Baronial sweeping staircases, the scent of rose gardens, cucumber sandwiches, croquet lawns, stern portraits of 19th century gentry, gin-and-tonic on a terrace overlooking a lake: we all love a relaxing weekend at an English Country House. For a few short days we can play the aristocrat, luxuriating in four-poster beds and waking to the smell of bacon cooking for a traditional full English Breakfast.
Above all we love the stories lurking beyond the sturdy oak-panelled doors and timbered walls: tales of battles won and lost, fortunes made and lost, maidens loved and lost.
Our country hotels are a reminder of England’s long and turbulent history of invasion, civil war and insurrection. Inevitably the ghosts of some of our ancestors refuse to rest in peace.
Chilston Park Hotel, Kent
Sat in 22 acres of parkland in the Garden of England, the Palladian facade of Chilston Park Hotel pays tribute to an elegant age. With rooms named after Queen Anne and Hogarth this 53 room residence recalls the era of Jane Austen when ladies of the house would have played sonatas on the Grand Piano to entertain the gentlemen.
The house is a treasure trove of antiques, art work and books often telling the story of the British Empire with oriental prints and dark carved mythological creatures from afar. Family photo albums, dating from Victorian times, watercolours of rural scenes and overflowing bookshelves fascinate guests.
Crathorne Hall Hotel, North Yorkshire
Perfectly positioned for exploring the North Yorkshire Moors and the Whitby coastline, Crathorne Hall was the largest country house to be built during the Edwardian Era.
From 1906 onwards the wealthy Dugdale family hosted royalty, politicians and celebrities in the 115 room house. Guests came to fish, shoot grouse and be luxuriously cared for by the house’s 26 live-in servants.
Crathorne Hall became a luxury hotel in 1977 complete with helipad. The sumptuous Crathorne Suite has supreme south-facing views over the Leven valley which continues to attract royalty and celebrities.
From 1910 to 1977 Mrs Davidson was Crathorne’s cook delighting visiting Prime Ministers with her game dishes, home-made soups and cakes. Today the Leven Restaurant with locally-sourced game, fish from Whitby, Black Pudding from Thirsk and produce from Crathorne’s kitchen garden continues the tradition of making the most of North Yorkshire’s specialities
New Hall Hotel and Spa, Warwickshire
Being gently woken by a lily-covered moat lapping below two walls of your room is one of life’s more romantic experiences.
Much of New Hall, in Sutton Coldfield, just ten miles from the centre of Birmingham, dates back 800 years or more. Though there was a considerable renovation programme undertaken before Henry Vlll’s visit for a spot of Boar Hunting on the estate’s 22 acres. With its mullioned windows, wall hangings and burgundy decor – New Hall is a slice of Tudor life which is highly popular as a wedding venue.
Alongside the romance, New Hall has survived the Wars of the Roses and The English Civil War. Allegedly there are ghosts too: a splendid Cavalier gentleman in an elegant ruffed velvet suit from the Civil War, a mute peasant executed when he failed to reveal the whereabouts of Bonnie Prince Charlie and a mysterious Lady in Red.
De Vere Tortworth Court, Gloucestershire
Tortworth Court, in South Gloucestershire, has mastered the art of looking back to Britain’s finer moments, over the last few centuries, without being confined by too much historical accuracy. Although the construction of Tortworth began as recently as 1848, its architecture recalls the Elizabethan glory days of Drake, Hawkins and Raleigh.
Mixing tan leather sofas with discrete hints of tartan in the soft-furnishings and rurally themed water-colours, means that dashes of Balmoral are subtlety blended with the aura of one of the better London Gentleman’s Clubs. It is all as English as the afternoon tea of crustless-quartered sandwiches served in The 1853 Restaurant.
Then there’s a subtle English humour too. With a nod to Harry Potter, the speed limit is eight-and-three-quarter miles per hour. Finally, as you leave the beehive-dotted drive, there’s a very appropriate echo of Jeeves and Wooster.
“Toodle-pip!” proclaims the last sign as it bids your farewell.
The Vineyard, Berkshire
Finally, an Elizabethan Hotel and restaurant that was built in 1988, so it is New Elizabethan. Sir Peter Michael’s temple to wine is set in Berkshire’s green pastures near Newbury but the architectural inspiration is from his vineyard in California’s Sonoma Valley.
A vast painting, The Judgement of Paris, is at the heart of this property physically and emotionally. The canvas records a Damascene moment in 1976 when, in a blind-tasting, experienced wine connoisseurs rated Californian wines above French. Outrage followed with many demanding the resignation of the tasters.
You walk across a glass cellar ceiling looking down on 30,000 bottles of wine. If you’re not convinced by The Judgement of Paris verdict you can organise your own blind-tasting. Also remember to book a free cellar tour.