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.
Some hotels just get it completely right – and Hambleton Hall is one of them. From the traditional and immaculate bedroom, to the excellent food, lovely gardens, cosy bar and superb attention to detail, I can’t think of a single negative comment to make about my recent stay. Except that it’s not just round the corner from where I live – but I can hardly blame Hambleton Hall for that.
If this all sounds too gushing, then I defy anyone to not come away from a night’s stay without feeling incredibly content.
Part of Hambleton Hall’s charm must come from the fact that it is rather small compared to some other country house hotels, with just 15 bedrooms in the main house, so it all feels rather luxurious and exclusive. There is still ample room for you to find a little corner all to yourself, either in the downstairs living room, bar and reception area – all beautifully furnished – or in the gardens where little seats and tables are dotted around to make your own.
The wonderful thing about writing the ALadyofLeisure.com blog is that I’ve discovered so many new places which I would never in a million years have come across otherwise, and Ynyshir – which now bills itself as a restaurant with rooms – is a perfect example. Not only is it in a remote (to me) corner of West Wales, the nearest towns being Machynlleth to the north and Aberystwyth to the south, but thanks to spending teenage years hiking around Snowdonia I tend to associate the Welsh countryside with Youth Hostels and food cooked on a camping stove.
Nothing could be further from Ynyshir, former AA Hotel of the Year Wales, named in the Good Food Guide 2017-18 as one of the best restaurants in the UK, recently awarded an unprecedented five AA rosettes and with a Michelin star to its name thanks to chef Gareth Ward.
However it wasn’t the food that stays in my memory as much as the wonderful setting and the fabulous welcome I received. Some hotels can pay lip service to the idea of customer service and treating guests well but you can’t fake genuine warmth, and Joan Reen, who owned Ynyshir Hall with her husband Rob since 1989 before her sad passing last year, was a lovely and welcoming presence.
It was halfway through dinner at my first two-Michelin-starred restaurant experience at the Fischers Fritz in Berlin when I realised I was far more a ‘drinkie’ than a ‘foodie’ (assuming ‘drinkie is even a word.)
I was dining at the Fischers Fritz restaurant in the Regent Berlin, and had already been thoroughly over-excited at the arrival of my pre-dinner drink in the hotel bar. This was a Prince of Wales cocktail, a €23 Champagne cocktail which contained liberal servings of cognac and Grand Marnier, topped off with Angostura bitters and brown sugar and served rather incongruously in a silver goblet which grew almost freezing to the touch as the ice inside melted.
I was happily piling into that when I was invited into the dining room with the most wonderful phrase in the English language: ‘And you must really try our martini trolley.’