Country hotels: 8 of the best boltholes near London for a weekend away | The Independent


Early spring is the perfect time for a country escape – cosy mornings in bed, evenings by the fire and long walks to see the crocuses and daffodils heralding longer, warmer days.

You don’t need to go far to discover some of the best the country has to offer – here are some of the best boltholes within easy driving distance of London.

The best country hotels are:

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Neighbourhood: Stroud, the Cotswolds

The Painswick is a homely Georgian townhouse

(The Painswick)

In the picture-perfect village of Painswick, this homely Georgian townhouse is the ideal base for long walks across the crisp Cotswolds valleys, and the hotel provides rolled-up paper maps, wellies and food bags to help you on your way. Grab one and ramble through overgrown paths and sloping fields, crossing a cascading stream to the village of Slad, birthplace and resting place of poet Laurie Lee, where you can enjoy a well-earned pint. Just make sure you arrive back in time for tea and scones by the fire and a pre-dinner amble around the quaint stone village.

The Painswick is less stuffy and has a younger vibe than some of its Cotswolds counterparts, with a pool table and board game collection helping you while away rainy days. Cosy bedrooms come complete with piles of books, a retro radio and plenty of cushions, while the in-house spa offers an array of treatments for those less keen on braving the outdoors. Breakfast even includes a make-your-own Bloody Mary station – the perfect set-up for a winter escape.

Price: Doubles from £200, B&B

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Neighbourhood: Malmesbury, the Cotswolds

Whatley Manor boasts a Michelin-starred restaurant

(Whatley Manor)

Maybe it’s the mother-and-son ownership team or perhaps it’s the little touches – fresh coffee delivered straight to your room in the morning, for example – but a weekend at Whatley feels like a stay at your rich aunt’s country manor. Relax in the spa or spend long evenings sunken into a sofa in front of the crackling log fire in one of the several living rooms. Either way, rouse yourself to sample dinner at the two Michelin-starred restaurant overseen by head chef Niall Keating, 2018’s Michelin European Young Chef of the Year. The tasting menu features a fusion of Asian and traditional English flavours, and the breakfast menu is scarcely less decadent.

The Grade II-listed manor’s 21 rooms are decorated in bold, dark hues of red and brown and eye-catching patterns; the spa is small but offers a good range of treatments. With beautiful manicured gardens and rolling grounds perfect for a wintry wander, there’s no reason to leave, but if you did want to then the town of Malmesbury and its towering 12th-century abbey are a five-minute drive away.

Price: Doubles from £274, B&B

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Neighbourhood: Chippenham

Lucknam Park’s indoor/outdoor pool

(Lucknam Park)

The front door of this sprawling country house opens on to the scent of wood fire wafting across luxe lounges. The 42 rooms are elegant and traditional, bearing all the hallmarks of the hotel’s history as a wealthy merchant’s family home – think sink-in carpets, period dressers, ornate four-posters and huge marble bathrooms. Some are in the main house, while others are in the former stables and cottages laid around a quaint courtyard.

It is the award-winning spa, though, where Lucknam really comes into its own. A 20m indoor pool, a heated outdoor section for taking in the wintry garden views and an amethyst room are just part of the chill-out options, while innovative treatments include dry floatation. You’ll want to drag yourself away for dinner at Restaurant Hywel Jones, designed to recreate an old-fashioned dining room, where thick white tablecloths and the clink of heavy silver cutlery feeds the air of splendour. Those wanting a more relaxed evening won’t even need to leave the spa building: head to the adjacent brasserie for top-notch pub-style grub.

Price: Doubles from £375, room only

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Best for relaxation: Dormy House

Neighbourhood: Broadway, the Cotswolds

Dormy House makes for a cosy bolthole

(Dormy House)

Flagstone floors, dark oak panelling and splendid armchairs in front of roaring fires – this is Cotswolds chic at its best. Intimate bedrooms follow a similar theme, with oak beams and rustic decor reminding you of this old farmhouse’s previous life. Each room is distinctive: the Attic suite offers a snug hideaway, while hot tub suites spread across the grounds come with their own jacuzzis.

While away the morning reading in one of the living rooms before wandering down to the spa to inhale lavender-infused steam and unwind in the outdoor jacuzzi. Don’t stay all day, though – you’ll want to venture out to explore the wider Farncombe Estate, of which Dormy is part. Grab a map from reception and head towards its cosy sister hotel, The Fish, for early-evening board games and dinner at the Hook restaurant, stopping on the way to admire the sweeping views across the valley. If you want to go further afield, wander down to the picture-perfect village of Broadway, with its quaint high street and the famous Lygon Arms hotel, which dates from the 13th century and once hosted Oliver Cromwell.

Price: Doubles from £299, B&B

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Neighbourhood: Ascot, Berkshire

Prince Harry reportedly stayed at Coworth Park the night before his wedding

(Coworth Park)

Tucked among 240 acres of rolling fields on the edge of Windsor Great Park, Coworth is an 18th-century manor house turned into a modern country hotel. It’s part of the Dorchester Collection and offers the level of hospitality you would expect, with nothing left to chance. Rooms are modern yet indulgent, with standalone copper bathtubs (complete with book rests), ginormous beds and decadent furnishings. They’re dotted across the estate, with some in the main house and others in collections of cottages a short golf buggy-ride away. Staff are just the right level of friendly and only too happy to show you around the sprawling grounds.

Guests can choose between two restaurants: Michelin-starred Restaurant Coworth Park serves British fare under the masterful eye of young chef Adam Smith; while The Barn provides a more relaxed setting. The hotel has its own polo club that often plays host to members of the royal family – Prince Harry reportedly stayed here the night before his wedding. Just 25 miles from central London, it’s perfect for an easy weekend escape.

Price: Doubles from £625, room only

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Neighbourhood: Watford, Hertfordshire

The Grove has a championship golf course

(The Grove)

This is the hotel of choice for the England football teams, and it’s not hard to see why. The Three Lions stay here before games, and used it as a base before the 2018 World Cup. The Grove provides all you need to keep busy, and is great for families with kids. A championship golf course, tennis courts, badminton and table tennis, plus bikes and Segways to hire, will keep even the most active guests happily occupied, while those wanting a more relaxing stay can indulge at the top-notch spa.

In the summer months, the outdoor pool and adjacent sand area with deckchairs are packed with families. The Grove hosts a series of food pop-ups, including in its huge greenhouse, where fresh vegetables from the hotel’s walled gardens are turned into creative dishes. The hotel is big and feels slightly anonymous but rooms are modern and pleasant, with Bose speakers. Best of all, you don’t even need to leave London, although the 300 acres of meadow and woodland mean it’s deliciously easily to forget you are still inside the M25.

Price: Doubles from £400, B&B

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Neighbourhood: Dorking, Surrey

The White Horse has undergone a £4m refurb

(The White Horse)

Located in the heart of Dorking, this 13th-century coaching inn offers understated luxury without the wallet-emptying prices. It reopened in 2018 following a £4m refurbishment that transformed the interiors. The 56 chic rooms include original oak beams and retro décor. Charles Dickens took up residence here while writing The Pickwick Papers and the novelist and his works are the theme of many of the fixtures and fittings.

For those wanting a more rural break, the hotel is within easy distance of the North Downs and Surrey Hills, perfect for a weekend wander. The restaurant offers meat-heavy British fare, including pork belly, braised game pie and a range of steaks, while the bar serves a good range of local ales. There’s even a deli on site selling Surrey produce.

Price: Doubles from £89, room only

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Best for nature: The Pig

Neighbourhood: Brockenhurst, New Forest

The Pig has a rustic vibe

(The Pig)

Hidden in a clearing in Hampshire’s New Forest, The Pig is a converted Georgian shooting lodge that has not forgotten its roots. The plant-filled conservatory, spa treatments in the converted potting shed, and a shepherd’s hut – pretty much a wooden shack with a bed in the middle – foster a peaceful, rustic feel. You can hire bikes to explore the forest or, if the weather allows, take part in one of the organised foraging trips.

The walled kitchen garden sends fruit and vegetables straight to the kitchens to be served with local meats and game bird. The 24 simple but charming rooms are divided into categories of Snug, Cosy or Spacious and offer roll-top baths and walk-in showers, while two hideaways and a private forest cabin can be booked if you really want to get away from it all. The hotel is the smaller, cooler and, yes, cheaper sibling of Lime Wood, which is just up the road.

Price: Doubles from £195, B&B

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