Across England‘s green and pleasant land dozens of historic hotels reveal chapters of the nation’s rich and often turbulent history. Over the last century many grand country houses have been saved from ruin and reborn as luxurious hotels. Once these houses were the zealously guarded bastions of the aristocracy, not that every one of these houses was once a family home. Today, these hotels and their superb restaurants offer a warm welcome to those who wish to escape from frenetic life into more leisurely times. Stanbrook Abbey Hotel, Worcester Stanbrook Abbey Hotel, a former Benedictine Abbey, with architectural hints of the Houses of Parliament, is a slice of English history that has been transformed into a luxurious country retreat. In the peaceful chapel, grooves are worn into the titles were nuns knelt to pray to the glory of God, as they had since the 19th century. It’s worth taking the 145 steps of a spiralling stairway to the top of the 100 foot Bell Tower to look out over Worcestershire’s patchwork of fields and hills. Once the Pope had deconsecrated the Abbey, after the nuns had relocated to Yorkshire for greater peace, Handpicked Hotels undertook a remarkable £4.2 m transformation, with a tall contemporary addition housing reception and a vast bar. Yet, history is celebrated with the feature bedrooms commemorating the craftsmen who contributed to the Abbey’s original glory: Ashton, Boulton, Pugin and Thompson. Look out for the woodwork of Robert “Mousemen” Thompson who incorporated mice into his carvings. The Swan Hotel and Spa, Newby Bridge Since 1651, the Swan Hotel, initially a coaching inn, has looked out over the picturesque five arches of a single-track bridge across the river that flows into the southern tip of Lake Windermere. Just fifteen minutes from the M6, The Swan Hotel, with its riverside weeping willows and lacy white wrought-iron garden furniture, makes for a stylish gateway to the Lake District. Featuring a marina, spa, indoor swimming pool, adventure playground and nature trail The Swan is a destination for all the family. The Cygnature Restaurant, daringly decorated with cerise banquettes and filament-raw dangling lighting, provides many local specialities, including Morecambe Bay potted shrimps, a local take on chorizo and sticky toffee pudding. Homewood Hotel and Spa, Bath Long ago, the Romans brought art, civilisation, Mediterranean living and indulgent bathing to Bath. Centuries on from the Romans, Homewood, just south of Bath and overlooking the bucolic Avon Valley again brings all of these – plus chic contemporary style – to this Cotswold stone house, portions of which date back to a 13th century Carthusian monastery. With a fire-place and patio heaters, sheltered by soaring trees, the Olio Terrace extends the British spring and autumn for al fresco breakfast, lunch and dinner. While the pool and hot-tub also bring a Mediterranean aura to Bath. Tapas menus contribute to the Mediterranean vibe too: family and friends share small plates such as chilli squid, griddled prawns and chorizo scotch egg. Salmon, chicken and steaks can either be cooked robata, plancha or skillet. Guests, casually but stylishly dressed, love the sophisticated Ottolenghi-style salads: think caponata, pine nuts, red wine vinegar and bulgur wheat. Ian Taylor, the owner, is an art aficionado: don’t miss Reception’s clock collection or the atmosphere black-and-white 1970s photographic portraits of musician Peter Gabriel, displayed beneath the diverse chandeliers of the dining room. Middlethorpe Hall Hotel and Spa, York If, at this red-brick and white-sash windowed house, built in 1699, you feel that you are living in a National Trust House your senses are not deceived. Middlethorpe Hall sits on the outskirts of York and its attractions of the Minster, the Shambles and a trip into Viking days. Yet, guests often slip into England’s rich history, forgetting the outside world, when staying at this elegant property run by Historic House Hotels and owned by the National Trust. Guests relax amongst the dark wood bureaux, gilded mirrors, countless side tables and in some rooms – four poster beds historically dressed with sheets, blankets and eiderdown. A National Trust leaflet guides walkers around the 20 acres of trees planted centuries ago, lake with pike and perch, croquet lawn and walled garden. Coffee, lunch, afternoon tea and pre-dinner drinks can all be taken on the flagstone terrace looking across the striped lawn and onto the parkland. Increasingly, the AA two rosette restaurant, with original 1699 wood panelling, looks to source from local suppliers of fish, game and meat. Also, home-grown produce from the Walled Garden is appearing more and more on the menu. Hampton Manor, Hampton-in-Arden Finally, within 45 acres of Hampton-upon-Arden, once a green swathe of Shakespeare’s Forest of Arden, Hampton Manor looks both to the past and the future. Another Neo-Gothic country house, this time built by Frederick Peel son of once Prime Minister Robert Peel, revives the spirit of the country house stay with two night breaks. A tasting menu in the Michelin-starred restaurant is at the heart of the experience, though another dinner served in “Smoke”, a greenhouse, magically transformed into a unique restaurant, is a memorable experience. Guests may arrive as strangers but a Hampton stay is a sociable event as people bond, if they wish, over pre-dinner cocktails, roasting marshmallows after dinner by the fire pit, whisky tasting, a bread-making course, wine tasting and a tour of the walled gardens. The Hill family, who run Hampton Manor, have a vision of organic and regenerative farming where waste is minimised. So the “Wasted” gin in the bar is distilled from recycled coffee beans. Typically a silky carrot soup from carrots grown just yards away is accompanied by an inventive pesto of carrot tops – which otherwise would have been wasted. Wherever possible, the Hampton Manor kitchen adheres to its guiding principle: “nothing added, nothing taken away.”
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