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Discerning socialites, horse-racing-aficionados and Royal watchers are getting set to trot to Royal Ascot this week, where the British summer season truly starts to gather pace. The annual races run from June 18 to 22 at the Berkshire race track, and the occasion is as much a chance for attendees to hob nob as to flex their sartorial muscles.
A day at the races is, of course, about far more than the races; the Royal family will be present, for one, and fine dining is available at several locations. Entry itself is not particularly expensive, but it’s the crowd in which you mingle that cements your annual ranking on the totem pole.
From how to attend, to what to wear and where to eat, this is Luxury’s guide to attending Royal Ascot in true style.
How to attend
A successful Royal Ascot is all about the enclosure in which you end up and, if your friends (or, indeed, family) are Windsors, only the Royal Enclosure will do. There, you’ll clink flutes with society’s highly esteemed - Beatrice and Eugenie, perhaps, or maybe the Wessexes, Sussexes and Cambridges. You’ll also be in proximity to the Queen.
The tussle for the tickets is annual: in order to edge your way into the hotspot, you need to be a Royal Enclosure member or a friend of one. If you are neither, make haste in contacting a trusted concierge service, who will attempt to hook you up.
Otherwise, prepare to invest big. The Royal Enclosure boxes are prime real estate at Ascot, and can be hired from around £11,000 for 12-18 people. The bonus of the box is it allows for an experience tailored to your and your guests’ desires. For an additional cost, morning coffee and biscuits, a champagne reception, afternoon tea and a 'complimentary' bar can be arranged.
Alternatively, book lunch at the Parade Ring or Panoramic Restaurants, the best fine-dining options at the event. At the latter, there is champagne on arrival and dishes from culinary legend Raymond Blanc. Your meal also comes with one of the coveted Royal Enclosure guest badges. While places at both restaurants are full this year (unless your concierge can help you out), set a reminder for next.
If your Royal plans are utterly scuppered, then make for the Queen Anne Enclosure, named after the race course’s founding monarch. Here, manicured lawns and raised terraces await, ideal for watching both the Royal Procession and the racing. Whilst it’s not as formal as the Royal Enclosure, a strict style guide still applies, and tickets, from £90, are available through Ascot’s official channel.
A bounty of food and drink options, including fine dining from Phil Howard at ON 5 and afternoon teas celebrating the best of British produce, are available within the Queen Anne Enclosure. But, as before, add-ons are what elevate the experience. The Garden Club is a private lawn overlooking the track at the east end of the Grandstand, serviced with luxurious picnic platters, ice cream and a bar. Tickets are still available for this year from £199 per person.
Another savvy route in is through London’s luxurious hotels. The Lanesborough is adding a fashionable flourish to the Queen Anne Enclosure, offering a package deal for two with Moet & Chandon and Harvey Nichols. From £1,585, guests enjoy a night at the hotel; breakfast served either in Michelin-starred Céleste, the Lanesborough Club & Spa, or in-room; and a chauffeur-driven transfer to Harvey Nichols for a private shopping experience with a personal stylist.
Additionally, on race day, a chauffeur will whisk you away for a day in the Queen Anne Enclosure, with a bottle of Moët & Chandon Grand Vintage 2012 and a selection of small dishes from the Lady Aurelia Bar - all of which is included in the price. The Ritz also does Royal Ascot packages, including transfers in a Rolls Royce Phantom, but this year’s edition is now sold out.
How to get there
Make like the Queen and pull up to the Ascot gates in a horse-drawn carriage. The Ostler is a reliable port of call. In order to arrive at the racing grounds by carriage, you’ll need to be picked up at a meeting point, like a restaurant, in Ascot. There are 25 carriage models to choose from, including a classic open-top Langdale carriage (ideal for groups of four or less) and a fairytale pumpkin carriage. Prices start from £599 for horses and a carriage with two coach men.
If a carriage arrival feels too literal, you could consider a chauffeur service. One thing that is certainly not in shortage in London’s most discerning boroughs are Rolls Royce Phantoms. Hiring one makes for a stylish way to roll up, whilst adhering to traditions. Imperial Ride provides a one-way service from London to Ascot from £550, or an 8-hour hire for £1,200.
Traffic is a pain, though. Why not helicopter over instead? A number of private helicopter charters are waiting in the wings to whisk you to the racecourse itself. The Charter A Group, still has an Agusta Grand helicopter for up to six passengers available, starting from £2,500 for a one way trip from the London Heliport in Battersea to the racecourse.
What to wear
Nailing Ascot dressing is remarkably difficult: strict codes, summer sun, a large volume of attendees and the potential for hayfever do not marry well. As The Telegraph’s Senior Fashion Editor Charlie Gowans-Eglinton writes, “stick to your style, just elevate it a bit in a smart fabric like silk or velvet with an eye on the dress code.” It’s a formula she has only recently discovered after an uncomfortable experience at Ascot some years ago.
In the Royal Enclosure, formal daywear is a requirement. Key rules for women are that dresses should be no shorter than just above the knee; straps should be of one inch or greater; midriffs should always be covered; and trousers of matching colour and material are now also welcome.
The latter has made navigating the code easier for women. Elegantly cut pastel suits will stand out from the crowd - a colourful departure from the black and greys traditionally worn by men and a fresh approach from the traditional dresses usually worn by women; just be sure to choose a breathable fabric.
Brightly printed and well cut dresses hailing from new-age brands like Borgo de Nor and La Double J will provide standout style and allow room to breathe. For more inspiration, see our guide to women’s dressing for the season.
Headwear-wise, a hat or headpiece with a minimum solid base diameter of four inches is required. Our style guide contains the best of British hats to wear this year.
Men, on the other hand, are required to wear black or grey morning dress which must include a waistcoat and a tie, a black or grey top hat and black shoes worn with socks. The code states that gentleman may only remove their top hat within a restaurant, a Private Box, a private club or a facility’s terrace, balcony or garden.
Agreeably, novelty waistcoats and ties, unless of a patriotic nature, are not permitted. Whilst there is little room for manoeuvre, studying our men’s guide to Ascot dressing and enlisting the help of one of Savile Row’s finest tailors will yield results.
Where to eat
In Ascot and Windsor there is not much in the way of glamorous dining - although Berkshire’s Waterside Inn is legendary. If you can wrangle a booking there, you’ll have a view over the Thames and be very well looked after indeed.
Belonging to Michelin-starred chef Alain Roux, of the Roux gastronomic dynasty, the food is French jusqu’au bout. After a day of over-the-top Britishness it might be a welcome treat to delve into a dish of Challandais duck.
The Fat Duck is also located in Bray, Berkshire. Dubbed, "the greatest restaurant show on earth," by our food critic Ben McCormack, it is an extremely lavish spot. The 17-course tasting menu is obligatory, so you could be there for some time, but Heston Blumenthal's wizardry will excite.
The problem with sticking around the area post-Ascot is that, after a day of celebrating, it is not uncommon for race-goers to end up a little worse for wear. Quaint restaurants become a touch more unruly than they usually are. We suggest hot-footing it back to central London to enjoy a hearty meal, especially if you are staying in one of the capital’s grand hotels.
After its glitzy reopening party this week, The Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park is once again a buzzword. Dame Helen Mirren, Liam Neeson and Christian Louboutin were just a few of those in attendance at last week’s knees up, celebrating the hotel’s £100m refurbishment.
Dinner, the two-Michelin starred restaurant by Heston Blumenthal, is the best spot to dine within. Here, you can wrap-up the day with ultra modern, thoroughly British food, like spice squab pigeon, or fillet of Hereford Beef.
Also new on the block is Sette, an Italian restaurant within the Bulgari Hotel in Knightsbridge. Having opened only two weeks ago, it’s got a fantastic, fresh vibe, and serves simple but very well executed food. A mouthful of the house special - spaghetti pomodoro - will replenish you after a day at the races.
Plus, the new downstairs bar Nolita Social has enlisted a roster of excellent musicians, whose live sets (seven days a week) keep the energy high despite the low-lit setting - the perfect accompaniment to the sparkling Tiny Dancer cocktail.
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