By Rose Shepherd
With spring in the air and St Valentine’s Day fast approaching, our fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love. The Guide has a wide choice of recommended hotels for a romantic break. Here are a few of our favourites.
The Sienna marble Fountain of Love will arrest your gaze as you approach this Italianate mansion, standing on a bluff amid pleasure grounds, above the Thames. Steeped in racy history, it was built for the 2nd Duke of Buckingham to house his mistress in the larky days of the Restoration, and was rebuilt by Charles (Palace of Westminster) Barry. There are four-poster rooms, hot-tub rooms, opulent suites… You can dine à deux under sparkling chandeliers, drink cocktails in the Library Bar, or just book for a champagne afternoon tea, then wander the National Trust parkland.
Here is – literally – a dream of a hotel. In 1983 the late Imogen Skirving, a legendary hostess, dreamt that her apricot-washed Georgian home was transformed, and people of all nations were gathered there. Acting upon this, she first let two bedrooms, and over time created a wonderfully characterful hotel, run today by her granddaughter, Lila Arora. Each bedroom has its own style, from four-poster Edwards to Cartland, once a favourite of Dame Barbara, doyenne of romantic fiction. Or you can opt for a chalet on the croquet lawn, in gardens and parkland with medieval fishponds stocked with carp.
There are lovely views from this luxury hotel, with accommodation ranging from ‘comfy country-house-style’ bedrooms to spa lodges with mood lighting, steam room, rainmaker shower, huge stone bath, outdoor sauna and hot tub. Llamas and alpacas roam the 21-acre grounds. There is a champagne bar, croquet lawn, Michelin-starred cuisine in HRiSHi, more casual pan-Asian fare in Gilpin Spice. Lake House, a mile away, is a fully staffed boutique hotel, a haven of peace, with a pool, hot tub and 100-acre grounds.
There is an ambience of pure indulgence at this cliff-top Georgian mansion, while the Serenity Spa – with eucalyptus steam room, pool with massage stations, Asian herbal samarium, salt sauna, outdoor hot tubs and Zen garden – is sybaritic heaven. Interiors are modern and bold. You can dine alfresco in a heated private pod as the sun sinks into the sea, under gold-plated chandeliers in the dining room, or – for a touch of Asian spice – in the spa’s Ozone restaurant.
The adventure begins when you board the world’s only ‘Sea Tractor’ to time travel back to the glamorous 1930s, at this Art Deco hotel on its own tidal island. Past guests have included Edward and Mrs Simpson, Josephine Baker, Amy Johnson, Noël Coward and Agatha Christie. Most rooms have a full sea view, some a balcony. Dinner in the Grand Ballroom is a black-tie affair – or go for pub grub in the cosy 14th-century Pilchard Inn. It’s a bit cold for a dip in the seawater Mermaid Pool, but there is a spa with hot tub and steam room.
If you’re nostalgic for the golden days of rail travel, this could be just the ticket. One of Britain’s prettiest Victorian stations, built for the Prince of Wales so he could visit Goodwood, is today a first-class B&B. Novel accommodation includes beautifully restored, original Pullman carriages, with mahogany fittings, as well as rooms in the station building itself. There is no dining car, but you can order flowers and champagne to await your arrival…
…Or take a real train. Board the Caledonian Sleeper at teeming London Euston Station, and awake next morning to a revelation. Rannoch moor is a vast wilderness of moor and peat bog, lochs and lochans, where you will see more deer than people. This jewel of a hotel is quite simple, with just five rooms, but you can linger over an imaginative, daily-changing menu of locally sourced and home-grown produce. The star-filled night sky is spectacular, and you may even see the greatest light show on Earth, Aurora Borealis.
Every bedroom comes with its own story at the Leslie clan’s 19th-century mansion, set on a country estate of lakes, woodland and gardens. Aggie’s Heritage room, a veritable boudoir with free-standing slipper bath, recalls Agnes Bernelle, ‘wartime secret agent, cabaret legend, actress, and Ireland’s oldest punk’. From the balconied Eagle’s Nest, the Leslie children once thought they could parachute down using only an umbrella… Public rooms brim with heirlooms and memorabilia. For the family there has clearly been never a dull moment, and for visitors, too, a stay here is an experience. The Guide reader who ‘felt like I was in a fairy tale’ was not far wrong.
See here for more of our selections of most romantic hotels.