Both things can be true. This is a mantra we are currently practising as a family. For example: yes your brother has spent the past 10 minutes tapping the top of your head with a pencil, which is utterly enraging and frankly sociopathic behaviour. But also: you spent the 10 minutes prior to that kicking him in the shin so his response is miraculous in its moderation. These things can both be true, so you might as well breathe and move on with your life.
It seems a truth underacknowledged, in our polarised times, is useful in myriad contexts. For example: the Hilton Garden Inn Silverstone. It is a hotel essentially devoid of character. And yet it also has more wow factor than 99 per cent of hotels in the UK.
The first and only trackside hotel at the legendary motor racing circuit opened last summer. Paris Hilton poled up for the party, in a blue and white rhinestone catsuit. I can’t help wondering what must have passed through her mind, as she drove up towards the place. Because Silverstone is set within an out of town industrial park – the sort of place you spend a bank holiday Monday, traipsing around Carpet Warehouse and trying to suppress memories of ambitions you once held. Nor is the hotel’s façade much more inspiring.
It looks like an airport terminal. Half the ground floor is taken up by a “superstore” selling McLaren and Mercedes merch (hoodies, gilets, not a rhinestone in sight). Inside, there’s a towering bronze and glass atrium with a F1 racing car parked right in front of the check-in desk (which might be sexier if it wasn’t surrounded by retractable belt barriers, as if it were stalled in lengthy passport control queues).
Upstairs, in the open-plan bar and dining room, a vast flat-screen shows sports and sets the tone. “It’s like they did a special collaboration with Farrow & Ball,” says the husband as we sit down. “Exhaust Fume Grey.” Everything – floor, walls, bar, tables, chairs – is a subtle shade of charcoal. Even the flavours in the crowd-pleasing burgers, pizzas and curries are obediently on-brand and muted.
Upstairs, our two interconnecting rooms follow the same formula – competently designed, comfortable, impressive commitment to the business travel colour palette. A cluster of small framed photos of cars and frothing champagne bottles are the sole reference to setting. And then we open the curtains.
“Your balcony will overlook the track,” I had been told. And I’d only half bought it, imagining something like Fawlty Towers’ “sea views”. But holy hairpins. Open the (ultra-glazed) balcony doors and you are practically on the track. Any closer and you’d be inside Lewis Hamilton’s helmet.
Our neighbouring balconies are occupied by young lads clutching camera phones and clearly living their very best boy racer dreams. The flashes of colour! The lights! The ear-splitting engines! It vibrates through your skeleton, fizzes your blood. Every time the cars round the bend towards us I get a surge of wild, swooping excitement. And no one is more surprised than me.
During race events, the 75 rooms and suites that are track-facing can be transformed to hospitality suites, which accounts for the corporate décor and means that the odds of regular punters nabbing one during major events such as the Grand Prix will be almost as unlikely as me qualifying in my Fiat 500.
But there are other races. We time our visit for the Motor Racing Legends event, in which historic Jags, Triumphs, and even Minis roar round the track in glorious, vivid vintage shades (not a hint of grey here). A glass corridor crosses the track from the hotel to the paddock complex and pit, where we wander between the cars yet to race, watching their loving teams tweak, polish and prepare them.
With so much character and colour on show here, perhaps it is wise the hotel does not try to compete. And having jostled through the crowds, it is clear that our own private balcony is by far the best and most comfortable place to take the whole circus in. That, or the hotel’s rooftop bar, which has 360-degree views of the racetrack.
The next morning, after a buffet breakfast that filled the tank but failed to set the heart racing, we set off for the Silverstone Museum, just around the corner and where hotel guests get a 50 per cent discount off their entry tickets. The place charts the history of Silverstone from Second World War airbase to present-day track. Sound less than scintillating? Well, I thought so too, but reader – it is one of the best family-friendly museums we have visited. Every single exhibit is interactive, from a playable Scalextric reproduction of the track, to driver simulations, screens allowing you to design and race your own car or try your hand at live commentating.
Trust me when I say you do not need to know or, frankly, care about motor racing to be entranced. You are immersed in history, engineering, design and more. Which is how this new hotel is corporate to its core, yet makes a surprisingly brilliant base for a family mini-break. Both things are true.
How to do it
A family of four can stay in two interconnected, trackside rooms at the Hilton Garden Inn Silverstone (01327 493160; hilton.com) from £300 a night, B&B.