Written by Lizzie Pook
Looking for a stylish staycation? Here are the coolest hotels and places to stay in the UK right now, as chosen by our travel editor.
There are plenty of reasons to choose a staycation right now. Not only will you be supporting local businesses and keeping your carbon footprint small by staying in the country, but as the situation concerning Coronavirus (COVID-19) develops, avoiding long-haul travel is something many of us might be making the decision to do.
But holidaying here doesn’t have to mean sacrificing beautiful beaches or buzzy food scenes. The UK boasts some of the most spectacular scenery around – from the staggering Scottish Highlands to the woodpecker-filled Wye Valley – all of which is ripe for exploring without having to step foot on a plane.
And from grand 18th century houses, to just-for-two treehouse suites, there are plenty of British boltholes that make cosying up for a staycation seem even more tempting than ever. So here’s my pick of the coolest places to stay in the UK right now.
Heckfield Place, Hampshire
Only an hour from London, set in 400 sprawling acres of woodlands and manicured grounds, Heckfield Place is as handsome as it is historic. Originally built in 1790, the grand building has been meticulously made over, and now gleams with marble fireplaces, flagstone floors, sweeping staircases and opulent Persian rugs.
Everything’s decked out in blush pink, forest green and grey and the effect is one of restful loveliness (without being too OTT). There are 45 bedrooms in total, including The Long Room (which is an eye-watering £10,000 a night) and upstairs rooms in the main house and corridor rooms. These are slightly more modern, yet still have that polished mahogany and slouchy leather feel, with milking stools in the bathrooms and tastefully scattered velvet cushions.
Food is a huge deal at Heckfield – it’s overseen by Skye Gyngell of Petersham Nurseries and Spring at Somerset House fame – and the focus is on home-grown, seed-to-plate dining, with hearty dishes including rhubarb trifle, slow-cooked lamb and scallops with apple cream.
Elsewhere there’s also a lake to swim in, a Little Bothy spa – with massages and facials using ethically-sourced, natural products – and a glamorous screening room for lazy evening movie marathons.
From £350 per night; heckfieldplace.com
University Arms, Cambridge
Sitting pretty in the heart of bookish Cambridge, The University Arms underwent an £80 million facelift in 2018 and has re-emerged like a freshly-coiffed grand dame. Originally opened as a coaching inn in 1834, the elegant hotel is now awash with nods to the university’s famous alumni, from the Alan Bennett recording of Wind in the Willows playing in the ground floor loos, and its entire suite dedicated to Stephen Hawking, to the impressive library stacked to the rafters with history-worn books and crackling fireplaces.
Rooms and suites come in chalky shades of Cambridge blue, red and mustard – topped off with chic monochrome bathrooms and freestanding tubs – and the restaurant is a riot of reimagined British dishes using locally-sourced ingredients like Norfolk potted shrimps and Saffron Walden lamb (you can also build your own ice cream sundaes for dessert, which is a lot of fun).
If you want to explore the surrounding area, simply pick up one of the hotel’s Cambridge Cartographic Quartet maps, borrow a bike and pack a Parkers Panier basket for an afternoon of picnicking and punting.
Rooms from £143 per night, suites from £419 per night; universityarms.com
The Fife Arms, Scotland
Take a deep breath before you enter the Fife Arms – a treasure chest of a hotel, set in Scotland’s rugged Cairngorms national park – because you may feel as if you’ve tumbled down the rabbit hole and into some sort of bonkers fairytale. From the menagerie of beady-eyed taxidermy animals on the walls, to the ‘flying stag’ that watches over the bar of the same name, this place is out-and-out OTT.
And with Swiss gallerists Hauser & Wirth at the helm, the maximalist hotel veritably brims with art: a Lucian Freud here, a Picasso there, oh, and how about a sketch by Queen Victoria herself (whose beloved Balmoral is just 10 minutes away)? Elsewhere, décor is part traditional Scottish, part Victorian gothic, with tartan walls, eclectic vintage trinkets and foliage-print sofas. Bedrooms range from cosy Croft Rooms to grand suites bursting with antiques, and the scandi-style spa is a little pocket of tranquillity offering up massages using hot Cairngorms stones and detoxifying seaweed and salt.
For dinner, think fine dining under fancy chandeliers at the Clunie Dining Room – with standout dishes including Scottish squid risotto and salt-baked celeriac – or colossal portions of comfort food at The Flying Stag pub.
Outside the cosy walls, spend your days exploring lochs, lush forests and the wonderful wildlife of the Cairngorms, including golden eagles, mountain hares and Scottish wild cats (so rare they’re known as ‘Highland tigers’).
Rooms from £250 per night and suites from £750 per night, including breakfast; thefifearms.com
The Hudnalls Hideout, Wye Valley
Seen Sex Education? (Of course you have). You may well recognise the Wye Valley then, as it forms the beautiful backdrop for the smash-hit Netflix show. In fact, the bridge that Otis and Eric so often trudge across in their wonderfully retro jackets is just a stone’s throw from the brand spanking new Hudnalls Hideout.
This just-for-two treehouse escape on the Wales-England border is ideal for those who want to get back to nature but still like to sleep in luxurious surroundings. Suspended four metres above the ground on a hillside above the Hudnalls Woods – filled with woodpeckers, hooting owls and scurrying squirrels – the treehouse has been painstakingly hand-crafted across two levels, offering treetop views from the kingsize bed, floor-to-ceiling windows that open onto nature and interiors created in partnership with Made.com.
On the decking, you’ll find a copper bath (with room for two) set against a backlit fern sculpture, forming the perfect spot from which to sip on a glass of champagne as the stars come out and the forest goes to sleep. In the morning, you’ll be greeted with a breakfast hamper of goodies from the nearby village and you’ll have the day to indulge in plenty of activities in the surrounding area, from forest bathing and wild swimming to wildlife walks, hiking, biking and kayaking down the Wye.
From £215 per night; hudnallshideout.co.uk
Artist Residence, Bristol
The long-awaited Artist Residence Bristol will inject some serious cool into a formerly-dilapidated boot factory in the St Pauls district when it opens in May. In fact, the boutique brand is known for its bold, eclectic design, which pairs contemporary art with historical character to brilliant effect.
After opening their first hotel in Brighton more than 10 years ago, they’ve since rolled out buzzed-about spots in Oxfordshire, London and Penzance, but this is their most ambitious project yet.
With 23 bedrooms – complete with roll-top baths, retro Roberts radios and artwork from the likes of Pure Evil and Rose Vickers – as well as a bar, café and the Boot Factory restaurant, this will be a prime place from which to visit Bristol’s vintage shops, art galleries and pretty parks.
From £100 per night; artistresidence.co.uk
The Pig at Harlyn Bay, Cornwall
When it opens in June, the seventh in the line of the wonderfully successful Pig hotels – which are scattered across rural locations from Dorset to Kent – will no doubt be one of the most sought-after places to stay in Cornwall. Known for their blend of vintage cool interiors and superlative kitchen garden restaurants, the Pigs are something of a second home for those who love wellie-clad walks and countryside views.
The newest Cornish arrival – just outside Harlyn village, close to the beautiful surf beaches of Constantine Bay – will house 26 rooms in a grand Grade II-listed 16th century house and stables, as well as four on-trend shepherds huts, a signature Potting Shed spa and restaurant serving up dishes from the comprehensive kitchen garden.
But there’ll also be an old pigsty, which has been converted into The Lobster Shed, serving up wood-fired flatbreads and local seafood – which we just love the sound of. Next up for the hotel group? The Pig in the South Downs, set to open in Spring 2021.
From £159 per night; thepighotel.com
The House at Beaverbrook, Surrey
There’s something unabashedly Gatsby-esque about Beaverbrook – a place which practically thrums with the decadence of British high society. The story goes that in 1910, while out driving with his friend Rudyard Kipling, Lord Beaverbrook noticed a ‘for sale’ sign up at the mansion, and purchased it after only a single inspection. He installed electricity, heating, a swimming pool and the first cinema to ever go into a private home in the UK. Over the subsequent years he hosted riotous parties at the house with celebrity guests including Winston Churchill, Ian Fleming, Charlie Chaplin and Elizabeth Taylor.
You’ll find the same sort of glamour at Beaverbrook today, whether it’s the opulent chandeliers, Sir Frank’s bar – which is filled with velvet chairs, tasseled lamps and floor-to-ceiling panels of natural history illustrations from around the world – the huge Gerhard Richter tapestry in the glass-domed lobby, or the outrageously cool stained-glass spa, where magic-fingered therapists work out post-party muscle tension in serene surroundings.
The 18 rooms in the main house are named after famous guests – you’ll find a huge James Bond photograph hanging over the bath in the Fleming studio suite and a private door in Winston Churchill’s favourite suite, through which he used to escape discreetly during war time (the estate is reported to have been used as an alternative bunker during WWII, hosting the entire war cabinet on occasion). All come with lavish tiled bathrooms, deep tubs and Bamford products.
Food is exquisite here too, from the Mediterranean flatbreads served at the Garden House restaurant to the pristinely-presented dishes served up at ex-Nobu head chef Maruyama Taiji’s Japanese Grill. These include divine miso blackened cod, cactus-fed turbot seasoned with Kentish ants (to give it a ‘citrus flavour’) and even Japanese tacos made of wasabi tobiko and crispy seaweed. Wash it all down with a Green Tea Pisco Sour cocktail and you won’t be sorry.
From £385 per night; beaverbrook.co.uk
The Newt, Somerset
Anyone in the know knows that The Newt is the staycation spot of the moment. Often described as one of the most exceptional country house hotels in the UK, it took six years for South African owners Koos Bekker and his wife Karen Roos (behind the sublime Babylonstoren in the Cape winelands) to get the 17th-century house into the shape they wanted.
Now, you’ll find everything here, from a cider press and gardening museum, to a thatched ice cream parlour and mushroom house. That’s not to mention the magnificent gardens, filled with treetop walks, an apple tree maze and wild swimming ponds (home to the colony of great crested newts, after which the hotel is named).
The 23 bedrooms are so pared-back they’re almost Scandi, and are set across the garden, the loft, the clock house and the stable yard. Two restaurants – the glass-walled Garden Café and the Botanical Rooms with its sleek open kitchen – serve up food from the kitchen gardens and greenhouses, with mouthwatering dishes such as turbot with brown crab sauce, expansive chartuterie and cheese boards and barbecued pork. Make sure you order the sourdough apple bread and butter, its homeliness in a loaf.
From £275 per night; thenewtinsomerset.com
The Blonde Hedgehog, Alderney
Set on the beautiful – and slightly remote – Channel Island of Alderney, this new hotel is named after the island’s population of rare blonde hedgehogs. Which is, quite frankly, enough to make us fall in love with it.
Here, nine rooms are split across two 18th-century buildings – there’s also a three-bedroom cottage for families to hole up in – and are filled with antique knick-knacks, beamed ceilings, roll-top bath tubs and soothing tones of teal and blush pink.
Head out around Alderney (which is just three miles long and a mile and a half wide) to explore blustery wind-blasted heaths, tiny hidden coves and cliffs speckled with puffins and gannets. Then return to farm-to-table dishes at the cosy restaurant and a night of gazing at the stars that seem to tumble down to the sea.
From £230 per night; blondehedgehog.com
Gara Rock, Devon
Images: courtesy of venues
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