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Short stay: Middlethorpe Hotel and Spa, York, UK

The red-brick and white-sash-windows house, built in 1699, has echoes of both the grandeur of Hampton Court and Sir Christopher Wren’s elegant rebuilding of London after The Great Fire of London. Although owner Thomas Barlow’s views on architecture were influenced by his Grand Tour of Europe, Middlethorpe Hall Hotel and Spa, with its lawns and parkland is the quintessential English country house. Run by Historic House Hotels, with ownership gifted to the National Trust to best preserve this national treasure, both the exterior and interior honour the heritage of this slice of history. The welcome Prior to arrival guests are sent an e-mail with a health questionnaire and asked to specify a time of arrival. Guests can relax, Middlethorpe Hall does its utmost to safeguard the health of its guests. After check-in, Monsieur Lionel Chatard, the manager, welcomes us. As he does so, a porter in a smart green gold-braided livery discretely whisks away our luggage to deliver it to the room. Monsieur Chatard, who originates from Lyon and has been at Middlethorpe for 17 years, guides us up a wide staircase, past imposing oil portraits of the Barlow family to our grand room. There is a lift but as it is the original butler’s hoist there is some debate as to whether it is for one or two passengers. Later, Monsieur Chatard introduces us to Balou, a muscular ginger and white cat, who clearly considers himself to be the true proprietor of Middlethorpe Hall. The room Spacious Room 9 sits at the top of the south-west corner of the house. Three tall windows give sweeping views down on the flagstone terrace, past a tall Turkey Oak and Deodar Cedar, across the south lawns, its haha and onto the parkland beyond where deer sometimes roam. Although there is a wide four poster bed it does not dominate a large room subtlety lit by table lamps, standard lamp and wall lights. Pools of light illuminate a series of prints of covers of the Victorian high-fashion magazine The Queen. With its sofa, armchair and writing bureau, this could be a drawing room from the Age of Enlightenment. A trouser press, generously stocked tea tray and wardrobe serve as reminders that this is a hotel. Bedding on the four-poster recalls a traditional era of sheets, blanket and eiderdown. The bathroom Once you’ve used the Quercus toiletries supplied by Penhaligon, there’s an alluring heady fragrance to the en-suite bathroom: top notes of Amalfi lemon over a baseline of sandalwood and musk. Towels and flannels are deeply, decadently fluffy with the regal HHH (Historic House Hotels) monogram. The water, flowing to a combined bath and rainfall shower, is impressively hot for the top floor of a William and Mary mansion built over three centuries ago. The facilities The AA two rosette restaurant runs through three rooms. The largest has original 1699 wood panelling and sits adjacent to the Pineapple Room featuring art themed on a fruit deemed both exotic and luxurious in the 18th century. A third, The Yellow Room, has 25 portraits of the great, the good and the godly: dukes, earls, lords and archbishops. Ashley Binder, Head Chef, uses the produce of The Walled Garden in his menu as well as the finest local suppliers of fish, game and meat. After the damson trees had flourished, a starter of a chicken and leek pressing is accompanied by damson jam. Glorious spring weather encouraged a healthy crop of cherries and they now feature in a chocolate and cherry rocky road dessert. Appropriately, chocolate recalls the Victorian days when Sir Frank Terry, the chocolate magnate, owned Middlethorpe Hall. Rightly, the restaurant is proud of its Yorkshire breakfast. Although it sounds a gargantuan feast of bacon, black pudding, sausage, eggs, mushroom, tomato and potatoes – portion sizes are moderate and sensible. Just a few yards along the quiet lane from the spa are two quaint cottages, with sun-loungers in the gardens, which are actually the spa. As well as treatment rooms, there is an indoor swimming pool and a hot tub too. Location South-west of York, close to the Race Course, the hotel is less than a two mile bus ride into the centre of York with The Shambles, its Minster, Jorvik Viking Centre and the famed National Railway Museum. Other nice touches Service is impeccable. Settle on a sofa in the drawing room or library or at a table on the terrace and a smartly dressed member of staff will be enquiring whether you require coffee, lunch, afternoon tea or drinks. Pre-Covid 19 a tray of morning tea, delivered to your room, was another of Middlethorpe’s great pleasures. Sadly, that custom is temporarily in abeyance. The cost A four poster bedroom in the main house, including Yorkshire breakfast, costs £429 rising to £539 for the Duke of York Suite. A standard double / twin room in The Courtyard costs £219. A three-course dinner costs £45, two courses for £39. The best bit Without doubt, Middlethorpe Hall’s 20 acres of grounds are the star attraction. Take the National Trust leaflet guide to the grounds to navigate towards a lake of rushes that contains both perch and roach. As you walk, check off the towering trees on the map: an oak that is over two centuries old, a Judas Tree, a Cedar of Lebanon and many other notable specimens. Thomas Barlow and his successors built and planted to leave a legacy. Around the grounds there are seats strategically placed, perhaps to watch butterflies flitting around a purple buddleia, sometimes known as the butterfly bush. Guests relax in the sun-trap of The Walled Garden as they watch gardeners cutting agapanthus, dahlias, giant daisies and roses for the flower arrangements dotted throughout the hotel. Invitingly, the croquet lawn is set-up ready for a game. The final verdict You could use Middlethorpe Hall Hotel and Spa as a base to explore the City of York, the charms of North Yorkshire and the beautiful East Coast. But how often can you park the car and step into the eighteenth century? Visiting a National Trust property is a pleasure. To eat, live and sleep in a slice of Britain’s rich history is a privilege. Disclosure: Our stay was sponsored by Middlethorpe Hall Hotel and Spa.

Michael Edwards

Michael Edwards is a travel writer from Oxfordshire, UK. Although Michael had his first travel pieces published nearly four decades ago, he is still finding new luxury destinations to visit and write on.

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  1. To be absolutely honest the way things are at the moment I’d probably put York and it’s attractions on hold for another year. As far as I’m concerned mingling with the crowds is an unnecessary risk.

    Twenty acres of grounds are more than enough for us to wander around. As they’ve had gardeners looking after those acres for the last few centuries they are probably more interesting than my back garden.

  2. The chef and gardener could be a lesson to us all. This has been the year when we’ve finally taken notice of our gardens. It’s good that they are making use of the land to produce food. Some of these walled gardens are real sun-traps, I’ve seen them in other stately homes, and it’s astounding what you see growing there. After 2020s problems I think a lot of us feel that it would be good if we could start growing more of our own food.

  3. I love stately properties like this. What a beautiful hotel, with some generous grounds to match. 20 acres must require a lot of upkeep. The National Trust do a fantastic job as do the staff with the hotel and services by the sound of it. Good to hear that the pandemic is taken seriously here too – I think that’s what many of us will be looking for wherever we go and whatever we go now, first and foremost wondering whether there are ample safety measures in place. Sounds like a relaxing retreat away from the busy world for a while. I’d probably spend half my stay split between the pool, hot tub and getting massages. Sounds pretty much perfect to me.

    1. Yes, the National Trust do a fantastic job. Although there are just two full-time ground staff, there are a further 8 volunteers who come in regularly to help out. Though of course they are always looking for more volunteers. As they have plans to grow more fruit and veg on-site in the future any extra help that they can get is much appreciated. Obviously, it is a stunningly beautiful place to work.

      Just a word on the spa and pool. As you’ve noticed, Middlethorpe take Covid – 19 precautions very seriously and you need to book both sessions in the pool / hot-tub and spa treatments well in advance.

  4. Sounds like an excellent choice if you’re looking to have a relaxing getaway up in York. Do many of the rooms afford a similar view as the South West corner with windows to see out over the estate? It’s an impressive building, I’ve always preferred classic to super modern hotels.

    1. In the main house the south-facing rooms on the first and second floors have the best views over the lawns. But the rooms at the front of the house, north-facing still have a good view out across the narrow lane that leads to the entrance and then onto rural views of fields and woodland.

  5. Some of my friends are still living in lock down mode and I worry that there are a lot more people like them who’ve never got back to normal life. I feel that a short break would do them a power of good and would be an important step back on the road towards something resembling normality.

    I did a similar country hotel to Middlethorpe recently and I felt very safe. Once you are up at this level of service I think the hotels really take care of their customers. When you’ve got loads of acres social distancing isn’t too much of a problem.

  6. That cove in the garden looks like the perfect spot for a book. I wouldn’t mind spending some time indulging in some quiet time and relaxing spa treatments. I’m more of a modern kind of gal, but I wouldn’t mind spending a day in a hotel with an Old World country feel. Heaven knows I need some new sights. Though I’m still wary of travelling to anywhere yet, but I let myself enjoy some planning to pass the time and boredom. I know soon I’ll get to go to these places.

  7. Oh how lovely! Experiencing the 18th century in the modern times is one of a kind experience but with current situation, I may just add this to my travel list as it is close enough (maybe a few hours drive) to us. A lot has happened but I wouldn’t mind getting stuck in this hotel should I be given the chance. Who would not want a Yorkshire breakfast every waking moment? And maybe a spa treatment or two. I am looking forward to visiting soon.

  8. That cove in the garden looks like the perfect spot for a book. I wouldn’t mind spending some time indulging in some quiet time and relaxing spa treatments.

  9. I personally love Victorian houses because they are classy and cozy at the same time. While I have been to a lot of Victorian houses already, it’s not common to see these types of houses converted as hotels or private villas. What makes it really special is the fact that you are able to know what it feels like to travel back in time by staying in one. While there are a lot of more modern or newly built hotels and villas out there, restoring a historic house to function in the modern age is commendable. At least they’re cared for and won’t fall into ruin. I love the spacious outdoor areas and the gardens are perfect for breakfasts and snacks with the family. On the other hand, a relaxing massage would be perfect before dinner is served. I would love to visit this hotel in York and I am curious about the historical background and story of this place.

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