mansion Rookery Hall in Nantwich, Cheshire, once the family home of the founders of merchant banking firm J Henry Schroder and Company. Before too long, Rookery Hall was the highest rated hotel in the North West in the Egon Ronay Guide. Having achieved so much, Peter and Audrey decided it was time to retire - but just couldn't stay away from the hotel business for too long.
Their next acquisition was Lower Slaughter Manor in the Cotswolds and, once again, under its new owners the hotel flourished and won Egon Ronay accolades. This time Peter and Audrey ran the hotel for just over four years before deciding to have another go at retiring.
"We went back to Monaco, and then after a few years we thought we might try living in America, so we went to Arizona, but it wasn't really for us, and so we headed back to Monaco, and decided to buy another hotel in England," says Peter.
The couple weren't looking for properties in Herefordshire - in fact, Peter's only previous connection with the county was a rather unhappy time spent as an evacuee there during the war.
"I can't really remember much about it - except that I didn't enjoy it," says Peter. This time, his experiences are very different. "We love the county, it's beautiful and very unspoilt. We've been so busy since we came here in April that we haven't had enough time to explore yet, but we will do, so that we can tell our guests the best places to visit."
Meanwhile, Peter and Audrey are both very hands-on in the business. They are delighted to have retained Justin, son of the previous owner, as manager, and have employed John Ricks, who has previously worked with John Bourton-Race at the New Angel in Dartmouth, as chef.
"He's lovely, not at all prone to Gordon Ramsay-type tantrums - well, not often, anyway," laughs Peter. Good quality food is of huge importance to Peter's vision for Verzon House: "We are trying to give people the sort of food they want to eat, excellent ingredients and wonderful flavours, but not fussy."
The main restaurant can seat up to 90 guests, with two smaller settings to accommodate parties of up to 14. As well as the a la carte menu, there is a set lunch menu with two courses for 13.95 and three for 17.95, plus light lunches such as salads, terrines and hot baguettes. The decked terrace with its amazing views makes for a wonderful al fresco dining experience. The beautiful setting also makes Verzon House a very popular choice as a wedding venue.
A programme of upgrading is currently underway to enhance the experience for visitors, and Peter is keen to make it the best hotel in the area. But what he wants most is for guests to enjoy their stay, and to leave feeling that they have had good value for money.
"Some country hotels have become so expensive that for the cost of two nights' stay, you could have a week somewhere in the sun! We want our visitors to have a wonderful time in this lovely county, and to feel that their stay with us is one they would like to repeat."