The top 5 romantic boltholes in England

From cool country houses to chic coaching inns and eccentric hideaways, we tell you our favourite English love nests – all within travelling distance from London. So read on for the best places to enjoy rest, relaxation and of course, romance.

Babington House, Somerset

When Babington House opened in 1999, it reinvented the country-house experience, injecting a sense of fun into what had become an outdated institution. Today, it has retained its sense of style but matured into a place that effortlessly mixes catwalk and comfort food. Decor is now charismatically retro, with floral prints reminiscent of granny’s parlour and tassles on the chairs. Chefs (ex River Cafe) raid the gardens to produce unfussy rustic cuccina that perfectly reflects the laidback ambience. Book one of the prized suites at the thoroughly British spa. Spread over three levels, each has outdoor tubs overlooking the original Victorian walled garden, a woodburning stove and a massage area to ensure housewives are anything but desperate.

Highs

The spa is a triumph.

The cinema has pre-release screenings of big-name movies.

Lows

Midweek can get a little over-run with members’ children.

No chance of spontaneity – you have to book months ahead.

The George in Rye, East Sussex

Sometimes you want the timbre of tradition but not the tie-and-jacket trimmings, in which case The George provides the perfect compromise. It is a 16th-century coaching inn where the oak beams and open fires have been Farrow & Ball’d with lashing of theatricality by the owner, a former set designer. Rooms are sexy and modern, some with roll top baths, others tucked into the eves. All have Vi-sprung beds and frette linen as well as cute little surprises such as Tivoli clock radios. Flap out your newspaper, curl up in an oversized leather armchair by the roaring fire and enjoy a proper pint. And if you can’t be bothered to change for dinner, the maitre d’ won’t reach for the smelling salts.

Highs

Rye’s cobbled lanes are a joy to wander around.

The inn has a deal with the nearby excellent Rye Retreat spa, which uses eco-trendy Aveda products.

Lows

No onsite parking.

Off season, the menu doesn’t vary much and the kitchen doesn’t make enough use of local produce.

Le Manoir Aux Quat’ Saisons, Oxfordshire

Raymond Blanc offers the art of French seduction in a brilliantly bucolic setting. Le Manoir Aux Quat’ Saisons is impossibly cliche’d in all the right ways: the quaint village setting, the cobbled courtyard, afternoon tea by the croquet lawn. The operation is almost as smooth as its owner because M Blanc is nothing if not passionately meticulous. He once conducted a survey of how often waiters approached diners during a meal to ensure staff were being attentive without becoming intrusive. Rooms are themed with the 15th-century dovecote and the Opium Suite with its private garden the most popular. Don’t miss a kitchen tour before dinner to see the army of chefs at work and discover the precision planning required to produce the restaurant’s stunning two Michelin starred dishes.

Highs

The food is amazing.

Service is very suave and fabulously French.

Lows

It’s a bit over-logo’d which can feel a little conference hotel-ish.

Some of the rooms are a bit of a hike from the main house.

Barnsley House, Cotswolds

This is the Dita Von Teese option where burleseque meets boutique: Barnsley House is unashamedly in your face. Rooms have glitterballs, dinosaur egg-size baths at the end of the beds and in some rooms, jacuzzis centrestage in the sitting rooms. The hotel’s tagline is “Don’t be afraid to indulge yourself”. In fact, it’s difficult to do anything else, particularly with complimentary champagne and homemade ice cream filling up the minibar. Dine al fresco in its gorgeous gardens (it was formerly the home of internationally renowned gardener Rosemary Verey and the borders are beautiful), book into its sexy spa where the Ren treatments are top-notch, or reserve the cinema for a private screening of your favourite film. Yes, of course, the seats are the softest Italian leather… and bubblegum pink.

Highs

The vincigrassi maceratsese baked pasta dish of parma ham, porcini and truffles is indecently delicious.

The hotel owns the pub across the road, perfect for a more casual lunch or pint.

Lows

It’s all about the bedrooms so there is very little public area.

The high-tech white goods in the bedrooms can be difficult to fathom.

The Crown Inn, Buckinghamshire

It’s an enticing combination: The Crown Inn was a location for our best ever rom-com Four Weddings and a Funeral and it has recently been Cinderella’d by the doyenne of British designers, Ilsa Crawford, turning it into the most modern of coaching inns. First a warning: when we last visited, the chintz was still in the process of being chucked (sadly, the suite where Andi finally fell for Hugh’s fringe remains a taste-free zone for now) so ensure you get a revamped room. These are understated and chic: using good, unfussy fabrics with a hint of hardwearing horseblanket about them, think Roberts radios rather than Bang & Olufsen and a brown Tetley teapot rather than an unworkable frappuccino-maker. Downstairs, there are low-flying blackened beams, walls with traditional plaster made from lime and horsehair, a hotch-potch of local Ercol chairs and plenty of pewter for a sense of the 16th Century. The restaurant is presided over by the exuberant Rosie Sykes, the Guardian Weekend’s ex Kitchen Doctor, and is delicious and oh so British.

Highs

Old Amersham is incredibly cute, with plenty of browse-ability including a sweet shop that stocks old-fashioned favourites such as sherbet fountains and love hearts.

You can take the Tube there, Amersham is the last stop on the Metropolitan Line.

Lows

It’s difficult to sound proof a 16th Century inn adequately so it can be noisy, particularly at the front.

For an inn, its range of beers is pretty disappointing.

John Gordon is creator of Globalista.

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Comments (1)

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  1. James Harrow says:

    I have been to the Crown Inn and I must say it is a delightful place with really fantastic food. I didn’t mind small range of beers nor the noise. It all added up to a fantastic atmosphere. So I concur the highs and disagree with lows.

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