Guide to Hidden Gems for English Country Retreats
Our hand-picked selection of exceptional country house hotels in England’s green and pleasant land. As the run up to Christmas beckons, perhaps now is the time to start planning a post festive break to recover from it all, or even sneak in a romantic escape before the season gets seriously underway. We’ve found six of the best of English country havens, all of which would be magical at any time of year. Worth noting too, that you might want to leave the little darlings at home – some of our picks are for grown ups only . . .
Run by double Michelin-starred BBC Great British Menu guru Michael Caines, this is a peach of a place. The cream painted Georgian house is lovely from the outside but astonishing on the inside: sophisticated styling with a bold edge is everywhere. It’s a far cry from traditional chintzy swags and frills, and it totally works. The rooms are truly sumptuous with bathrooms to match, and each one is different. Showerheads are bronze and the size of dinner plates and freestanding baths come as standard. The food, as you’d expect from the fêted proprietor, is out of this world, with an eight course tasting menu the star of the show.
A honey coloured stone farmhouse, lodge and courtyard cottages make up this picture box pretty hotel that combines high end ‘hygge’ comfort in the glorious antique strewn bedrooms with an acclaimed cookery school, a quirky cocktail bar (or ‘Baa’ as it’s called, thanks to the fluffy sheep stools – we told you it was quirky) and the opportunity for total immersion in countryside rest and relaxation. If you can drag yourself away from the elegant but oh-so-comfortable and gorgeously Farrow & Ball decorated drawing rooms, the lovely terrace (where you can eat alfresco in the summer months) or indeed your superb quality bed, a five minute walk down the road finds you at The Swan, Thyme’s sister pub and purveyor of sophisticated food that belies the plain simplicity of the surroundings.
Explore the stunning Wye valley and the quaint towns of Ross-on Wye and Hay-on-Wye, or pop over to Cheltenham Race Course – they’re all within a 30 minute drive of Brooks Country House, a newly refurbished Georgian manor house with 23 beautifully kitted out bedrooms, including one with a super king four poster. Set in 13 acres of lush parkland, Brooks is the ideal retreat from modern urban life and what’s more, its rates make it a very affordable kind of luxury, with rooms at less than £200 per night and a spot-on menu which offers 3 courses for just £25.00. Choose from stalwarts such as sticky beef Bourguignon, classic fish pie or French onion tart with garlic kale – suppliers are local artisan producers and the ethos is on classic dishes cooked to perfection, rather than anything gimmicky. The afternoon tea is scrumptious and includes scones straight from the oven served with jam and clotted cream. The bar and drawing room are decorated in a warm but pared back style: calm and comfort are the hallmarks of Brooks.
Flawless service and bags of character mark out Middlethorpe Hall, which may be just outside York but has all the essentials for a proper rural escape. The sumptuous building is 300 years old and has an interior which is grand yet comforting, with 29 bedrooms of varying sizes. The Lady Mary Suite (very Downton) includes window seats looking out onto the immaculate gardens and its own little sitting room; or you could choose the Duke of York suite in which, you guessed it, HRH Prince Andrew once stayed. The hotel displays everything you want from a traditional country house retreat: fireplaces, deep carpets, dramatic curtains, opulent wallpaper, and big sofas to sink into with a large brandy late at night. A cottage and summer house are home to spa facilities including treatment rooms and an indoor pool. Dining is a real experience in the wood panelled restaurant (dating from 1699).
There is a luxury ski lodge vibe to Brimstone: within the contemporary Lake District stone exterior lie roaring fires, spa bathrooms, private balconies and even a boot room where you just help yourself to any outdoor kit you might need for the breathtaking walking just outside the door. Langdale is one of the most spectacular valleys in the Lake District, with Grasmere and Ambleside just a few miles away. Rooms are exemplary: your own balcony, woodburning stove, palatial bed and double shower make the boutique styled bedrooms perfect for the ultimate romantic hideway.
Elizabethan charm and views over the South Downs make this plush hotel with its 9 acres of grounds, oak panelled bar an alluring destination in itself. Throw in a striking contemporary structure housing a state of the art spa built in a 19th century walled garden and you have something very special indeed. Just an hour’s drive from London, you nevertheless still feel you’ve really got away from it all, with a restful and tranquil feel throughout. There’s a sun trap of a terrace where you can taste the delectable menus created by the award-winning head chef, and, refreshingly, the hotel encourages guests to ‘arrive early and leave late’ to take advantage of everything on offer, from croquet to simply getting lost in a book curled up in the drawing room by the fire.
Abigail Stubbs, Features Editor