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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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).
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→
Just when you think you’ve stayed in the best hotels in the Cotswolds, along comes Whatley Manor and tops the lot. From the moment the gates opened to reveal a beautiful cobbled courtyard, the entrance garlanded by wisteria and lavender, through to the spa, private cinema, a Michelin-starred restaurant and superb gardens, Whatley Manor didn’t disappoint in any way.
Within two minutes of arriving at Barnsley House I had completely fallen in love with it – and that’s before I’d even tried out the private cinema, outdoor hot tub or delicious food. All these things were yet to come, but the welcome itself was so cheerful and friendly that I already knew I was in for a treat.
I arrived in the middle of what could be called controlled chaos: it was a wintery Saturday afternoon and a recent storm had cut all power to the local village. However Barnsley House had its own generator and so alone still had heat, power, light and all the essentials of life.
Staff were welcoming waifs and strays from nearby houses, sending out food parcels to guests on site, welcoming in cold and hungry visitors from the power-free Village Pub – also owned by Barnsley House – and had even found a dog basket to house someone’s dog temporarily in reception. There were roaring fires, and cosy sofas, and coffee with biscuits: the whole atmosphere was busy but still relaxed and welcoming, and instantly made you feel as if you were in safe hands. Continue reading Barnsley House – a wonderfully cosy Cotswolds hideaway→