You know how you never appreciate a place until you move away from it? That’s exactly what happened with me and Solihull, the West Midlands town that I called home for 10 years. When I left for the bright lights of London, I was happy to say goodbye. But coming back feels lovely. It’s a quiet, well-to-do place which, I’ve only just discovered, also boasts an incredible hotel – Hampton Manor – offering the perfect blend of traditional and contemporary in a wonderfully romantic setting. If only I’d known about this place when I was a single man in Solihull, searching for somewhere impressive to woo girlfriends. Still, all good things come to he who waits – because this country house hotel is a cracker. In celebration, we've found some of the most remarkable locations in the UK – just in time for Valentine's Day. Read on for more...
It stands in 45 acres of wooded grounds, near the cute village of Hampton-in-Arden. The location puts you in easy striking distance of Stratford-upon-Avon and Warwick Castle although, frankly, when you’re staying somewhere as special as this, you’ll find it hard to leave. There are just 15 individually designed suites, all with big desks, huge beds and, in our room at least, a fabulous view of the landscaped gardens. Charmingly, there are also books – good books at that – on the shelves, plus the sort of quality robes and slippers you’d expect from a hotel of this calibre. And while the surrounding area has no shortage of good gastropubs, you’d be well advised to enjoy at least one dinner in Peel’s, the hotel’s one Michelin-starred restaurant. Indeed, so proud are they of their gastronomic credentials that Hampton Manor is actually described as a ‘restaurant with rooms’...
We embarked on the journey that was head chef Rob Palmer’s seven course tasting menu with wine flight – and what a delight it was. Set in an atmospheric room with hand-painted wallpaper and intricately carved woodwork, every course was a delight – from the baked beetroot served with quinoa to delicate salmon with cucumber and dill. Simple, honest and quality produce was raised to new heights through inventive, contemporary cooking resulting, for example, in a beautifully rich main course of meltingly tender wagyu beef served with butternut squash, black garlic and parsley. The smoked eel with kohlrabi and samphire was also sublime. The accompanying wines were unusual with many hits and just a couple that were too challenging for us – although I’m sure true oenophiles would appreciate them. The whole experience is one of relaxed charm, with inventive menus and amazing attention to detail at every turn. If you’re looking to impress a special someone, Hampton Manor ticks all the boxes.
The five-star Irish Culloden Estate stands on the forested slopes of the Holywood hills, overlooking Belfast Lough and the glorious County Antrim coastline. Close to Belfast city, the luxurious spa is Northern Ireland’s premier sanctuary for mind, body and soul and guests can revel in a range of ESPA products and lavish therapies with eight treatment suites. Head chef Paul McKnight runs the Mitre restaurant, offering seasonal delicacies such as Thornhill duck liver with smoked pancetta, cabbage, potato and onion or beautiful Baroncourt estate venison with parsnip and white chocolate. The very best of Irish produce, in other words. Take a suite and you can enjoy an open gas fire and fabulous views of the 12 acres of landscaped gardens. Little wonder it was voted Luxury Hotel of the Year at the Irish Hotel Awards.
Set in the heart of one of the Lake District’s finest locations, the award-winning Storrs Hall on the shores of Lake Windermere offers spectacular views across the water in an elegant, luxurious setting. It’s easy to see why poets like Wordsworth were so inspired by this area – Windermere has drama and beauty in spades. It’s clearly inspired the hotel’s chefs too, as the tasting menu on offer is a textbook example in using local produce in inventive ways. From the brill served with purslane and artichokes to tender, aged beef with wild garlic and horseradish mash, it’s easy to see why the Lake Edge restaurant is a firm favourite for gastronomes. Those seeking a truly romantic time should stay at the brand new one-bedroom Boathouse, which provides guests with a retreat right on the lakeside and comes complete with a private hot-tub, fire-pit and alfresco dining. Strawberries and champagne at midnight in the hot tub? Sounds good to us.
The picturesque area of the Cotswolds is no slouch when it comes to luxury places to stay but, away from the big name hotels (Le Manoir, Whatley Manor et al), look a little further and you’ll discover the delights of truly local places, like The Ebrington Arms. The 17th century pub-with-rooms is set in a quaint village, complete with picture-postcard thatched cottages and sleepy lanes, and offers a great selection of local ales and a decent wine list. The flickering candles and roaring fire in the lounge only add to the cosy, homely experience. The food is first-rate, raising gastropub standards to new levels – think chunky Barnsley chops served with white beans and heritage tomatoes or rib eye of gammon with duck egg and pineapple chutney. Trencherman portions too. The bedrooms are utterly charming, offering village or countryside views. This little gem of a place was voted Pub of the Year by The Times.
Spread over a 125-acre Devon estate, Highbullen Hotel is a handsome Gothic country house that offers much for the energetic visitor, from tennis courts to swimming pools and golf. For those who’d simply like to relax with a loved one, though, settle into one of its antique wingback chairs, order up a glass of champagne and relax to the sound of one of its many ticking grandfather clocks as you feel the stresses of life ease away. Beautiful views over Exmoor from its fine dining restaurant are the perfect backdrop to a well-judged menu that includes technically tricky dishes such as boudin of Devon coast place with lobster sabayon and roasted tiger prawns, or roasted fillet of Exmoor National Park beef with chateaux potatoes. A brilliant wine list only adds to the sense of occasion at this renowned restaurant.
Yorkshire’s leading luxury hotel, which has just launched a rather swish spa, is set in 300 acres of landscaped gardens and offers a more contemporary take on the country house hotel. Think bold colours and plenty of modern art. The rooms of note are the Follifoot wing rooms, which include quirky touches such as leopard print chairs and beautiful rolltop baths. For golfing couples, the hotel offers an 18-hole course running through its parkland. Food lovers should head for Horto, the hotel’s AAA-rated restaurant which offers an inventive eight-course tasting menu that joins the dots between dishes such as pork cheek with celeriac and apple or scallops with caviar, to a beautiful sweet and sharp yuzu tart. As the Yorkshire Post says: “Sit back and savour the culinary magic.”