Britain’s best country house hotels for a glorious spring break
These are unusual times, and the state of affairs can change quickly. Please check the latest travel guidance before making your journey, and note that our writers visited these hotels prior to the coronavirus pandemic.
The British country house hotel was born in 1949, brought to us in the pink and frilly shape of Sharrow Bay, overlooking Ullswater in the Lake District. Presided over by a splendid couple, Francis Coulson and his partner Brian Sack, it came complete with a gargantuan afternoon tea, and Sack’s famous Icky Sticky Toffee Pudding and Coulson’s bedtime poems on the pillow. People adored it. There had been leisure hotels in Britain before, of course, but this was the first where you could be assured of being personally pampered in beautiful rural surroundings, with a committed owner at the helm offering a warm welcome, decent food, peace and quiet.
Hundreds of characterful country house hotels have followed, and today there’s a bewildering amount from which to choose. Here we present the cream of the crop. While some continue to offer no more than the pleasures of a beautiful old house, a roaring fire and a cup of tea, others cater to our increased demands: for spas, cookery courses and activities such as foraging. All these hotels share in common comfort, excellent food and the joys of the English countryside.
The Newt is one of the most exceptional country house hotels Britain has seen. It stands in a large working estate between Castle Cary and Bruton, and its famous gardens have been entirely replanted and redesigned. There’s a cyder press, bottling plant and bar, mushroom house, History of Gardening Museum, farm shop, treetop walk, thatched ice cream parlour and wild swimming ponds. Former editor of Elle Decoration South Africa Karen Roos is responsible for the hotel’s interiors. There is plenty to admire, especially the simplicity: the rough-hewn walls of the natural, unadorned spa; the unfussy, almost Scandinavian style of the 23 bedrooms and bathrooms.
The style is a happy marriage between stately Oxfordshire and eccentric French fancy. The honey-coloured Manor house creates an attractive focus around which an eclectic mix of 15th-century ponds, Provençal lavender rows, a Japanese garden, kitsch sculptures and a wild mushroom patch can all co-exist. Seasonality is king in its two-Michelin starred restaurant. A 1930s-style bar serves comforting cocktails and the wine cellar stocks a French dominated list of more than 1,000 different wines.
Britain’s most exciting new country house hotel in decades, with double-Michelin-starred BBC Great British Menu icon Michael Caines MBE at the helm. The man himself takes the time to greet guests and can often be spied striding through the halls in his white chef overalls. Don’t miss the eight-course tasting menu dinner. Many chefs get bogged down in zany experiments with foams and moleculars. Michael prefers to bravely poke at the booby-trapped boundary between sumptuous and sickly. Book a room with an outdoor bath overlooking the golden syrup sunsets of the Exe estuary.
Soho House’s country escape is housed inside a honey-hued Georgian house, snugly swathed in pristine parkland. Guests loll on ludicrously oversized loungers, overlooking a reed-fringed lake. With one outdoor pool overlooking the lake, and a pool housed inside a cavernous stone barn, plus sauna, a cinema, tennis courts, a football pitch, gym and a Cowshed spa, you’ll want for little else. Rooms have antique four-poster beds, roll-top baths, open fires, hand-painted wallpaper and a plethora of toiletries.
This Georgian house commands far-reaching views across its 400-acre estate (woodland, gardens, lakes, biodynamic farm) and open countryside beyond but is only an hour from London. Design-wise, there’s a sense of warmth, naturalness and flop-down homeliness that’s artistic and literary – fine 20th-century English pictures from owner Gerald Chan’s private collection, a curated collection of books in the Morning Room and bedrooms – plus earthy and artisanal (lime plaster walls in natural colours, linens, English oak floors, hand-crafted furniture). Rooms are all beautiful, with bespoke minibars, exceptional artwork and many charming, spoiling touches.
This has to be one of the loveliest spots for a hotel, overlooking a spectacular 19th-century parterre and surrounded by acres of ancient woodland running down to the Thames. Contrary to its appearance, Cliveden is not in the least bit stuck up and doesn’t mind whether you turn up in a Ferrari or a Fiat. The house has witnessed much intrigue over the years – it was the setting for the infamous Profumo affair – and a hint of naughtiness remains.
The hotel has lovely grounds and guests can follow the stream through the woods to emerge at Naish Beach, with a view of the Needles rising from the sea. Facilities are legion: a lavish spa, indoor and outdoor pools, tennis centre, nine-hole golf course and many activities, from archery and buggy riding to duck herding. Bedrooms and suites, in many different styles, display astonishing attention to detail, down to the stamped postcards on each desk.
Beautifully decorated by Stefa Hart, who with her husband Tim has owned and run Hambleton Hall since 1979, the house exudes a feeling of controlled and carefully orchestrated wellbeing without ever feeling unnatural or overly theatrical. The flowing country house good looks are matched by the surrounding gardens and the beautiful view of Rutland Water from the lovely flower filled terrace. The cooking of Aaron Patterson, who began here as a 16-year-old sous chef, easily deserves its long held Michelin star and is rooted in local and seasonal produce, charmingly presented and always delicious.
Perched atop a bank overlooking private woodlands traced by a boulder-strewn river, Gidleigh’s location is wild and dramatic. The décor is stylish if a little straight-laced, with everything you’d expect in an English country house hotel: antique furniture, wood panelling, stone fireplaces and elegant bouquets of flowers. The 24 bedrooms are decorated individually in a classic English country style, with supersized beds, roll-top baths, televisions, L’Occitane toiletries, spring water from the Gidleigh Estate, bowls of fresh fruit and complimentary decanters of Madeira.
A mixture of family furniture and paintings have been combined with more modern, or quirky pieces to create something both charming and unusual. The whole place feels part stately home, part private club, but mostly unique. Richard Swale is a gifted chef who draws his influences from, amongst others, Magnus Nilsson of Faviken restaurant in Sweden and Shaun Hill of the Walnut Tree, in Wales. Richard’s food is locally grown, or personally preserved and tastes correspondingly fresh and interesting.
A weathered stone manor house and farm building that’s grown to house 35 guest rooms, a gorgeous spa, a function centre in a converted barn, an Ofsted-registered crèche in the kids’ Playzone and two restaurants. Double rooms are in the manor; family rooms overlook the outdoor pool. There’s something incredibly relaxing about this hotel, with ‘country modern’ bedrooms that manage to be both cosy and elegant, soothing and spoiling, natural and sophisticated. When it was time to go home, we refused to leave, cancelled everything and booked for another night. It’s honestly that good.
Augill Castle stands in 20 acres of grounds in the beautiful upper Eden Valley, within striking distance of both the Yorkshire Dales and the Lake District. The owners have created a highly individual hotel with minimal rules, a great sense of relaxation and welcome to all – unusual and imaginative with a ‘family friends’ feel. The 15 bedrooms are eclectic and slightly eccentric with a mix of antique and contemporary pieces and an array of unusual and pretty bedsteads. Dining is a social occasion.
Decoration and style tends towards the feminine and the flouncy with fabric covered ceilings and padded fabric walls, pictures of dogs, plenty of cushions and so on but they add up, in general, to a feeling of spoiling indulgence and do not, mercifully, overwhelm. The drawing room, designed by the poet and author Thomas Hardy, is admirably classic in style, now painted a pretty blue, and the bedrooms are divinely pretty and comfortable.
One of the first of the new breed of contemporary country house hotels to put their spa, C-side, at the heart of their offering. The glass-fronted building is a beautiful piece of modern design, sunk into a hill to one side. The treatments in the four rooms use the hotel’s own Green & Spring products, employing local natural products. There are indoor and outdoor pools and a dedicated manicure and pedicure area, gym, steam room and sauna.
The hotel is a characterful Georgian house, built in 1901 and owned by three generations of the Cunliffe family. That’s not to say it’s a creaking relic — the décor is glamorous boutique meets country pile. Life at the Gilpin is all about kicking back — and that’s helped by the service, about which it’s hard to say anything negative. Everyone smiles, everyone says hello — yet it’s not overbearing. Fishing, shooting, horse riding, mountain biking, paintballing and treasure hunts can also be organised on-site.
Built in the 18th century as a manor house, the hotel is set amid 500 acres of green fields and paddocks full of grazing horses. Inside, it’s all slick and stylish, a blend of traditional and contemporary, as befits a metropolitan, cosmopolitan Four Seasons hotel set in English countryside. Bedrooms are sophisticated and elegant, traditional in style but with high-tech amenities and large marble bathrooms, and flexible sleeping options for families. The fine dining restaurant is very elegant, and there is a more casual bistro, a bar with open fire and library for afternoon tea.
Sexy and fun as well as romantic. The 27 rooms are some of the most charming, traditional yet stylish (larders and minibars cleverly hidden inside antique cupboards; some televisions disguised as antique mirrors), comfortable, practical, quirky and soothing of any hotel bedrooms in the land. Head chef Dan Gavriilidis is responsible for the Devon version of the Pigs’ informal ’25 Mile’ menu, featuring the produce of the kitchen gardens and poly tunnels and the best locally-sourced ingredients.
What a beauty. With its golden stone, gables and mullion windows this is a dreamily romantic house. But for all that, the building is magnificently upstaged by its garden. There are four acres of formal gardens including a knot garden and a potager. Cream furnishings in the rooms enhance engaging artworks, all based on the theme of nature – a row of bird houses; a chandelier cleverly created out of flower pots. Everything about the restaurant has been calibrated to convey a sense of pleasing simplicity – although of course that requires much painstaking effort.
A group of honeystone buildings is set around a historic Cotswold manor house that was embellished with castle-like towers in the mid-19th century. The 61 generously sized bedrooms are a world away from the shabby-chic looks or the pared back minimalism that are now the norm in other rural retreats. With stripy wallpaper and sprucely comfy armchairs, and with swathes of linen chintz in some rooms, panelling in others, the interiors are a contemporary take on traditional British country style.
The hotel sits within a 500-acre estate that encompasses meadows, paddocks and woodland. The main building is a beautiful, symmetrical, creeper-covered Palladian mansion dating from 1720. Its public rooms are opulent and elegant, with a traditional country house feel. They include a panelled library, a drawing room with a corniced ceiling, an ornate fireplace as well as tassled curtains and sofas, and Restaurant Hywel Jones, laid out with white-clothed tables under a sky-painted ceiling.
The oldest parts of this mellow-stone manor house date from around 1649, with gables, wings and bay windows added in later centuries. Traditional rather than style-conscious, the public rooms are furnished with antiques. The 26 rooms in total split into five categories, comfortably furnished with embroidered silk throws on beds and soft lighting. The Michelin-starred restaurant is a key reason for staying at this hotel. The £69 three-course dinner menu may include starters of squab pigeon or foie gras with smoked eel and mains of Gloucestershire Old Spot suckling pig with rhubarb or local venison.
Built in 1812 as the holiday home for the Duchess of Bedford, Georgiana Russell, this wildly romantic, chintz-free country estate, run by Channel 5’s Hotel Inspector, Alex Polizzi, is steeped in royal history. It’s a verdantly gardened, Grade 1-listed Eden between Dartmoor and Exmoor, with shell houses and hidden glades for romantic tête-à-têtes. The cream teas are worth the journey alone: a help-yourself affair of just-baked scones accompanied by massive urns of clotted cream and fruit-laden strawberry jam. Breakfasts, too, are a cut above the rivals.
Step into a bygone era of English high society, original artworks and antiques at this luxurious country house hotel, where press baron Lord Beaverbrook entertained world leaders and literary greats. Grandeur and opulence ooze from every room, beautifully designed by Susie Atkinson: A cosy morning room with log fire and plump, squishy sofas offers stunning views of the North Downs and Italianate garden. The library’s shelves heave with weighty tomes, and the UK’s first home cinema, where Beaverbrook and Sir Winston Churchill discussed the war’s progress, still has the original wood-panelling and lighting.
This grand stately pile on a sporting estate in Dartmoor National Park caters for every whim, whether rugged outdoor pursuits or fine dining and pampering. Inside, there’s a heated swimming pool and whirlpool with deckchairs overlooking the grounds, plus steam room, sauna and gym, while the ESPA Spa offers an extensive range of treatments. Outside, in the 275-acre grounds, there’s an 18-hole championship golf course, tennis courts, a croquet pitch, archery and rifle range, putting green, helipad and beautiful lakeside walks to be had.
Italian gilt furniture, exquisite Flemish tapestries, elaborate Jacobean fireplaces and a one-Michelin-starred restaurant are the crowning glories of this luxury country-house hotel – once a 16th-century royal hunting lodge used by both Henry VIII and Elizabeth I. Oak paneling, beautifully-carved Jacobean fire-pieces plus a secret staircase – even 17th-century graffiti – await guests who enter the Grade I-listed building via a low wicket door. Traces of royal ancestry are everywhere, in Elizabeth’s coat of arms above the porch, and on the ceiling, dating from the 1500s and decorated with Queen Anne Boleyn’s personal crests.
Steeped in a wealth of family history and nestled in the pretty thickets of rural Dorset, this Jacobean country home has been in the same family for some 400 years. It boasts a collection of imposing family portraits, from valiant military ancestors to glamorous American heiresses, along with pretty, traditional rooms with Jacobean windows and garden views. The grounds are quintessentially English with magnificent trees towering over groomed hedges, flowers and bird song in spring and summer, and a fairy-tale white bridge over the Divelish Stream.
Complete with spire, porte-cochère and a grand entrance hall, hand stencilled by the owners, this mansion feels regal and is astonishingly well preserved. The wealth of period features: stained-glass, tiles, wood panelling, chandeliers, fireplaces and so on, are complemented by Angela Harper’s decoration, making liberal use of antiques, Zoffany and Sanderson wallpapers, paintings (including Snowdonia artist Rob Reen’s striking canvases of sheep) and collections of glass.
What’s not to love? Down a rural track, Gliffaes reclines peacefully in 33-acre grounds in the shadow of the Black Mountains and on the edge of the River Usk. With antique dressers, floral drapes, retro Roberts radios, and carpets you can sink your toes into, the look is traditionally elegant, never twee. Excellent restaurant.
The medieval core of a fine 16th-century mansion, the tower was built as a lookout for Conwy Castle. The higher you climb, the older its spiralling staircase becomes: Victorian at the bottom, 13th-century at the top. The encircling view is enthralling. As you turn, first Conwy Castle, then Snowdonia, then the sea and Anglesey, then Great Orme, catching the golden light, and lastly Llandudno, with the promise of its marvellous 19th-century promenade, come into view.
The house itself, redesigned by Clough Williams-Ellis in 1912, has great presence. Later bought and restored by Sir Bernard Ashley, widower of Laura, family photographs, as well as his fine collection of early 20th-century British paintings, including a collection of prints by James McNeil Whistler abound. Guests are encouraged to relax, curl up on sofas and play the piano.
The hotel is set in 26 acres of grounds amid deep countryside, with distant views of the Preseli Hills. The main building is a handsome three-storey residence with Georgian proportions and distinctive Arts and Crafts panelling and fireplaces. The lounges – cosy yet elegant, with real fires, window seats, plush sofas and modern prints and paintings of coastal Pembrokeshire – set the tone of the whole property. There are 26 rooms in total. Expect treats such as the softest of sheets, posh toiletries, thick towels and house-made biscotti.
Built in the 1920s as a railway resort hotel, the design is Scottish Baronial meets French chateau, with all the opulent comfort of a grand country house on steroids. (A dull-looking modern addition to one side is easily ignored). It’s so big you need the map provided when you arrive, but this five-star formality comes with a splendid sense of ease: time seems to slow from the moment the kilted doorman welcomes you to the hotel.
No bows to passing fashions here. Moving with the times means waterfall showers, Bang & Olufsen stereos and televisions, while the unashamedly country house style – all swags, gilt, silk and brocade, sparkling crystal, polished wood and an all-pervading sense of time suspended, remains. Nowhere else makes grandeur so cosy, combining Jacobite rose wallpaper, Venetian chandeliers and French Empire-style ceiling frescos with perfectly judged élan. Dinner begins with a drink by the fire in the Great Hall, followed by a delightfully light-handed five-course menu with a distinctly Highland accent.
Calm and solitude are assured in a haven of herons and badgers, where the loudest sound is likely to be a fishing boat puttering over tranquil water. The trappings of Victorian wealth and privilege pervade drawing rooms filled with deep sofas, fireplaces and books in the imposing granite and red sandstone Big House. Elegant and comfortable without being stuffy, the ambiance is warm and welcoming, with soft, bright furnishings and piles of wellingtons by the front door of the oak-panelled hall. Carry on, Jeeves.
With direct access to the beautiful Pass of Killiecrankie, the deep river gorge formed by the River Garry, the whitewashed 1840s house has been a hotel since 1939. There are 10 pretty and homely rooms, with antique pieces, thick curtains and very comfortable beds. No two are the same: they are all shapes and sizes and some of the bathrooms are very small. You’ll find a vase of fresh flowers and the Egyptian cotton sheets will be turned down while you are at dinner.
An imposing Georgian country mansion in a private estate in the Scottish borders, formerly owned by the Duke of Roxburghe. Country sports enthusiasts are spoiled for choice, with a par-72 golf course on the banks of the River Teviot, fly fishing on the river or in a trout pond, and clay pigeon shooting. Horse riding and deer stalking are available by arrangement, and guests can try their hands at archery, falconry and tomahawk throwing. Comfy lounges with courteous and helpful staff ease relaxation after open air activities.