Feeling flush? Or perhaps just in need of a treat? Why not try one of these luxurious and extravagant establishments...
Babington House, near Frome, pioneered the modern brand of country-house chic back in 1998, when its seductive mix of heritage, pampering and cool design, set against a backdrop of rolling Somerset hills, convinced hordes of burnt-out media types to ditch their Barcelona mini-breaks in favour of a fashionable weekend in the sticks. It remains as popular ever, thanks to its relaxed, home-from-home vibe. Children are positively encouraged – it even has an on-site crèche – and there’s plenty to entertain big kids too, from a classic film in the cosy cinema to a massage for two in the Cowshed spa.
Grande dame of Edinburgh hotels, the landmark Balmoral was once a grand railway hotel (its famous clock is still set three minutes fast), and it’s still the city’s best address for a splurge: kilted doormen welcome you into the balustraded entrance hall, and the best rooms come with sweeping views of the castle. J.K. Rowling was so enamoured with the place that she holed up here to write the last of the Harry Potter books; room 552 – complete with owl door-knocker – has been renamed in her honour.
Standing at the end of a mile-long avenue of lime and beech trees, and boasting the requisite dovecote, croquet lawn and herb garden, this stately Georgian pile, just six miles from Bath, is the perfect place to indulge your Jane Austen fantasies. And if you tire of the Michelin-starred restaurant and award-winning spa, you can take one of the stables’ suitably glossy horses on a hack round the estate’s 500 acres of unspoilt parkland. Here’s hoping you meet Mr Darcy en route.
Built by the village squire in 1697 – his initials are carved in the creamy Cotswold stone above the front door – Barnsley House, near Cirencester, is the English country-house retreat par excellence. It’s famous for its glorious gardens – the work of garden designer Rosemary Verey – which now hold an unashamedly twenty-first-century spa. The rooms, meanwhile, are all boutique elegance, exquisitely furnished and with real log fires, while the bathrooms come with plasma-screen TVs, so you can channel-hop from the comfort of your bubble bath.
With bucolic scenes on all sides – the Yorkshire Dales and Lake District are within easy reach – this seventeenth-century manor, near Kirkby Lonsdale, is the perfect spot for walkers who want somewhere plush to rest their weary limbs at the end of the day. The all-white bedrooms are soothing and restful, with decadent limestone bathrooms, and there’s a fantastic restaurant too. An imposing fifteenth-century hall hung with tapestries, it makes a memorable setting for dinner: refined but gutsy cuisine to satisfy the heartiest of hikers’ appetites.
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