Treat yourself to a wonderful escape in our pick of Britain’s best holiday retreats
Escape the hubbub of the city in a hideaway cottage in the countryside or leave your cares at home and settle in to relax in front of a log fire at a country house hotel.
|A candlelit bathroom at Gidleigh Park
There’s nothing nicer than heading back to somewhere cosy after a day out and about exploring, whether to settle with a cup of tea in front of a real log fire at a country house hotel or returning to a remote holiday cottage tucked away in the countryside, far from the madding crowd. These hideaways can also make the perfect place to spend the holiday season: most country house hotels offer Christmas or New Year packages, where you can leave your cares (and turkey cooking) at home and enjoy the county life.
|Michelin cuisine at Gidleigh Park
One such place is Gidleigh Park (4-star), a country house hotel on Dartmoor in Devon. You can spend Christmas or New Year here, or a take a relaxing break at any time of year. From Chagford, the drive takes you up hills and down valleys through classic Devon lanes. You almost start to wonder if you’re on the right route, then, facing you, is a sign announcing Gidleigh Park, with “Keep heart, you’re still en route” – a sure sign of a hideaway hotel. Soon you’re driving into the hotel’s grounds.
|An Edwardian hideaway on Dartmoor
A bridge takes you across the North Teign River and, ahead on the hillside, sits the Edwardian house, with, when weather allows, guests sitting on the terrace enjoying afternoon tea and the views across to Nattadon and Meldon hills.
Owners Christina and Andrew Brownsword have recently refurbished the house, adding their own touches to expressly make the house feel “more like you have come home than gone away”. I wish my home were fortunate enough to benefit from the two-Michelin star/four rosette cuisine of top chef Michael Caines. And if only I had views of the Devon hills from a luxurious spa suite in my bedroom. The informal ambience encourages you to sit and relax, but if you want a spot of exercise to justify your dinner, there’s an 18-hole putting course designed by Peter Allis, a tennis court, or you can don your walking boots and head out to find the ancient stone circle nearby on the wild Dartmoor National Park moorland.
|Escape to the Lakes at Linthwaite House
At the heart of another National Park – the Lake District – is Linthwaite House Hotel (5-star). Having undergone a sumptuous refurbishment, this is one of Windermere’s finest options, and boasts a dramatic hilltop setting from which you can get a glimpse of the lake. Days here are spent out and about exploring the glorious lakelands by foot or by bike but, come evening, and with weary legs, nothing beats sinking into one of the cosy sofas in the lounge next to the log fire or gazing out from the conservatory at the twinkling lights below.
|Soak in the views at Linthwaite House
This is also the perfect spot from which to enjoy an evening pre-dinner drink before you make your way through to the dining room to sample chef Simon Rogan’s fine regional fare, using produce grown at his own farm in the nearby Cartmel Valley.
Call it a day by retiring to any of the lovely contemporary-designed rooms: the Hot Tub Suite is the ultimate bolthole. With its own enclosed veranda, hot tub with stunning views, king size bed and walk-in power shower, it’s the ultimate in luxury.
|The Great Hall at Combe House Hotel
Ken and Ruth Hunt’s Combe House Hotel (3-star), is a hideaway hotel east of Exeter, also at the end of a long drive through a country estate. Pass through thatched Gittisham village and, at the entrance to the estate, spot the newly restored Combe Thatch Cottage – a romantic hideaway for two with its own private walled garden. Carry on along the drive, taking care to avoid the Arabian horses that roam through the grounds, to the hotel proper – a charming Grade I Elizabethan Manor. Enter through the large oak door into the welcoming Great Hall with its blazing log fire and feel transported into a different world of luxury and relaxation.
|Seiont Manor in the Snowdonia foothill
Wales, with its dramatic scenery and wild coastline, is a treasure trove of retreats. Head to the foothills of Snowdonia to Seiont Manor (3-star), one of the Handpicked Hotels and once a working farmstead. It’s set in 150 acres of land on the River Seiont and bedrooms have balconies or private terraces giving lovely views.
|Laura Ashley fabrics at Llangoed Hall
Or go south towards Hay-on-Wye to Llangoed Hall, hidden away in 17 acres of gardens and parkland in the Wye Valley and restored to its former glory when bought by Sir Bernard Ashley (of Laura Ashley) in 1987. Here, the views on offer (which the 23 bedrooms enjoy) are of the spectacular Black Mountains.
Across the border into Shropshire, a beautiful county of peaceful countryside, a former Georgian rectory, Pen-y-Dyffryn (3-star) near Oswestry is now a country hotel run by Miles and Audrey Hunter, with a two-rosette restaurant and uninterrupted views of the north Wales hills.
|Winter wonderland at Pen-y-Dyffryn
Lucknam Park (5-star), while a great base from which to explore Bath, is also a fabulous retreat, with Michelin star chef, Hywel Jones, and a recently opened spa. The spa is set in a walled garden: here you can properly escape in the various pools, thermal cabins and treatment rooms – including one double – or why not explore the hotel’s 500 acres on horseback – the Equestrian Centre has 30 horses and ponies suitable for all levels.
|Build a snowman at Ardanaiseig
Another hotel hideaway is Ardanaiseig (4-star), in the Western Highlands. A country house, built in 1834 in the Scottish Baronial manner for Colonel Archibald Campbell, it is on a peninsula jutting out into Loch Awe. The hotel is recommended by the Good Hotel Guide 2008 for its “Delightful quirkiness and away-from-it-all allure”.
Rescuing historic buildings and converting them into holiday lets is what charity the Landmark Trust is all about. It has many quirky hideways on its books. There are Gothic pavilions on country estates, water towers in the countryside, even a Pigsty (a Palladian-style building with stunning views over Robin Hood’s Bay in North Yorkshire). And for literary fans, there’s a granite cottage on Frenchman’s Creek in Daphne du Maurier country.
Choosing self-catering does indeed open up a treasure trove of hideaway possibilities. The Ruin (4-star), for example, sits by Loch Stuart on the Ardnamurchan peninsula in Scotland. It is one of the Lochside Follies holiday cottages offered by Richard and Lois Livett near their home and gives two guests views for miles across the loch, with no other buildings in sight.
|The Ducket: a towering holiday home
Travel south to Northumberland, where Ross Cottages offer a Grade II-listed, 18th-century former dovecote, The Ducket (5-star), which sits on its own by the Heritage Coast, with views to the Cheviot Hills on one side and to the sea on the other. This fairytale tower is an exquisite retreat for two on five floors, with a winding staircase between each room.
Holiday cottages with a twist are to be found at some of the Von Essen hotels (AA Hotel Group of the Year). There are eight luxury hideaways in the hotels’ grounds, for those wanting the privacy of separate accommodation but with access to the luxury facilities of the hotels. It’s the best of both worlds.
There’s plenty of history to choose from here, too: Cliveden (5-star), home to three Dukes, an Earl and Frederick Prince of Wales, and later to the socialite Astor family, has a cottage for six right down beside the River Thames while, at the Tudor Thornbury Castle (4-star) in Gloucestershire, you can stay in the gatehouse.
Find out more
Gidleigh Park: www.gidleigh.com
Linthwaite Hall: www.linthwaite.com
Combe House Hotel: www.thishotel.com
Seiont Manor: www.handpickedhotels.co.uk
Llangoed Hall: www.llangoedhall.com
Luckham Park: www.luckhampark.co.uk
Landmark Trust: www.landmarktrust.org.uk
The Ruin: www.lochsidefollies.co.uk
The Ducket: www.rosscottages.co.uk
Luxury Hideaways: www.vonessenhotels.co.uk
Why not try…?
• West Marden Farmhouse (5-star): Near Chichester, West Sussex. Ensuite guest room (with superkingsize bed) and private lounge at a 16th-century farm on the South Downs. Peaceful location. Your host, Carole, won Friendliest Landlady at this year’s AA B&B awards. Tel: (023) 9263 1761; www.westmardenfarmhousebandb.co.uk
• Fairyhill (5-star): Gower. A magical 18th-centuryhouse with a two-rosette restaurant. Set in 24 acres of parkland, tucked away on the glorious Gower peninsula in south Wales. Tel: (01792) 390139; www.fairyhill.net
• Rose and Crown at Romaldkirk (5-star):Teesdale, Co Durham. 18th-century inn in the middle of three village greens (overlooking the stocks and waterpump) in the pretty and peaceful village of Romaldkirk, with two rosette dining. A perfect base for exploring the moors and dales of the North Pennine Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Tel: (01833) 650213; www.rose-and-crown.co.uk
• Titchwell Manor Hotel (3-star): Nr Brancaster, Norfolk. A smart retreat with two-rosette dining, and great views, overlooking the marshes and sea on the North Norfolk coastline. Stroll along Holkham Beach to relive Gwyneth Paltrow’s final scene in Shakespeare in Love.
Three-night Christmas package available. Tel: (01485) 210221; www.titchwellmanor.com
• Broad Bay House (5-star): Just a few miles north of Stornaway in the Outer Hebrides, Scotland. Stylish and comfortable, modern guesthouse with stunning location with direct access to the shore and with views of the Scottish Highlands across the Minch. Award-winning food based on fresh local fish, meat and game. Tel: (01851) 820990; www.broadbayhouse.co.uk
• Austwick Hall (5-star): Austwick, near Settle, Lancashire. An historic manor set in extensive gardens, perched above the village. It’s a wooded oasis surrounded by the breathtaking scenery of the Yorkshire Dales and a great base for local Wainwright walks. Tel: (015242) 51794; www.austwickhall.co.uk