With Brexit igniting anxiety around blue passports, long airport queues and the falling pound, this summer could not be a better time for a glorious staycation.
Thankfully, our green and pleasant isle is brimming with some of the greatest hotels, holiday rentals and regions to explore and luxuriate in. So, here are twelve iconic Great British staycations, including three must-visit superstars, to help plan a stress-free stay right here at home.
Superstar: The Fife Arms, Scotland
Imagine a typical stay in the Scottish highlands: a roaring fire, snow-tipped majestic mountains, whisky flowing, tartan everything. That is precisely what you get when you stay at The Fife Arms. Never has an idealised reality been so met and exceeded than The Fife Arms. It’s a highland fling, a bonnie break- pure Scottish wish fulfilment.
Yet, despite all that, it never falls into gimmickry. Though the Victorian hotel has been riotously restored to its former glory late last year; with tartan walls and a multitude of mounted stag heads, it still establishes itself as a modern destination. There are contemporary art pieces, from Lucien Freuds to a hulking Louise Bourgeois spider in the courtyard, that drag the hotel from pastiche to world class modern style. The nods to Victoriana and Scottish heritage feel warm and loving rather than affected, and their clear love and support of the local community is evident in the fantastic local guides they both employ and recommend, from in-house Derrick (who takes us on an impromptu tour of the local church- where Her Majesty worships when she stays at neighbouring Balmoral) to the incomparable Doug Anderson, whose tour of Braemar village was astounding.
The surrounding area is a main draw. Hugged by the highlands, it is a ten minute drive from Balmoral and from the Royal Lochnagar whisky distillery, where we take a tour and few too many drams .There is ample opportunity to explore the surroundings; from hikes to whiskey tours, to walks, to murder mystery nights in Braemar castle. Avid pedestrians will delight in local driver Steve McNeney, whose no-distance too far policy means he’ll take you across the highlands and back again, with a lot of laughter along the way.
It’s this local flavour and humour that also imbues The Fife Arms with something special. The rooms are individually designed with a ludicrous degree of attention and imagination; that celebrates the history of the hotel and the intrinsic culture of the area, from art to poetry; even mountain rescue. Rooms range from palatial Royal suites to Croft-inspired snugs and appeal to a wide-range of price points, as do the menus in both the main dining room (with impressive sommelier Augustin) and attached pub, The Flying Stag.
Quite simply, you had to drag us kicking and screaming from this place, which, within days had felt impossibly like home.
How to get there in style? A true escape to the Highlands would not be complete without its most traditional form of transport: the iconic Caledonian Sleeper. It has just undergone a swanky restoration of its own and, though its experiencing a bumpy start (we were some of the many affected by the much-reported technical glitches) it’s worth waiting for this grand dame of Scottish travel to find its new footing. The staff could not be more friendly, nor more jauntily attired, and the new cabins are cosy, clean and efficient. No matter what inescapable delays we experienced, we couldn’t help falling slightly in love with this form of travel. There’s a class to it and a very distinct feel. Falling asleep in smoke-clogged London and waking up to sunrise over the Scottish coast? You really can’t complain about that.
The Talbot, Yorkshire
It’s grim up North, ain’t it? Erm, have you not seen The Talbot? Recently refurbished and re-launched, this seventeenth century riverside coaching inn is set in the foodie paradise of Malton; a buzzing and picturesque market town on the North Yorkshire moors. Besides the breath-taking rural landscape that surrounds it, the hotel has gorgeous, warm interiors, with twenty-six rooms humorously titled ‘Excellent’, ‘Good’ and ‘Cosy.’ The hotel is pretty much all of these things; with a beautiful location, ripe for exploration, right on its doorstep.
The Belsfield, Lake District
Did you know that Laura Ashley designs hotels now? No, me neither, but you’ll be very glad they do. The Belsfield is one such creature; a country-house hotel on the shores of Lake Windermere; one of Britain’s most visually-arresting locations. The house has been sumptuously decorated with Laura Ashley designers, with all sixty-two bedrooms decked out beautifully, with stunning lake and garden views. Grab afternoon tea in the gorgeous drawing room and library, or take a drink on to the garden terrace and watch the sunset over Lake Windermere.
Grand Hotel Belfast, Northern Ireland
Fancy a Great British city break? Look no further than the Grand Hotel Belfast; a sleek and luxurious, 300-bed hotel in the very heart of Belfast’s Linen quarter. It is a brilliant base for exploring such a rich and vibrant city; from the botanic gardens to the Ulster museum, a stone’s throw from the Titanic Quarter or the winding cobbled streets of the Cathedral Quarter. More than just a base of operations, the hotel has a modern yet relaxed feel, with fine dining, lavish interiors and some of the most unbeatable views over the city. https://www.grandcentralhotelbelfast.com
Superstar: Cynefin Retreats Wales
Launched in April of this year, Cynefin Retreats; four mini eco-homes dotted among wild farmland; feel authentic to its surroundings in a way many country hotels can only dream to emulate. Their name, Cynefin, has no direct English-to-Welsh translation but means a natural habitat which induces a sense of belonging.
There could be no better name for these gorgeous self-catering ‘pods’- each streamlined for an unobtrusive and pleasing curved shape, each made from local timber to reflect the surroundings and each boasting uninterrupted views of the undulating rural landscape of the Welsh borders. The homes are hugged by trees to ensure privacy from your three neighbours and no interruptions to this view. Incredibly, this achieves a remarkable sense of isolation, despite the actual proximity of the adjacent pods.
Each sleeps two and features a spacious and fully-functional kitchen, cosy living space, generous (and enormously comfortable) king size bed and an en-suite bathroom, decked out with Neals Yard toiletries and a rainfall shower. There is a sense of restrained luxury here; where all comforts have been catered for without fuss or unnecessary opulence. The real luxury is the view; which is why the pods feature floor-to-ceiling glass windows along one entire side.
The pods are the brainchild of team behind acclaimed eco-lodge Castara Retreats in Tobago. Though a different beast (no Caribbean heat and beach here), the ethos is demonstrably the same. Every effort has been made here to make this project eco-friendly and sustainable. They are made from local produce, staffed by local people, constructed with sustainable principles and maintained with low-energy, ecologically friendly systems, as well as being surrounded by freshly-planted wild flowers and natural habitats for the local wildlife.
Whilst that might give your climate-change anxiety peace of mind, actual peace is exactly what you’ll get from Cynefin. It’s a remarkable place to recharge – and I don’t just mean your electric car. Nearby Hay-on-Wye supplies excellent bookshops and pub-grub and the Brecon Beacons provide endless thrilling hikes and walks, with incredible views and some rather friendly wild ponies. There are any number of outdoor activities on your doorstep; from kayaking to cycling, but it was the doorstep itself that held the greatest appeal to me.
Sitting on the decking in front of these romantic little homes are (eco-friendly, of course) hot tubs built for two. Sitting in these, glass of wine in hand, watching the sun set over the Brecon Beacons, was the highlight of our stay. It was peaceful, quiet and natural, just as Cynefin Retreats intended.
Luxury Cotswolds rentals
One of Britain’s most achingly-picturesque regions, the Cotswolds is riddled with chocolate-box villages, brilliant restaurants, pubs, distilleries and farmers markets. The magnificent area also boasts one of Britain’s best collections of holiday rental homes; as curated by the superlative Luxury Cotswolds Rentals. Fancy a barn conversion overlooking tumbling hills? They’ve got it. A manor house which sleeps twenty-two, set in 200 acres of farmland? Yup, that too.
The Netherwood Estate, Hertfordshire
A rather unique offering on the borders of Hertfordshire and Worcestershire, the Netherwood Estate boasts the exemplary restaurant Pensons; a forty-cover venue presided over by a partnership between chefs Lee Westcott and Peta Darnley. Their sustainable ethos is integral to the restaurant: using produce available on the estate and locally. Once you’ve gorged yourself on Pensons’ delectable menu, you can stay at one the estate’s stunning accommodation options. The Hyde is a Grade II listed medieval hall, now a nine-bedroom country house, or there’s The Freeth, available exclusively for group bookings, should a rather extravagant house party take your fancy.
Cliveden House, Berkshire
A National Trust property, with over 350 years of history – from deathly duels between Earls to the Duchess of Sussex’s pre-wedding night- it doesn’t get more British than Cliveden. Now a luxury country hotel, Cliveden is replete with decadently-decorated rooms, a world-class spa, opulent dining rooms and beautiful surrounding countryside to explore. It’s an undisputed treat.
It doesn’t get more iconic than Claridge’s. Undoubtedly London’s most beloved luxury hotel, this marvel has been a stalwart since 1850, with its instantly recognisable art deco interiors and most-probably the best afternoon tea in London. Planning the most luxurious of London staycations? This should be your first and only stop, especially considering this summer sees the opening of the hotel’s new restaurant; Davies and Brook, the brainchild of globally-acclaimed chef Daniel Humm and restaurateur Will Guidara. Just when you thought it couldn’t get any better.
Superstar: Beaverbrook House, Surrey
Winston Churchill once famously quipped: ‘Some people take drugs, I take Max.’ He was talking about Max Aitken, Lord Beaverbrook and, I can only assume, he was largely referring to Max’s house: Cherkley Court, now Beaverbrook hotel. After staying here, I’d happily ‘take Max’ too.
The famous, and infamous, guests of Cherkley Court may have long gone, but the spirit of this lively, influential house still remains in its latest incarnation. The rooms are each named for their famous former inhabitants. This is literally the case for the Winston Churchill room (it was his regular). Others are styled for their illustrious visitors: including Elizabeth Taylor, Charlie Chaplin and Ian Fleming, the inspiration for our room; which featured an imposing portrait of Roger Moore as 007 over our gargantuan white bathtub.
The hotel still feels like a private house, which is an enormous compliment. It only relatively recently ceased to be one, and lovingly so many attributes remain. One of the very first private cinema rooms, installed by Lord Beaverbrook, remains for guest use, and is largely untouched. The grand piano which lives at the foot of the epic, Moorish central staircase, is still littered with family portraits, as are the hallways. The drawing room, where we took afternoon tea by a roaring fire, is cosy and personal, and the bar; an art deco, eclectic masterpiece called The Parrot Bar, shares a similar view: of the rolling Surrey hills and woodland.
We get this view from our room’s generous balcony, and spend a happy afternoon exploring the grounds that feed into this; from manicured croquet lawns and floral arrangements to the wild woodland which brilliantly houses a children’s playhouse.
The quality of service at Beaverbrook is impressive, particularly in the dining room, home to the Japanese Grill and the breakfast menu. Here we not only fell in love with the sumptuous Japanese food (minus the actual Kentish Ants garnish – I’m not bug-friendly yet) but also the funny and warm waitresses, who may be worth the booking fee alone.
The hotel also boasts The Garden House; where there are extra rooms (more relaxed and rustic in style) and a gorgeous restaurant and kitchen garden. The food here was particularly mouth-watering: fresh, light and expertly constructed. Do not leave without sampling the sage and pecorino gnocchi. The neighbouring Coach House also includes cosy rooms, and particularly a brilliant spa, with indoor and outdoor pools and a great massage menu (trust me- my back recommends it.)
Beaverbrook may join a groaning roster of country house hotels in Britain, but this illustrious manor has never failed to attract guests, and I doubt that will stop now.
Hound Lodge, Surrey
This ten-bedroom country retreat can be found on the grounds of the famous 12,000-acre Goodwood estate. Originally an actual dog house, these luxury kennels have been transformed into a truly-luxurious home. Only opened in 2016, it’s a refreshingly modern take on a traditional hunting lodge and even includes a private butler service (yes really) and interiors on a magnificently decadent scale. Today, though lovingly created for humans, dogs are still warmly welcome, as Hound Lodge makes it it’s primary business to make this your home away from home. Just watch those muddy paws on the new cream carpet.
Beach Retreats, Cornwall
Could there be a more classic British holiday than Cornwall? With its other-worldly forests, gorgeous villages and Caribbean-worthy beaches (just pray-away the rain) the west-country is an idyllic retreat. Cornish-based holiday rental firm, Beach Retreats, is an excellent choice to give you that slice of authentic Cornwall; with a range of stunning homes to choose from all over the region; from cosy cottages in Mousehole to a nine-bedroom beach houses in Mawgan Porth.