Once the home of diarist Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, this handsome country house just outside York is now a sumptuous hotel
Words: Harry Jones
While we were checking out of Middlethorpe Hall Hotel and Spa, relaxed and rejuvenated after a memorable weekend, a friendly cat sidled up to say hello.
Our new feline friend belonged to Lionel Chatard, the long-serving general manager and host-extraordinaire of this unique 17th-century hideaway on the southern edge of York.
Lionel, who was headhunted from London’s prestigious Cadogan hotel in the early 2000s, sets the tone for what guests can expect during their stay: a warm welcome, genuine interest in his guests’ enjoyment, and a sense of nothing ever being too much trouble.
Middlethorpe is a rare find. As well as being the only country house hotel in the city of York, it’s also been a National Trust visitor attraction since 2008 – the year its owner (the Historic House Hotels group) donated it to the Trust to guarantee its long-term protection.
It’s hard not to be wowed and charmed as you take afternoon tea – a feast of quintessential English sandwiches, scones, pastries and teas from across the globe – in a drawing room that’s been hosting parties for 320 years.
Portraits of previous inhabitants of Middlethorpe, such as Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, a famous diarist and traveller who lived here in the 18th century, adorn each classically styled reception room.
From the reception area, with its original stone flooring and fireplaces, to the wood-panelled dining room and the imposing mahogany central staircase, this is a hotel that exudes historical significance.
There are several rooms to lounge in, including the library with its roaring fire and century-old books. It’s a pleasure to sink into one of the many comfy armchairs or sofas and imagine all the memories that have been made here.
Lifting your eyes up from your book or newspaper, your sight is drawn to the vast lawn stretching out from the back of the hotel, with its striking cedar tree and manicured rose garden.
We walked down to the lake at the foot of the gardens and spotted young deer chasing each other through the woods. On the walk back, a large bird of prey (which, to this novice twitcher, looked like a hawk or eagle) flew past us and settled on a nearby branch.
It’s no wonder couples put Middlethorpe towards the top of their wedding venue list (although Lionel tells me he limits the number of weddings each year in order to accommodate his many regular, long-standing hotel customers).
The Spa, for those in need of even more R&R, contains an indoor swimming pool, jacuzzi and steam room – plus the usual treatments and massages on request. And, for those wanting to burn off those afternoon tea calories, there’s a gym situated next door.
Accommodation ranges from grand four-poster suites in the main building to more simple singles in the converted stables next door. Antique furniture, plush beds and soft carpets bring back repeat visitors year after year.
Room facilities are in keeping with the classically styled interiors throughout the hotel. Don’t expect surround-sound entertainment systems and satellite TV – this is English country house tradition, and comfort, at its best.
Dining at Middlethorpe is a treat. We ate dinner in the Pineapple Room – one of three dining rooms overlooking the gardens – and chose from a well-crafted menu of three starters, four mains and four desserts.
Award-winning Head Chef Ashley Binder only picks the freshest seasonal ingredients; expertly refining each dish so they linger long on your memory after leaving your palate.
My salmon and crab starter was followed by a moreish mushroom and rocket linguine. A passion-fruit tart closed off a memorable meal, washed down with a couple of glasses of Sauvignon Blanc from what must be one of the longest wine lists in Yorkshire.
Talking of God’s Own Country, in the morning we were spoilt for choice when asked to choose from Middlethorpe’s ‘Yorkshire Breakfast’ menu.
Modern favourites, such as smashed avocado on sourdough and chorizo with scrambled eggs, sat alongside more traditional winners, including the full English (or should that be full Yorkshire?) and porridge with prunes.
Most visitors to Middlethorpe come because of its close proximity to the historic city of York.
On the short 7-minute drive to the city centre (taxis cost around £10 or there is a frequent bus service) you pass York’s famous racecourse, which hosts around a half-a-dozen meets per year. Book early if you want to stay over a horse racing weekend.
As a first-time visitor to York, I had high expectations. One of England’s most famous and history-laden cities, it holds a special appeal to tourists from around the world.
We spent a morning strolling through the Shambles, the Instagrammable heart of the city’s old town, and onto the Minster – a towering edifice whose intricate architecture ranks alongside the world’s finest cathedrals.
As well as the usual chain shops and restaurants, there are hundreds of much-loved small independent retailers, cafes and tea rooms. The city specialises in the latter – with archetypal English tea rooms (scones and jam optional) around every corner.
We browsed the shelves of Barnitts, a long-established family-run department store, before settling down for lunch at Source, a popular vegan cafe serving fruit smoothies, stews and salads.
A highlight of our trip was walking along the old city walls. Climbing up to the ramparts is possible from several points in the city (pick up a map at the tourist information office), costs nothing, and is a rewarding way of taking in York’s vistas – including a great view of the Minster from on high.
For evening entertainment, it’s worth checking out the York Theatre Royal, concerts at York Barbican or catching a film at the Everyman or Picturehouse cinemas.
The city centre is small enough to cover on foot, and much of it is pedestrianised. Just remember to look up above the shop fronts and take in some of England’s most visually appealing architecture as you stroll.