Getting Romantic with some of the finest Country House Hotels in Britain
Ask a few couples what they think makes the ultimate romantic getaway and you will probably get slightly different answers from each couple, maybe even each partner. There are a few romantic standards that go without saying when it comes to romance, including candlelit dinners and beautiful views, but to be classified as memorably romantic it takes a bit more than a room with a view and a few candles. Indeed, a truly romantic country house hotel, much like a good relationship, has that perfect alchemy of comfort and excitement, intrigue and indulgence. The trick is in finding your match.
Portmeirion Village – the wild card
If you fancy escaping to a Mediterranean-style paradise where you can take in interesting architecture, enjoy your evening meal in a restaurant overlooking the sea and meander through little streets with an ice cream or take romantic evening strolls down intertwining paths leading through exotic plantings and jungle like vegetation down to windswept beaches with white sands and rocky promontories, then you need look no further than Portmeirion in North Wales.
Portmeirion village is situated in North Wales, half way between Penrhyndeudraeth and Porthmadog in Gwynedd and it is a truly magical place that allows you to truly escape from the outside world; which adds to its charm as a romantic getaway. Indeed in fine weather you could be forgiven for thinking you were on some tropical uninhabited island. Indeed totally feasible to dream of being a Robinson Crusoe cast away to some exotic place.
There are unusual structures everywhere you look: a columned rotunda, domes, and a big tower that wouldn’t be out of place on a Tuscan hillside. Beyond them, an ebbing tide is revealing a long yellow sand bar far out in a twinkling estuary. This is the resort of Portmeirion is a dreamlike place which, in spite of its small size, is somehow capable of displacing reality.
Although it looks old, Portmeirion is a 20th-century folly, constructed between 1925 and 1976 by the architect Clough Williams-Ellis, an anti-modernist with eccentric taste and a fondness for tradition. He designed it as a kind of polemic in stone, an argument against the tyranny of function. Working on a tight budget, he built the village piecemeal, structure by structure, recycling elements from stately homes.
There are some remarkable pieces of architecture in this fascinating place such as the extraordinary plaster interior of the Town Hall is a Jacobean masterpiece illustrating the 12 labours of Hercules. Williams-Ellis bought it for £13 at an auction in 1933 and had it dismantled and rebuilt in Portmeirion, saving it from likely destruction. He added character to his new buildings with a set designer’s tricks, using paint effects to suggest the appearance of damp and age. He concealed functional elements with whimsical details, avoided straight lines where he could, and created symmetry by painting on trompe l’oeil windows. He called this process “Cloughing things up, ‘’ and because space was limited, he reduced the size of most of the buildings by twenty percent.
When staying in Portmeirion there are three options:
The Hotel Portmeirion opened in 1926 as the focal point of Clough Williams-Ellis’ proposed idea village. Artists, writers and Albanian royalty have stayed here not to mention various politicians and tycoons. It’s beautifully positioned and you can take moonlit strolls looking at the sea.
Castell Deudraeth opened in 2001 following a complete renovation of the Victorian building and restoration of its gardens. It is an early Victorian castellated mansion built by David Williams, the first Liberal MP for Merioneth. Clough Williams-Ellis purchased the building and its grounds in 1931 in order to expand the Portmeirion estate and to give him a proper driveway from the main road. The building’s Baronial elements, borrowed from the Gothic and Tudor periods, create an impressive example of gothic revival Victorian architecture at its most fantastical. Clough referred to the Castell as “the largest and most imposing single building on the Portmeirion estate” and he may well have been right.
Self Catering Cottages
Portmeirion has thirteen self-catering cottages sleeping from three to eight people. The cottages are let on a weekly basis or three nights at the weekend (Friday, Saturday and Sunday) and four nights during the week, if you are looking to please yourself and really escape then one of these quirky self catering cottages is ideal. You can get room service delivered to the cottages, a maid service and even baby sitting services so you are far from left to fend for yourself.
For more information and booking contact Portmeirion Village www.portmeirion-village.com
Middlethorpe Hall – an enchanting, romantic getaway
On the outskirts of York lies Middlethorpe Hall, a fine country house dating to 1699. The building was originally a country house which was home to the famous diarist, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu. However, it is now a luxury hotel, that has been lovingly and sympathetically restored by Historic House Hotels after it was used in the war, as a boarding school and then as a nightclub.
Middlethorpe Hall has been elegantly decorated in the manner of the 18th Century and furnished with antiques and fine paintings, so that its look and ambiance is that of a well-kept, well-furnished private manor house rather than a 29 bedroom Hotel (ten rooms and suites in the house, and nineteen in the adjacent 18th Century courtyard). Indeed when arriving and staying at Middlethorpe Hall it is possible to feel like the Lord or Lady of the Manor.
When it comes to being a romantic destination, Middlethorpe Hall has it all: period charm, character, history and beauty; it is also large enough to escape for romantic moments, but small enough to feel intimate
You can indulge yourself by making use of the health and fitness spa facilities which are built behind the beautiful façade of two charming Edwardian cottages. The health and fitness spa includes a mosaic lined pool, a steam room, saunas and a whirlpool bath, which are all very relaxing but if this doesn’t get you in the mood for love then you could always explore the 20 acres of manicured gardens and parkland which surround Middlethorpe Hall ; which includes a fragrant rose garden, intriguing walled garden and a romantic meadow.
However, they do say that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach and thankfully Middlethorpe Hall is renowned for its imaginative cuisine, which is served in wood panelled dining rooms that overlook the manicured gardens.
I concluded whilst sipping a good glass of wine and surveying the beauty of Middlethorpe Hall’s grounds that this country house hotel is one of Britain’s finest and certainly a wonderful place for intimate meals and romantic getaways.
For additional information and booking please visit www.middlethorpe.com
Hartwell House – a remarkable place with an enviable history
If you are looking for a true English country house hotel then Hartwell House does not disappoint. This 46-bedroom property operated by Historic House Hotels has been faithfully restored since its last incarnation as a girls’ finishing school and is now a gem in the crown of boutique hotels.
The approach is spectacular for it is everything you would hope for in a stately home. You descend down a gravel driveway past the old coach-house (which is now a spa and a derelict but picturesque church, with a final sweep around an imposing statue of King George III’s eldest son, Frederick, Prince of Wales. I must admit that the approach is overshadowed by the vision of Hartwell House itself, a grade I listed property set in ninety acres of beautifully landscaped parkland.
This property is not only architecturally beautiful, but it has a remarkable history: its most famous resident was Louis XVIII, exiled King of France, for five years from 1809. In 1938 the house and estate were acquired by Ernest Cook, an early hero of the conservation movement. It has a long and distinguished history and has been a country hotel since 1989 which has allowed guests to enjoy and marvel at the distinguished beauty of this stately home.
You can expect the very best and most attentive of service during your stay and there is a great deal of attention to detail and as you enter the Grand Hall I would suggest that it is impossible not to be impressed. The architecture, furnishings and paintings are amongst the finest to be found in any country hotel and the comfort of the hotel throughout was faultless.
Interestingly, The Doomsday Book makes mention of Hartwell, an earlier house having stood slightly to the south of the present house, which dates from the seventeenth century. The present house remains un-spoilt, retaining a number of its original Jacobean features with the later addition of Georgian facades and garden structures by eminent architects including James Gibbs, Henry Keene and James Wyatt.
After a sumptuous meal you can look forward to good nights sleep with the most comfortable of beds and in the morning simply ring for coffee or tea to be delivered to your room. Staying here certainly gives you a true taste of the good life and if you are not already feeling pampered enough you can take a bit of lunch in the hotel spa’s café, which overlooks the pool area and offers salads and light lunches. It’s a great opportunity to enjoy a glass of champagne whilst perusing the spa treatment list and before taking a dip in the pool. Once down in the main area, shrouded in one of the finest, fluffiest dressing gowns ever woven, it’s temping to lounge around the swimming pool, occasionally visiting the spa bath, steam room or sauna.
Indeed, I could have happily remained in the spa bath for eternity, but instead I opted for an hour-long full body aromatherapy session and a hair treatment. I must say the treatment was one of the best spa treatments I have encountered. Thorough preparation and personalisation underlies the approach of Hartwell House Spa’s highly experienced therapists. They start by assess you with a questionnaire that addresses your current state of health, general stress levels and whether relaxation or invigoration is your ultimate goal with the forthcoming treatment. Next they selected some oils for you based on that assessment and before you know it you are transported to a blissful trance of relaxation as all your stresses and strains are massaged away. The hair treatment which involved an intensive head massage was one of the most relaxing treatments I have ever experienced.
In conclusion Hartwell House is steeped in history, offers stunning services and facilities and also makes a great base for exploring the neighboring stately homes of Waddesdon Manor, Blenheim Palace and Hatfield House. In such a beautiful stately home it would be difficult to find yourself not in the mood for love.
For more information and bookings visit https://www.hartwell-house.com
Cringletie House Hotel – lucky for love
If you are looking for a romantic getaway then you simply cannot go wrong with Cringletie House Hotel situated in Peebles on the Scottish Borders. The intimate Castle Hotel is a former Scottish Baronial Castle and features 28 acres of well-tended grounds plus stunning views of the surrounding Scottish countryside. The décor manages that delicate balance of being sympathetic to its history and highlighting the stunning original features, while at the same time has a crisp modern finish to it that prevents it being in the stuffy old hotel clique. The grounds are perfect for a romantic stroll, part wooded and part large grassy expanses with a river and waterfall, they also include a walled garden with a large chessboard, a pitch and putt course, a croquet lawn and there’s even a children’s play area should you have any little people with you.
The Communal areas in the hotel include a newly created bar and a spacious conservatory offering views of those amazing grounds, plus a cosy lounge and two spacious, yet intimate dining areas. In terms of service, you really cannot expect more. The hotel manager Jeremy Osbourne is beyond accommodating and hospitality clearly runs through his veins. The cuisine is excellent and the bars are well stocked. Indeed if you fancy a cocktail or two before dinner you’ll be in luck as the head bartender Mark Barratt is a bit of a cocktail mixing extraordinaire and has many signature cocktails including a garden martini.
There are lots of areas to sit and relax in and it is possible to find parts of this hotel for intimate chats. It is a thoroughly charming hotel that has won a string of awards and if you are thinking about its romantic qualities then, perhaps I should mention that it is the hotel that my now husband proposed to me and the place I then got married at. So if you want to stay in a Scottish Castle, steeped in history, with impeccable service and require a dose of luxury then Cringletie House ticks all these boxes and more.
For more information and bookings visit www.cringletie.com
The Headland Hotel – get swept away
The Headland Hotel stands defiantly isolated above Fistral Beach and has a romantically gothic profile that makes it like no other. The 115-year-old stone and terracotta-clad edifice stands out against the wild Cornish landscape and offers a unique hotel experience that blends the best of fine English ambience with the finest of service and hospitality.
Once inside the hotel you can expect to be met by the warmth of crackling fires and the most traditional of fine English interiors. The 96-room hotel overlooks one of Europe’s greatest surfing beaches and if you don’t want to stroll along the beach, don’t worry the luxury hotel rooms and suites with ocean views.
The Grade II-listed hotel was purpose-built in 1900, sparking a minor local uproar as its location on Towan Head had been previously used by local fishermen to dry their nets. An early guest was the Prince of Wales, later King Edward VIII.
The dining room is nothing short of spectacular looking like something from A Night to Remember, with stunning views over the briny. and lit by a rather uncomfortable combination of classic chandeliers and huge cylindrical shades. The service through dinner was friendly and faultless and the former ballroom that has been converted to a sitting room is an ideal place to relax and enjoy pre or post dinner drinks.
There is a nice spa complex with an excellent pool and I must say that this sprawling mansion house hotel has an unspoilt English charm to it. Its historic charm, waterside location, architecture and service all make for The Headland Hotel enchanting and inexplicably romantic.
For more information and bookings contact The Headland Hotel & Spa, Newquay, Cornwall (01637 872211, www.headlandhotel.co.uk
Although they say it’s not the destination that’s important, but the person you share your journey with, there is no doubt that the five historical hotels featured here will make a stay with some one special , extraordinary.