I hadn’t meant to embark on an impromptu Champagne cocktail-tasting session just after breakfast, but in keeping with the overall spirit of relaxation and pampering at The Greenway hotel and spa Cheltenham it seemed the right thing to do.
It was my first time at the luxury Cotswolds hotel and indeed my first time at any hotel owned by The Eden Hotel Collection (there are eight in total) and I hadn’t a clue what to expect. It was only once I was there that I actually told anyone I was going, and instantly a friend posted on Facebook: ‘Lucky you! I think it’s the best spa in Cheltenham’, which was a promising indication I was in the right place.
The signs had been good from the very start. There was an imposing gate and lengthy driveway – the hallmarks of a country house hotel – and the instant we parked two people came out to greet us and help with our bags. The concierge, Chris, checked us in and showed us to our room with the minimum of time and fuss, which meant that, much to my surprise, I was bang on time for my spa appointment. Handily the Elan Spa at Greenway is located inside the hotel, so it’s incredibly convenient, unlike others where a spa visit is a trek to another building (in fact our bedroom was just above the spa).
The small child in front of me fearlessly hurled himself off the tree-top platform high off the forest floor and sped through the air. I couldn’t back out now. While zip-lining had long been on my wish-list, dreaming about it and actually standing on the edge of a sheer drop preparing to fling myself into thin air were two very different things. Besides, I was in Jamaica. Shouldn’t I be lounging on a beach drinking rum cocktails?
The shout came from across the tree-tops. It was my turn. I took a deep breath and ran, like a cartoon character, right off the edge. It was as terrifying and exhilarating as I’d hoped. Landing turned out to be even more scary than taking off. Where were the brakes? In my panicked attempt to stop, I flung out out a hand ahead of the fast-moving metal clip connecting me to the wire. By pure luck, my thick glove got shredded, rather than my hand. Now where was that drink?
It was my first time in Jamaica and the trip turned out to be more action-packed than I’d expected. While there were inviting picture-perfect golden sandy beaches, a sparkling blue ocean and towering palm trees – we had a schedule to stick to. So hold onto your cocktails – here’s what to do in Jamaica when you haven’t got a lot of time to to do it in….
Cliff-diving at Rick’s Cafe
The clifftop Rick’s Cafe in Negril is a national landmark where hundreds of people congregate for the great view, bucket of beers, dancing – there’s usually a live band playing Bob Marley (who else?) – and a spot of cliff-diving. Yes, that’s right… Those who like a little risk with their drinking can chose to leap off a succession of jumping-off points (the highest is a vertigo-inducing 35 metres) or local kids will dive for you for a fee. The other side of the bar offers great views of the setting sun every night – it’s selfie heaven here – and the whole thing has a very apres-ski vibe. Arriving by boat isn’t a must but it certainly adds a certain class to proceedings.
Exactly 600 years ago, the Bel and The Dragon coaching inn was built in the pretty Berkshire town of Cookham and six centuries later, I took a friend with me to stay at the pub and see what it was actually like. Well, you don’t want to rush these things…
While it is officially 600 years old – there’s even an sign outside showing the date it was built, making it one of the oldest pubs in Britain – the Cookham Bel and The Dragon is now part of a thoroughly modern seven-strong Bel and The Dragon chain, part-owned by entrepreneur Joel Cadbury. It might have a long history but since the late 1980s it had been sadly neglected and was barely trading when bought out of administration. Now Cadbury and his business partner Ollie Vigors have spent several years (and no small amount of money) restoring the pub to its former glory, much to the delight of local residents.
In fact, my expectations of Bel and The Dragon had been pretty high before I had even set foot in Cookham, which isn’t always a good thing: just a few days before at a press party in London I had mentioned I was staying there at the weekend and a whole group of people – who turned out to be from nearby Bray – had excitedly talked over each other to tell me just how fabulous it was and how its head chef, Ronnie Kimbugwe, was just the very best. After such a write-up, it seemed that Bel and The Dragon could only suffer in reality. Continue reading Fine dining and summer cocktails at the 600-year old coaching inn Bel and The Dragon, Cookham→
If your idea of a perfect summer’s day is afternoon tea (or a gin and tonic) on a beautiful lawn in the sunshine, The Manor House luxury hotel in the pretty Cotswolds village of Castle Combe, Wiltshire, is the place to be.
There you can immerse yourself in the Sunday papers (or even a game of lawn chess) with nothing to disturb you but the gentle chirp of birdsong, the occasional splash from the herons fishing in the stream running through the grounds and occasionally someone coming to ask if you’d like something more to eat or drink.
A circle of little hills wraps around The Manor House’s 365 acres, making the hotel feel cosy and protected from the outside world. Little seems to have changed here for centuries. The same can be said of the village of Castle Combe itself, a vision in pale Cotswold stone. From the stone bridge over the babbling brook at the bottom of the village to the 14th century market cross at the top, Castle Combe looks as if it has come straight out of a Cotswold calendar or the lid of a box of chocolates.
If it seems familiar, that’s because it is: Castle Combe has been the setting for a host of films and TV series, from Doctor Dolittle and War Horse to Doctor Thorne and most recently the hugely popular Japanese anime series Kiniro Mosaic, also known as Kinmoza.
The grounds of The Manor House itself circle the village like a warm embrace, with its driveway sweeping from its gates at the southerly end of Castle Combe village to the lawns in front of the hotel, past an ornate Italian garden and a row of workers’ cottages (now converted into bedrooms) before emerging at the top of the village. Continue reading A picture-perfect Cotswolds stay at The Manor House, Castle Combe→
If 2017 Six Nations champions England need somewhere to recharge their batteries after this year’s bruising contest then they needn’t travel very far: their training ground at Pennyhill Park luxury hotel in Surrey is just a drop kick away from one of the finest spas in the country. Covering 45,000 sq ft and with eight indoor and outdoor pools (one with underwater music), saunas, steam rooms, bubbling hot tubs, ice-cold plunge pools and a salt scrub ice cave, the spa at Pennyhill Park is one of those places where you could happily spend a whole day (and night – sitting outdoors in a jacuzzi as the sun goes down makes for a memorable evening).
For guests – or rugby internationals – who like to work a little harder, there’s a gym, nine-hole golf course, tennis courts and 120 acres of parkland with paths and cycling trails, while those who want to fully indulge can pad to the spa’s restaurant in their fluffy towelling robes for a spot of lunch, or have drinks and snacks delivered to their loungers from the al fresco poolside bar.
Pennyhill Park has been the training home of the England rugby team since their World Cup-winning performance in 2003, but the hotel itself dates back to the 19th century. After a succession of owners, Pennyhill Park was bought by Exclusive Hotels in 1982 who expanded it considerably from its original 17 bedrooms.
Now there are more than 120 bedrooms ranging from doubles to suites and junior suites, some with four-poster beds, balconies, private patios and even a Roman-style marble bath. (See their website for all the different styles). This expansion does mean that the hotel is vast – you definitely need the map you get at check in, which reveals the various wings, terraces and gardens at Pennyhill Park. Continue reading Pennyhill Park – a luxury hotel fit for the England rugby team→