Fancy a weekend away without the flight? Why not explore some more of what the UK has to offer? Here are 8 charming British staycation options to rest your head in (thank us later)…
8 Charming British Staycations
Swinton Park, Masham, North Yorkshire
What a dramatic entrance. As you head along the driveway you suddenly spot a baronial, grey stone pile with turrets and battlements, standing imposingly amid 250 acres of parkland full of deer (don’t despair, it has another 20,000 acres to roam about in too). Once inside, high ceilings, huge windows, dark panelled wood walls and ancestral portraits lining the wide corridors, mean it feels like stepping into an old-fashioned aristocratic world, but not in a bad way. Crackling fires fill vast grates, squashy sofas invite hours of curled up reading, the 32 bedrooms are large, comfortable and handsome. Children and dogs are welcomed, nay positively encouraged – and there’s much to do. The hotel happily provides a trail and quiz through the grounds, there’s a games room, playground, riding and birds of prey to gawp at. But, most exciting of all, is the new multi-million pound spa and country club, which opened last summer, offering a sleek and modern contrast to the main building with its indoor and outdoor pools, steam and sauna, excellent Elemis and Bamford treatments and classes that include yoga, spinning and pilates. After all that exercise, head to The Terrace, the laid back, open-all day country club eatery, offering cappuccinos and brunch in the morning all the way through to cocktails and a relaxed supper in the evening. For more formal fare, there’s Samuel’s inside the main building, a hushed dining room that serves up local produce-inspired dishes and based heavily on the hotel’s own four-acre walled garden: think torched mackerel pepped up with walled garden tomatoes, Ponzu dressing and tarragon mayonnaise or tender-as-you-like Swinton Estate venison with garden beets, shallot and chutney sauce. And all this just over a two-hour direct train ride from London, it’s a no-brainer.
BOOK IT: Overnight spa breaks start from £405 for two people sharing a double room swintonestate.com. Grand Central has 14 direct services a week from London Kings Cross to Thirsk, from £14.90, grandcentralrail.com
The Freeth, Bromyard, Herefordshire
There’s a palpable dropping of shoulders when you step out onto the crunchy gravel outside this handsome, wisteria and rose-clad red brick building at the end of a mile-long, no-through road on the wondrous Netherwood Estate, and retrieve the key from its hiding place. Your pre-ordered lasagne, courtesy of local award-winning chef James Fletcher (who will also come and cook superb food for you on site), is waiting in the American-style fridge along with a bounty of welcome essentials (i.e. wine). Your shopping delivery’s been unpacked and all that remains is for you to pop the champagne cork and chill by the fireplace. The Freeth is the perfect rental house for a large family celebration (it can sleep 18), but it doesn’t feel overwhelming if there are fewer of you. The accommodation is cleverly divided into two sections, kept distinct by their own staircases (rowdy children can be kept away from light-sleeping grandparents, for example) and everyone can happily find their own space, especially as there’s a separate indoor pool house, games room and gorgeous gardens. The Grade II-listed, 15th-century hunting lodge has been a labour of love for owners Peta and Ivo Darnley, who inherited the 1,200-acre estate from Ivo’s father, the 11th Earl of Darnley. Peta packed in her London advertising job and took it on full-time (her husband still works in the City), coming up with countless ideas to make it commercially viable (one of her latest is growing and selling mistletoe). In the same vibe as Soho House, lots of the items in the house are for sale (you’ll find a price list in the bedrooms). She’s doing a superb job and you couldn’t find a more special pocket of England in which to come together; the surrounding countryside is wild and wonderful – fertile farmland, woodland paths, streams and abundant wildlife. Even if you don’t want a permanent break from the metropolitan rat race (like Peta), you’ll get a taste of what it might be like. Something to keep in the back of your mind as your city stresses start to ebb away.
BOOK IT: A three-night weekend for 18 starts from £2,800 in low season, thefreeth.co.uk
Eshott Hall, Northumberland
Nestled in the verdant, rolling Northumberland countryside not far from Alnwick Castle or the A1, Eshott Hall is a Georgian delight with a culinary pull – the perfect weekend escape or pitstop en route to Scotland.
This picturesque country pile is large enough to elicit Jane Austin reveries but still small enough to permit a warm and relaxed character. The grounds – a walled English garden, lawns (including croquet), tennis court and clay pigeon shooting area – are flanked by woodland and long winding lanes which call for long afternoon walks to clear the cobwebs. Large four poster rooms with magnificent sash windows play to the lady of the manor fantasy, packing a mix of antiques and more pseudo Georgian pieces, while the courtyard rooms assume a fresher style of a polished country home.
Aside from its bucolic setting and charming wisteria-clad façade, Eshott Hall comes into its own after sunset with an impressive fine dining performance. From House Smoke Duck Breast with Poached Plum and Goose Mille-Feuille for starters to Broccoli and Goats Cheese Soufflé with Bubble and Squeak and Assiette of Lamb with Celeriac Fondant for mains, the gastro-standards are dizzying and the portion sizes more than generous (with an astutely curated wine list to boot). Puddings here are a must, as is a glass of brandy in the moody Library Bar after supper.
Words by Rosalyn Wikeley
BOOK IT: From £92 per night for a double room. Eshotthall.co.uk
Tower Penthouse, Cheval Three Quays, Tower Bridge, London
There’s something exquisite about being a tourist in your own city, especially when your normal mundane view is usurped by the splendour of London’s most beautiful cityscape. Through the floor-to-ceiling windows of the ninth-floor penthouse at private apartment block Cheval Three Quays, that sweep both east and west down the Thames, you can peer right over the Tower of London (you can’t help but think of all those beheadings) and Tower Bridge from the living room with its mammoth L-shaped sofa for lolling on with a pair of binoculars (provided). Move to the main bedroom and it’s the soaring Shard that’s your last view at night (keep the curtains open for a spectacular awakening in the morning).
If you can tear yourself away from the views and the nearly 2,000 sq/ft living space, staying here is just a brilliant way of being at the centre of London’s greatest sights: Borough Market; Tate Modern (don’t miss Picasso 1932 – Love, Fame, Tragedy); Shakespeare’s Globe; then a slap up lunch at Coq d’Argent (bag a table on the on the roof garden if the weather’s good and children are offered more than your average burger and chips fare). Perfect.
BOOK IT: From £800 per night for the two-bedroom Tower Penthouse, chevalresidences.com
Dunalastair Hotel Suites, Kinloch Rannoch, Perthshire
Just two hours north of Edinburgh, this grey stone former Victorian village inn is the place to cometo for big lungfuls of fresh air and the great outdoors – the lack of phone signal is a blessed relief (though the wifi is excellent). Last year millions were spent modernising the hotel and now the 32 rooms are soothingly fresh but the building still retains its intrinsic Scottish charm. Its location can’t be bettered, sitting as it does on the edge of Loch Rannoch in the lovely village of Kinloch Rannoch. Fishing, walking, riding, cycling and stalking are
all on the doorstep. After all that exertion, head to Edina’s Kitchen, the hotel’s restaurant, open all day and presided over by head chef Dan Merriman, who serves up perfectly decent locally sourced fare like butter poached North Atlantic cod or roast Barbary duck breast. Ideally you need a car to discover nearby delights such as the Black Wood of Rannoch, or you could employ the services of local guide Jurgen Rehling of Highland Travel to give you the insider’s tour. Don’t miss a trip to the House of Bruar (dubbed the ‘Harrods of the north’) for some retail therapy if all that hiking’s got too much.
BOOK IT: Doubles from £104 B&B, dunalastairhotel.com
The Painswick, Painswick, Gloucestershire
What a treat – a Cotswold hotel with wow factor. The honeyed stone building, a Palladian masterpiece, is just dreamy. It boasts a balcony with an Italianate loggia and ancient gnarled wisteria overhead, chairs with rugs and outdoor heaters for soaking up the view of sheep covered hills. The rooms are large and light, perfect for flopping in. The décor is soothing with a sensuous twist. The prettiest panelling in the upstairs bar, the slate blue dining room with curved bay windows and peaceful, pale bedrooms that are neither chintzy nor minimalist. The attention to design detail is spot on. Hallelujah! – there are excellent reading lights by the bed – a rarity in today’s on-trend hotels. It’s all over-stuffed log baskets, velvet trimmed throws and rows of Wellies in the hall, this is country living at its sexiest and most comfortable. With only 16 rooms there is an intimate feel. There’s a tiny spa offering Elemis facials and nails by Leighton Denny, but the real draw is the food; hearty bistro-style grub that isn’t poncey. There are charcuterie plates, bowls of steaming moules, lobster and black pudding pie and cod with Toulouse sausage. Original food with confident flavours. Service at breakfast can be hit and miss and the parking is peskily tight, yet the Painswick has a more restful vibe than some alienating modern hotels that try too hard.
BOOK IT: Doubles from £139, thepainswick.co.uk
The Rectory Hotel, Crudwell, Wiltshire
Small, intimate, quietly stylish, another ravishing renovation hits the Cotswolds. This is an ideal stop-out for those who want a country escape, but perhaps not one in the middle of nowhere. The Rectory is located between Malmesbury and Cirencester, both lovely to explore, and Tetbury isn’t too far either. New ownership has injected new life, the 15 bedrooms are looking truly lush, lots of velvet, lots of polished wood and a lovely, unpretentious atmosphere. Think steak and chips, Bramley products in the bathrooms, shelves of Penguin classics, a funky bar, deep sofas, raging fires, fresh flowers.Its friendly enough to bring the children and the cute umbilically attached cottage has three bedrooms and its own sitting room and kitchen. Across the way, the sister Potting Shed Pub has a justly deserved fine reputation for serious pub grub – home baked bread, Double Gloucester soufflé, half pints of prawns. Or you can just hunker down in the hotel itself and enjoy its peaceful simplicity and lovely outdoor spaces which include a 13th-century Dovecote and
an al fresco swimming pool.
BOOK IT: Doubles from £130, therectoryhotel.com
Bel and the Dragon, Odiham, Hampshire
If it’s a country-escape-on-your-doorstep you desire, Bel & The Dragon (who have a handful of lovely old inns) in the charming Hampshire village of Odiham is well worth a visit. Located on the pretty broad high street, in the heart of the village, it’s easy to take a stroll along the winding Basingstoke canal, or simply pop into the excellent dress agency a few doors down for a browse, before tucking into some hearty British comfort food with no bells or whistles, but plenty of flavour. Afterwards, head upstairs to one of the handful of cosy, high-ceiling rooms. Unlike the slew of hotels with country club-style interiors riding the Babington wave, Bel & The Dragon has decided to keep things colourful. Think large beds covered with red or pink plaid blankets, Roberts radios in cheerful hues, mustard yellow armchairs and rows of colour-coordinated Penguin classics (they have not bucked the trend here). There’s also a nice touch of complimentary Sipsmith sloe gin and there are decanters of whisky (no mixer) alongside tea and coffee in the communal refreshments area between rooms; easy, breezy.
BOOK IT: Doubles from £95, belandthedragon-odiham.co.uk