A seven-bedroom restaurant with rooms, Boys Hall is the perfect British staycation to escape London for a night or two. The 17th-century manor house has a thrilling history: Charles I stayed here when fleeing to France around 1642; diarist Samuel Pepys was another guest; and the cellar contains the remains of tunnels used by smugglers. Original features like the huge tiled fireplaces, low beams, ornate heraldry, wood panelling and immense staircase means history remains imbued at every turn. The hall has recently been given a gorgeous makeover by its owners Brad and Kristie, with some of the cosy, welcoming rooms featuring four-poster beds, while others have free-standing baths. Sumptuous, colourful fabrics feature throughout. At the heart of the hotel is its restaurant, helmed by head chef Shane Pearson, previously of Blacklock and Caravan. The menu makes the most of its location in the Garden of England, using local, seasonal ingredients and fine English wines. What’s more, it’s located in Ashford, Kent, only a speedy 37 minutes away on the fast train from St Pancras. It makes an ideal base for exploring the local countryside with its vineyards, coastline and pretty villages.
BOOK IT: Doubles from £160. boys-hall.com
Relais Cooden Beach
Cooden Beach, Sussex
Sitting plum on a private pebbled beach on the Sussex coast with peerless sea views, the newly named Relais Cooden Beach (sister hotel of Relais Henley and once a favourite of Sir Winston Churchill) makes a speedy seaside escape from the capital (especially since it’s a couple of minutes’ walk from the nearest train station). Fabled hotelier Grace Leo has worked her magic on the 1930s building, rechristening it as a ‘retreat’ and engaging French designer Pascal Allaman to oversee its most recent upgrade. Now there’s a bright contemporary beach club feel about the place: think Nantucket comes to Bexhill-on-Sea. Come to chill by the central, circular fireplace in the bar, listen to live lounge jazz, and chow down on fresh seafood sourced directly from the fishermen in the red-striped restaurant. You can only imagine the crowds that will flock to this new hotspot for a classic British staycation come summer, but it’s just as charming at any time of the year.
BOOK IT: Doubles from £194. therelaisretreats.com
Image (c) Gregoire Gardette
The Retreat At Elcot Park
Sometimes you just want a quick, breezy, relaxing, yet spoiling, break away from London – you don’t want to drive too far; you don’t want to pack your finest threads; you just want to chuck the kids in the car with the dog, some wellies and off you go for a change of scene. Welcome to Elcot, the newest addition to The Signet Collection (which also includes The Mitre and soon Barnsdale Lodge). Hoteliers Hector Ross and his partner Ronnie Kimbugwe breathe new life into downtrodden hotels and shoot them up with great design, top-notch food and a large dose of relaxation – stuffiness is definitely off the menu. Come summer you can get sloshed on Whispering Angel by the outdoor pool, but it’s a place for all seasons with a lovely spa, live music events, monthly markets and even its own courtyard of cute independent shops (including a wine shop, barber and nail bar). Bedrooms are generous and unique (kids love the help-yourself pantry in the hall), and you certainly won’t go hungry with your choice of all-day buzzy 1772 Bistro or Yu, for pan-Asian treats (as long as you’re over 12).
BOOK IT: Doubles from £180. retreatelcotpark.com
Just two miles outside glorious Broadway in the Cotswolds lies 400 acres of fields and forests that make up the Farncombe Estate. Within its splendid grounds you’ll find such a broad range of accommodation – from treehouses to shepherd’s huts; from the cosseting bedrooms of award-winning hotel Dormy House (don’t miss the spa) to private self-lets with swimming pools – that you’ll be spoilt for choice. Wherever you stay, you’ll find a buzzing all-day restaurant and bar – for snacks, coffee, home-made pizzas and seriously slap-up suppers, all staffed by genuinely kind and attentive people. You’ll also not want for things to do with a whole host of activities on offer, from meeting Billy, the barn owl, in a falconry session, to trying your hand at axe throwing or clay pigeon shooting. There’s an ‘adventure field’ where kids can run amok with games, football posts and general cavorting. For less adrenaline-pumped activities, there’s the spa and yoga studio. This is not a place for pretensions, yet it so easily could have fallen into that Cotswolds trap. Bravo for that.
BOOK IT: Accommodation from £350. farncombeestate.co.uk
Fingask Castle —perched on a Perthshire hillside with views of the River Tay and Carse of Gowrie —dates from the 11th century, and boasts gun-loops and shot-holes. Its 240-acre estate is magical —with skew-whiff topiary, a reclaimed red phone box, and Chinese bridge. Plus tinkling burns (streams) and enchanting walks midst ancient ash, oak and fir trees. It offers self-catering accommodation in the onetime stable-block cottages, erstwhile 19th century laundry (restyled as a bright holiday home), a haunted castle room with four-poster bed, potting sheds (with ensuites) beside a walled garden, and a loch-side boat house (complete with rowing boat and sauna).
Book your stay to coincide with a garden pavilion performance of the marvellous, very un-PC revue, The Follies, which author Alexander McCall-Smith says, ‘add to the sum of human happiness’. Go for composer Peter Cowdrey’s birdsong event — think guided warbler walk, recording session of twitterers in the castle’s ‘studio’ (aka its 16th century library),and a birdsong concert in its Long Gallery. Or simply swim al fresco in a pool beside forever-grazing Shetland ponies; play billiards in the games room; and ramble or shoot pheasant on the neighbouring estate with its waterfall and 360-degree views.
You’ll also feast like a laird. George Campbell & Sons, Perth, sells Michelin-restaurant quality smoked salmon and Argyll oysters. At Guardswell, you’ll select biodynamic radishes and lettuces grown by moon cycles, displayed in the back of a horsebox. Or buy local kombucha and venison sausages from the farmer’s market in the 18th century courtyard of nearby Megginch Castle.
Don’t forget to commission a bespoke wooden piece —from chess set to unique bedhead —from the estate’s talented cabinetmaker, David Young. When you’re done, relax with a hot-stone massage by Anna Saari in your cottage. Later, if you can pull yourself away from Fingask for sightseeing, there’s nearby Perth Museum, Scone Palace, and Tentsmuir Beach with its grassy dunes and endless sands. Och, you’ll love it all. By Caroline Phillips
BOOK IT: fingaskcastle.co.uk
The Swinton Estate
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 multi-million pound spa and country club, 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. And all this just over a two-hour direct train ride from London, it’s a no-brainer.
BOOK IT: swintonestate.com
As British staycations go, Eshott Hall certainly won’t disappoint. 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. 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. But Eshott Hall comes into its own after sunset with an impressive fine dining performance. From House Smoke Duck Breast with Poached Plum to Assiette of Lamb with Celeriac Fondant, the gastro-standards are dizzying and the portion sizes more than generous (with an astutely curated wine list to boot). By Rosalyn Wikeley
BOOK IT: eshotthall.co.uk
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: thefreeth.co.uk
Dunalastair Hotel Suites
Kinloch Rannoch, Perthshire
It it’s rural Scottish staycations your after, this grey stone former Victorian village inn is the place to come to for big lungfuls of fresh air and the great outdoors. Just two hours north of Edinburgh, 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 which serves up perfectly decent locally sourced fare like butter poached North Atlantic cod or roast Barbary duck breast. 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: dunalastairhotel.com
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.
BOOK IT: thepainswick.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.
BOOK IT: chevalcollection.com
The Rectory Hotel
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: therectoryhotel.com
Bel and the Dragon
If it’s country-escape-on-your-doorstep staycations 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).
BOOK IT: belandthedragon-odiham.co.uk