Category Archives: My Top Ten Hotels

Bond, Bridget and me: my stay at Stoke Park luxury hotel

It’s where James Bond beat Goldfinger in possibly the most famous golf match in cinema history, where Bridget Jones ditched singleton life for a weekend away with boss Daniel Cleaver and where Teri Hatcher and Pierce Brosnan (as another Bond) danced the night away in Tomorrow Never Dies, so a stay at Stoke Park luxury hotel and country club certainly comes with high expectations.

stay at Stoke Park luxury hotel view from tennis courts
The Grade-1 listed hotel was built in 1908 and is instantly recognisable from its many film appearances

Thankfully the five-star, 111-year old hotel is more than able to live up to its reputation and manages the tricky task of combining country house hotel relaxation and country club sporting energy with aplomb. Continue reading Bond, Bridget and me: my stay at Stoke Park luxury hotel

My stay at Cliveden, a hotel fit for a Princess-to-be (and why I hope Meghan gets to return)

I really hope that Meghan Markle gets another chance to spend the night at Cliveden, the historic country house hotel where she is spending the night before her wedding. While the luxury five-star Berkshire hotel with its 376 acres of stunning  countryside will be a great haven of calm for her before the madness of the big day itself, as a nervous bride-to-be I’m not sure how much she’ll be able to take in of the hotel itself: its sumptuous rooms, its luxury spa, its fine-dining restaurant and most of all, the atmosphere of history and celebrity which is soaked into the very walls.

Throughout my own stay at the rather fabulous Cliveden House Hotel, there was one question which I found almost impossible to answer. Would Cliveden still be as fabulous if it wasn’t, well, Cliveden? Would it seem as special if it were just a very nice 17th century country house in which Winston Churchill and Noel Coward hadn’t stayed, for example? Would its gardens still be as pretty if you weren’t thinking that Lady Astor had strolled these very grounds with George Bernard Shaw and Charlie Chaplin?

And would the beautiful outdoor swimming pool in the walled garden still be quite as marvellous to swim in if – well, you get the idea.

Cliveden Meghan Markle Royal Wedding
This is the first sight of Cliveden and its bell tower as you come up the lengthy driveway

The thing about Cliveden is that it is almost impossible to judge it on its own merits by separating it from its quite incredible past. The Great Hall with its portraits and grand fireplace is stunning, but it feels even more so because you know that some of the most accomplished people in recent history have discussed art and politics over cocktails exactly where you are sitting.

Cliveden House Megan Markle Royal Wedding
Cliveden is set in 376 acres of countryside, including some impressive ornate gardens

The swimming pool would be a talking point in its own right, but it is particularly amazing to swim in because you know it is where John Profumo met Christine Keeler and precipitated a whole chain of events which scandalised the nation and eventually led to the fall of the Government.

Cliveden House Meghan Markle Royal Wedding
Yes, it’s THAT swimming pool…

The gardens and the drive leading up to the house are spectacular enough anyway without the backdrop of history to set them off, but there is a thrill which sparkles through the very air at Cliveden which makes a visit there seem far more than just a night away in just any old stately home. Continue reading My stay at Cliveden, a hotel fit for a Princess-to-be (and why I hope Meghan gets to return)

Bovey Castle: a friendly, historic, luxury Dartmoor hotel stay

If you’re going to spend the night in a castle, then it’s appropriate to look the part, which is why it felt very fitting arriving at the luxury hotel Bovey Castle in the heart of Dartmoor in a £150,000 Aston Martin DB11.

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The Aston Martin DB11 arrives at Bovey Castle – still looking good in spite of a coating of Devonshire mud

A trio of valets clad in tweed plus-fours sprang into action to help us unload our luggage and admire the car (and point out that we seemed to have acquired a fair amount of the Devonshire countryside on the DB11, thanks to the incredibly narrow lanes we took to get there). However there wasn’t long to spend drooling over the car. Quentin, our archery instructor, had arrived for our lesson. See what living in a castle does to you?

 

Bovey Castle luxury hotel
Osian the valet, the Aston Martin and the entrance to Bovey Castle
Bovey Castle luxury hotel
We walked through the hotel and found this view once the clouds had cleared: Bovey Castle looking splendid in the sunshine

Five minutes later we had walked through some of Bovey Castle’s rolling acres and swapped our very modern motor for a rather more traditional bow and arrow.  The patient and friendly Quentin took us through the basics of how to shoot safely and accurately, and now it was up to us to put it into practice.

Bovey Castle luxury hotel
Bovey Castle is set in 275 acres of rolling green Devonshire countryside

I managed to hit the target more often than not and even fluked a shot to the gold centre of the target. Flushed with success, I moved onto rifle shooting. This was much harder, with the tin cans and hanging yellow bath ducks proving much more elusive targets, until my friend Lisa suddenly ‘got it’ and was firing away like a modern Annie Oakley.

Bovey Castle luxury hotel
Our shooting instructor Quentin shows us the basics of archery
Bovey Castle luxury hotel
After archery it was time for some rifle shooting

I left her to it while I made my way to our room, and when she returned half an hour later she was so pumped from her pinpoint accuracy with a lethal weapon that she barely noticed what a sumptuous suite we’d been given for the night: number 50, which was so vast we could probably have continued our target practice indoors.

There was a huge lounge with a walk-in closet, a vast bedroom, an equally large bath with freestanding tub and the whole suite was imbued with the air of luxury that only plush furnishings, epic views, a decanter of sloe gin and an ice bucket of Champagne can give. I could have happily spent the whole stay in our room.


To book directly with the hotel, go to: Bovey Castle
To compare prices for Bovey Castle click on: ExpediaTrivago – Hotels.com
To read more reviews click here to go to Bovey Castle on TripAdvisor

Continue reading Bovey Castle: a friendly, historic, luxury Dartmoor hotel stay

A romantic seaside stay in a beach suite at Cary Arms and Spa hotel, Devon

I’ve been lucky to stay in some of the best hotel rooms in the country but for sheer romance it’s hard to beat a Beach Suite at the delightful Cary Arms and Spa on Babbacombe Bay, Devon – in the heart of the ‘English Riviera’. With a private terrace suspended over the beach, the views across the sweeping bay are your very own to enjoy, as is a lounge with flickering virtual fire and cosy sofa, an immaculate bathroom and a very smart bedroom, all decked out in a classic New England-style.

cary arms hotel devon
Cary Arms and Spa sprawls above Babbacombe Beach on the South Devon coast and combines the charm of a traditional seaside inn with the comforts of a boutique hotel

There are lovely touches, such as a coffee table handmade from stones and driftwood from the east coast of Scotland, a decanter of Plymouth sloe gin to tuck into, a bite-sized portion of seaside rock on your pillow instead of the usual chocolate and thick rugs for you to wrap yourself up in on the loungers outside for when the weather isn’t quite as clement as you’d hoped.

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Our bedroom which opens straight over our private terrace (it would usually be made up as a double but it’s a little less romantic when it’s two friends staying… still gorgeous though)

Some seaside hotels have great views but are far from the beach itself: the Cary Arms is right on the beach and has views to match from every room. The Beach Suites allow you to really embed yourself in the landscape, as both the lounge and bedroom have glass walls which fold back so you can roll out of bed onto the decking and simply spend the day soaking up the sun (or, if the weather is being very ‘British’ then enjoying the sight of the waves crashing onto Babbacombe beach).

cary arms hotel devon
Our Beach Suite terrace – the first room is the lounge and the second is the bedroom – which looked straight out on the beach
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A corner of our spacious lounge which was decked out in New England-style coastal colours (note the complimentary decanter of sloe gin on the table)
cary arms hotel devon
Our handmade coffee table

There’s fast wifi, a fridge stocked with fresh milk and wine and the bathroom has all the fluffy towels and toiletries you could wish for (and a super-strong hairdryer). It’s the kind of place in which I’d love to live for a few months in glorious isolation, writing a novel while gazing at the waves, or enjoying a lengthy honeymoon with no-one to distract you except from the seagulls (seals – especially local favourite Sammy the seal – and even dolphins have also been spotted in the bay). Cary Arms can also be accessed directly from the beach and there are several mooring points for overnight stays in case the hotel is full (a likely prospect in the summer months).


To book directly with the hotel, go to: Cary Arms and Spa
To compare prices for the Cary Arms and Spa click on: Expedia  Hotels.com – HotelsCombined.com
To read more reviews and check the latest prices click here to go to Cary Arms and Spa on TripAdvisor


Continue reading A romantic seaside stay in a beach suite at Cary Arms and Spa hotel, Devon

Chewton Glen hotel, New Forest – luxury from spa to treehouse

It isn’t often you plan on spending the night at a rather grand country house hotel and find yourself sleeping in a treehouse on stilts in the middle of a forest. But the treehouses at Chewton Glen, the five-star hotel and spa located deep in the heart of the New Forest in Hampshire, are about as far removed from the rickety wooden contraptions of one’s childhood (or Bart Simpson’s) as you could get.

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Chewton Glen has 12 luxury treehouses hovering above the forest floor

In fact, they probably shouldn’t really be called treehouses at all, but maybe ‘luxury forest lodges’ probably didn’t sound, well, as much fun. The hotel’s own blurb describes them as secluded and romantic with the ‘exterior architecture in perfect harmony with the surrounding treescape’ and ‘on stilts, delicately balanced between the valley and tree canopy.’

I would probably describe them as ‘a really posh and gorgeous set of rooms which for some reason are plonked in the middle of a forest.’

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Each treehouse has its own wood-burning stove, private balcony and hot tub

They might be on stilts but thankfully they didn’t feel at all delicately balanced and indeed once you were inside, it was easy to forget that you were hovering several metres above the forest floor.

Continue reading Chewton Glen hotel, New Forest – luxury from spa to treehouse

Whatley Manor review: a Cotswolds gem revisited (with added oxygen)

There is always a worry when it comes to revisiting a hotel which you totally adored on the first visit – what if it’s not going to be as good as you remembered it? I know people who won’t go to the same place twice for that very reason, and others who, having found the perfect place, refuse to go anywhere else.

Thankfully Cotwolds luxury hotel Whatley Manor was every bit as good as I remembered it to be from my first visit. Whatley Manor is certainly not a budget option, but there are few hotels who can offer a luxury spa, private cinema, Michelin-starred restaurant and acres of beautiful gardens, which means a stay here is more than worth it.

Whatley Manor review
The entrance to Whatley Manor is in a beautiful courtyard

The drive into the courtyard at Whatley Manor sets the scene for a memorable stay; the large wooden gates sweep open for you as you approach, as if welcoming you in to a secret world. This time I even looked the part, as Vauxhall had kindly lent me a brand new Astra for my jaunt (more details below) which looked much smarter than my bright yellow Fiat.

Staff miraculously appeared out of nowhere to welcome us, take our bags and valet-park our car, and a very indulgent stay had begun.  General manager Sue Williams has now been at Whatley Manor for just over a year, having previously run the equally grand Cliveden House hotel, and has thankfully resisted any drastic obvious changes (although much work has been going on behind the scenes).

whatley manor review
Touches such as bright yellow wellies and beautiful artwork makes Whatley Manor a lovely place to visit

There is still a lovely country house feel to the hotel, with its stone floors, mullioned windows, sprawling grounds and little touches here and there, from chess boards set up ready to play, wellies to borrow and cosy sofas dotted all around.

Built in the 19th century, Whatley Manor became a hotel in 1987 and is now owned by hotelier and keen equestrian Christian Landolt, but still has the feeling of a grand home – although the private cinema and a high-end spa make it a cut above your usual manor house. Continue reading Whatley Manor review: a Cotswolds gem revisited (with added oxygen)

A picture-perfect Cotswolds stay at The Manor House, Castle Combe

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.

the manor house castle combe
The Manor House Hotel is surrounded by beautiful lawns, the Bybrook river and there’s even a golf course on the other side of the hotel

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.

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The Manor House was built in the 14th century to replace a Norman castle and former inhabitants include Sir John Falstaff who was immortalised by Shakespeare in Henry IV. The Manor House was sold in 1947 and has been a hotel ever since

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.

the manor house castle combe
The Wiltshire village of Castle Combe has remained unchanged over the centuries and is a hit with tourists and film makers alike

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.

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To book directly with the hotel, go to: The Manor House hotel and golf
To compare prices for The Manor House click on: HotelsCombined – Expedia – Hotels.com
To read more reviews click here to go to The Manor House on TripAdvisor
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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