When the British summer delivers on the weather front, there’s nothing better than a music festival, (especially if you can find one serving champagne). Whether you’re looking for family-friendly festivals, extra-special small independent music festivals, or boutique options at your favourite dusk-till-dawn alfresco rave, we’ve rounded up the best of the year. From black-tie dining to woodland spas, escape the welly-clad crowds at the best luxury and boutique festivals in the UK for 2020.
Best Small & Boutique Festivals 2019
May Boutique Festivals
Cheltenham Jazz Festival 5 – 10 May
‘Cheltenham continues to lead the way in celebrating the amazing variety of music that Jazz has to offer. It’s an absolute pleasure to bring you the best in music over these special six days. In a year when some say jazz is 100 years old, the music is as vibrant as ever. For its 22nd edition, Cheltenham Jazz Festival celebrates the past, present and future of jazz.’ – Jamie Cullum: artistic curator at Cheltenham. Buy tickets to individual events at cheltenhamfestivals.com
Where to stay? Cowley Manor, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire. From the outside, it’s a stunning Italianate manor house in classical lake and cascade-filled grounds; inside, a flawlessly hip hotel, with 21st-century good looks. If you’re inclined to go walking, there are wellies by the front door, or bicycles for those who want to feel the wind in their hair. Although the restaurant, Malt, is a magnificent panelled room, the atmosphere is relaxed and the menus concentrate on honest, seasonal British food. Star of the show, however, is the modernist spa, C-Side, and its two pools. Contemporary bliss-out and stone grandeur, seamlessly blended. Cowley Manor has never looked or felt better. Doubles from £195.
How The Light Gets In, 22 – 25 May
This five-day festival of philosophy and music features the world’s leading thinkers debating cutting edge ideas as well as music, comedy, culture and performance. Stay tuned for line-up announcements. howthelightgetsin.org
Where to stay? Bodysgallen Hall, Llandudno, Conwy. Bodysgallen Hall is a dignified, gentle paced island of calm, close to Llandudno’s famous promenade and beaches. Climb its tower, built as a lookout for Conwy Castle – the medieval core of the fine 17th-century mansion – and you’ll be rewarded with a panoramic view. The house has enormous character, with 15 antiques-filled bedrooms and 16 postcard-pretty cottages scattered around the estate’s 200 acres of wooded parkland. The former farmhouse now houses the spa with a large indoor pool, plus steam room, sauna and solarium. Doubles from £185.
Elderflower Fields, 22 – 25 | 29 – 31 May
This Sussex and Leicestershire-based festival is fun for all the family and is designed especially with children in mind. With music, sports, nature and art, this lush festival features hot showers and a woodland spa, set in beautiful Sussex countryside. elderflowerfields.co.uk
Where to stay? The Lamb Inn, Wartling, East Sussex. It sounds a bit fictional, The Lamb Inn at Wartling, like something from a TV comedy, which is fitting, since the owner is on telly himself, and full of humour too. On Antiques Road Trip, James Braxton nips round the country in an open-top car, searching for bargains, but this pretty corner of Sussex, overlooking Pevensey Levels, is home. When the village pub came up for sale, he and his wife bought and decorated it beautifully. It’s run by their sons, with good food courtesy of an equally young kitchen team. Charlie’s collection of vinyl records gets aired on a turntable in an alcove; milk churns double for stools along the bar; there are cosy and elegant eating areas, including a courtyard. Doubles from £95.
June Boutique Festivals
The Grange Festival, from June 5
The Grange Festival is an event series dedicated to performing world-class opera in the heart of Hampshire. This year’s line-up includes La Cenerentola, My Fair Lady, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Book now at thegrangefestival.co.uk.
Where to stay? The Wellington Arms, Baughurst, Hampshire. There’s something pretty special about ‘The Welly’. It’s a real foodies’ pub, owned and run with great charm by Simon Page (front of house) and Jason King (award-winning chef). Set in the countryside on the Hampshire/Berkshire border, it has a burgeoning kitchen garden and a field where hens, bees, sheep and pigs are kept. The dining room – there are just 12 highly prized tables – is delightfully informal. There are four bedrooms: the Apartment is a one-bedroom suite above the pub. Then, tucked away in a converted 17th-century, oak-framed hay store are two striking guest rooms, all exposed brickwork and timber beams, and outside a green oak barn, the Cart House. Doubles from £110.
Hampton Court Palace Festival, throughout June
This year’s line-up features George Benson, Lionel Richie and Rick Astley, with more to be announced. Artists perform to a beautiful backdrop in Henry VIII’s open-air Base Court for an intimate audience of 3,000 at what is sure to be one of the summer’s biggest celebrations. It’s also the perfect festival if a picnic on the lawn pre-show is on your check-list. We’re very much in. Buy tickets at .hamptoncourtpalacefestival.com
Where to stay? The Bingham, Richmond, London. This glamorous, intimate riverside hotel began life as two Georgian townhouses, later joined together by Lady Anne Bingham, a forebear of Lord Lucan. Crikey. Today’s owner, Samantha Trinder, ably assisted by brilliant general manager Erick Kervaon, has created a special place in which to stay and dine. Slick and contemporary, the hotel has the friendliest staff, a fun cocktail bar and a beautiful restaurant, a Richmond hotspot where natural modern British cuisine excels. But it’s the setting that adds the extra magic here, and the view. Doubles from £164.
July Boutique Festivals
Cornbury 10 – 12 July
In the Great Tew Park, Oxfordshire, this luxe family-friendly affair features music and a kids zone with children’s yoga and a toddler disco. The line-up is to be released in February. cornburyfestival.com
Where to stay? The Feathered Nest, Nether Westcote, Oxfordshire. Attractively laid out and furnished, it reflects the passion and professionalism of its owners, Tony and Amanda Timmer. The four countrified bedrooms (Cuckoo’s Den, Cockerel’s Roost, Pheasant Nest and Dove Cote) perfectly blend the practical with the luxurious, kitted out with Nespresso coffee machines, gleaming antiques, DVDs, books and magazines. And waking to the breathtaking view of the Evenlode Valley is guaranteed to soothe even the most frazzled nerves. In the rustic chic dining room or outside on the shady terrace, the modern British food is as impressive as the bedrooms. Doubles from £245.
Henley Festival 8 – 12 July
We’re always first in line for tickets to the country’s only black-tie music festival. The music line-up is always stellar, but if it’s festival food that gets you excited, you won’t find a better culinary line-up than this one on the banks of the river Thames. Watch this space for line-up announcements. henley-festival.co.uk
Where to stay? Hurley House, Berkshire. Hurley House is a newly refurbished boutique hotel with 10 beautiful bedrooms and an excellent restaurant. Think cosy country English pub styling with a luxe twist. Free-standing baths, worn leather armchairs and room one even has its own terrace for afternoon drinks in the sun (or, you know, English drizzle). The crowd is family-friendly and a mix of locals and the city crowd escaping for a night or two, while the restaurant is run by Michael Chapman, formerly head chef of Michelin-starred The Royal Oak at Paley Street. Hurley House is an easy-to-reach country escape that’s the perfect stop-over for a day in Henley, Marlow, Oxford and more.
Summer Series at Somerset House, July
This brilliant series of outdoor gigs in the beautiful setting of Somerset House courtyard is the perfect alternative to muddy fields and cold showers. For the full line-up and to book tickets, keep an eye on somersethouse.org.uk
Where to stay? Hazlitt’s, Soho, London. Hazlitt’s is the real deal: as genuine, amusing and revealing a hotel as you could hope for, especially in seething Soho. It’s named after the radical essayist and master of English prose, William Hazlitt. As befits an establishment with such literary connections, the hotel is popular with authors, who leave signed copies of their works when they depart. The sloping, creaking floorboards have been retained and the rooms, decorated with antiques, busts and prints, are individually furnished, with splendid bathtubs and Victorian fittings in the bathrooms. Doubles from £269.
Bluedot Festival, 23 – 26 July
This spacey celebration at Jordell Bank, Cheshire is a science-lovers dream. This fun fusion of music, science and the exploration of space takes place at the iconic observatory. Headliners are set to be revealed in the Spring. discoverthebluedot.com
Where to stay? The Chester Grosvenor, Chester, Cheshire. It could be the setting for a film, an upstairs-downstairs saga about a glossy, old-school hotel that’s set in a provincial city but aims ‘to match anything you might find on the Champs-Elysées’. And it certainly does. There’s the larger-than-life doorman, swathed in liveried coat, to greet and usher you into a lobby worthy of Claridge’s, with its vast staircase and glittering chandelier that once hung in London’s Junior Carlton. You’ll find a perfect example of a grande dame European hotel, glossy and plump. The bedrooms live up; the food in Simon Radley at The Chester Grosvenor is Michelin starred, and the shopping outside is to die for. Doubles from £170.
Truck Festival, 31 July – 2 August
This small, independent, family-friendly music festival has previously featured headlining performances from The Libertines, The Vaccines and Franz Ferdinand. Expect a similarly impressive roster for this year’s event, which takes place on Hill Farm in Oxfordshire. truckfestival.com
Where to stay? The Wild Rabbit, Kingham, Oxfordshire. Just a few fields away from sister enterprise Daylesford, the organic farm shop, café, deli and Bamford Haybarn Spa – the wellness retreat of Carole Bamford, it draws well-heeled locals and weekenders in equal measure to meet, eat, party, chill and – if they want – bed down for the night in great comfort. The restaurant – think boho-chic farmhouse kitchen – lies behind, with its pewter-hung dresser, long wooden tables and busy chefs in view. Head Chef Nathan Eades is at the helm in the kitchen, with culinary delights available all day. This Wild Rabbit is sophisticated, convivial and informal and the 12 bedrooms and three cottages – symphonies in designer cream and taupe – are sanctums of rustic-chic. Doubles from £175.
Curious Arts Festival, 17 – 19 July
This stylish and beautiful arts and music festival takes place on the breathtaking estate of Pippingford Park with sweeping views across Southern England. This year’s line up is yet to be announced but expect a mixture of big-name music headliners, stellar authors and food and wellness offerings. curiousartsfestival.com
Where to stay? Howard’s House, Teffont Evias, Wiltshire. Built in 1623 from attractive mellow stone and tucked away in an unspoilt Wiltshire village deep in the Nadder Valley, Howard’s House blends into the landscape, reassuringly timeless and quintessentially English. A hotel since 1989, it offers an oasis of calm away from the bustle. In the glorious flower-filled garden, protected by an old topiary hedge, and with a lovely terrace and croquet lawn, the only sounds you’re likely to hear are birdsong and the knock of mallet on ball. Head chef and co-owner Nick Wentworth uses only the finest, freshest seasonal ingredients, skilfully combining them to release their true flavours in delicate, imaginative dishes. Doubles from £190.
August Boutique Festivals
Wilderness, 30 July – 2 August
Expect big names in music and culture plus great food served banquet-style to accommodate chats with like-minded festival-goers; this Oxfordshire (relative) stalwart is always a favourite. With wellbeing workshops and boutique camping, there’s no need to feel wild as you reacquaint yourself with nature at Wilderness. wildernessfestival.com
Where to stay? Artist Residence, Oxfordshire. There are five stunning bedrooms upstairs, plus a further three suites in the converted farm outbuildings and a cosy shepherd’s hut. Original features have been retained and restored; auction houses and reclamation yards scoured; modern art set against William Morris wallpaper. The restaurant features art by the Connor Brothers and their fictional character Mr Hanbury (a nod to the Mason Arms’ famously eccentric landlord Mr Stonhill), while the kitchen offers a hearty British menu using meat and dairy from neighbouring farms and the best seasonal produce from the kitchen garden. Doubles from £95.
Houghton, 6 – 9 August
This Norfolk fest has a licence that permits music from dusk to dawn, with ‘spontaneous’ back-to-back sets, award-winning DJs and a stellar music line-up. Set amongst dense woodland, an abandoned woodland, a picturesque lake… Houghton, curated by DJ Craig Richards is becoming one of the most exciting prospects on the festival calendar. houghtonfestival.co.uk
Where to stay? Congham Hall, King’s Lynn, Norfolk. Set in 30 acres of gardens and woodland, this calm, handsome Georgian house has a special feature: its acclaimed herb gardens, containing almost 400 varieties, plus orchards and kitchen garden. To either side is a drawing room and library, and there’s also a slick bar. The airy dining room works both for smart gatherings and relaxed, informal meals. The bedrooms are all impeccable and comfortable, divided between those in the house and those in the garden wing, next to the pampering Secret Garden Spa. The house rooms are cool and classical in style and make lovely havens in which to relax. Doubles from £135.
Boomtown, 12 – 16 August
We’re expecting big things from Boomtown’s 12th chapter. This multifaceted music and theatrical event is hosted at the Matterley Estate, Winchester, and last year’s event featured the likes of Lauryn Hill, Prophets of Rage and The Streets. Boomtown puts equal importance on stage design and theatrical storylines, with the ‘city’ split into nine unique districts. Tickets for tier 1 and 2 are sold out, so get your tickets for tier 3 now from £261.50; boomtownfair.co.uk
Where to stay? Hannah’s, Winchester. Not many, if any, hotels are named after their owners, but then not many hoteliers are quite as much of a selling point as Hannah McIntyre. Not that she craves limelight – quite the opposite – but her youth (mid-twenties), warmth and enthusiasm do set the tone for her equally stunning guesthouse. Two things alone make it the current go-to address for this absorbing cathedral town, whether for visitors (she also serves afternoon teas to non-residents), bridal couples or honeymooners: it’s got wow factor and Hannah is committed to doing the finest possible job. In a former livery, then dancehall, a huge arched front door leads into a lofty, dramatic living space, complete with antique piano, sofas around a wood burner, bookshelves and honesty bar. The three exciting bedrooms have huge comfy beds and baths on mezzanines reached by almost vertical wooden steps. Hannah’s breakfasts are special and her B&B an unalloyed delight. Doubles from £185.
Big Feastival, 28 – 30 August
Held on founder and Blur star Alex James’ farm in Kingham, the Big Feastival is a music/food festival with plenty on offer for everyone. With festival fun for all the family, little ones can enjoy the Little Dudes’ Den, pop along to the Farm Park and enjoy entertainment from children’s TV favourites. uk.thebigfeastival.com
Where to stay? Barnsley House, Cirencester, Gloucestershire. If you dream of somewhere not too large, but not too small, somewhere effortlessly chic yet close to nature; if you fancy a hotel with a discreet spa, an intimate cinema and a famous garden, then look no further than this gorgeous Cotswold retreat. No two bedrooms are the same, but all are cool and comfortable, blending classy furniture and state-of-the-art facilities that blend with traditional elements like old beams, stone fireplaces and wooden floors. As for the lovely Potager Restaurant, elegant, fresh and unfussy food is served in a cleverly mirrored white and cucumber green room, which leads to a pretty terrace overlooking that entrancing garden. Doubles from £209.
Jupiter Rising, 29 – 31 August
How does one make a boutique festival even more atmospheric? Host it in a stately home. Jupiter Rising is Edinburgh’s newest boutique music and art festival spread over the August bank holiday weekend. Jupiter Artland, found just outside of Edinburgh, is a sculpture park full of grand art installations and sculptures. The line-up is varied and features some lesser-known artists which only adds to the unique, boutique-feel Jupiter Rising promises. jupiterrising.art
Where to Stay?
The Balmoral, Edinburgh, Rocco Forte’s historic Edinburgh landmark only 35 minutes by train to the festival. It was built in 1902 in impressive Scottish renaissance style as a railway hotel serving Waverley Station. Pronounced one of the great railway hotels, its iconic clock was set three minutes fast so that guests and locals wouldn’t miss their trains. It has turrets at its corners and a central courtyard, occupied by the dazzling glass-domed Palm Court. Exuding a timeless elegance, the bedrooms have been designed by Olga Polizzi, Director of Building & Design for Rocco Forte Hotels, with their castle view rooms framing some of the Scottish capital’s most famous vistas. The Balmoral’s two restaurants offer guests a choice of fine or brasserie dining. Number One, with its red lacquer walls and dove grey seating, offers a Michelin-starred menu celebrating Scottish produce. Brasserie Prince by Alain Roux meanwhile serves up a new alliance marrying the best of Scottish ingredients with French cooking. The service throughout the hotel is faultless. Doubles from £245
September Boutique Festivals
Cerys Matthews’ The Good Life Experience, 10 – 13 September
Returning for its sixth year, The Good Life Experience is a celebration of artists and artisans, debates and discovery, action and adventure, rock and roll revelry and relaxation, family fun and feasts and carnival and culture. The festival takes place in the glorious, unusual, historic setting of the Hawarden Estate against the backdrop of two castles. Expect raucous music from all over the world, axe throwing, foraging, campfire cooking sessions with world class chefs, daily feasts, wild children, mass sing-a-longs, over 40 expert craftspeople, beer served by experts, talks by explorers, abseiling, a free 1930s fairground, tree climbing, poetry, literature and endless How To… talks. thegoodlifeexperience.co.uk
Where to stay?
The Chester Grosvenor could be the setting for a film, an upstairs-downstairs saga about a glossy, old-school hotel that’s set in a provincial city but aims ‘to match anything you might find on the Champs-Elysées’. And it certainly does. The pleasant sense of fantasy begins, for many, in the taxi; only accredited hotel guests can be driven to its door in Chester’s pedestrian quarter. Then there’s the larger-than-life doorman, swathed in liveried coat, to greet and usher you into the lobby with its vast staircase and glittering 28,000-piece chandelier that once hung in London’s Junior Carlton. You’ll find a perfect example of a grande dame European hotel, glossy and plump. The bedrooms live up; the food at Simon Radley at The Chester Grosvenor is Michelin starred, and the shopping outside is to die for. The hotel’s newly refurbished restaurant, La Brasserie, also houses the city’s first Champagne bar. Paris? You can keep it. Doubles from £170