Think charming country houses, rambling gardens, and royally good afternoon tea
S oaring mountains, rushing rivers, and a ruggedly beautiful coastline – it’s unsurprising that painters and poets have sung England’s praises over the centuries. Home to lively cities, vibrant market towns and scenic stretches of countryside, this green and pleasant land also boasts a buzzy boutique hotel scene. Whether you’re in search of a luxury spa retreat, a back-to-nature break, or a gourmet getaway, these oh-so English escapes are flying the flag for stylish staycations and positively perfect vacations.
1. The Retreat at Elcot Park, Berkshire
Set in sixteen acres of enchanting grounds with far-reaching views over the North Wessex Downs, The Retreat at Elcot Park makes quite the first impression. The Grade II-listed country house was once the childhood home of Percy Bysshe Shelley’s mother – the most spectacular suite which comes with a rolltop bath and raiding rights to the pantry takes the Romantic poet’s name, while his portrait still hangs above the entrance hall’s roaring fireplace.
Expect escapist, element-of-surprise interiors filled with clever colour clashes, equestrian art (The Retreat is just a gallop away from Newbury Racecourse), and four-poster beds fit for a king or queen. From tennis and croquet to clay pigeon shooting, plus a grab-and-go welly wall for country walks, there are endless ways to stay entertained in true English fashion. And we haven’t even mentioned the two bespoke restaurants, soothing spa, and heated outdoor cabana-lined pool…
Further reading: A look inside…The Retreat at Elcot Park
2. The Mitre Hotel, Surrey
Taking up prime position on the waterfront opposite historic Hampton Court Palace – the ancestral home of Henry VIII – The Mitre Hotel draws on its royal connections and guarantees an English country house-style experience just a short train journey from London’s city centre. Indulge in one of the Royal rooms – the Catherine Parr suite perhaps, named after Henry VIII’s last wife – and delight in details like copper roll top baths, four poster beds and expansive river views.
King Henry pops up again as the inspiration behind the all-day café and wine bar Coppernose, while tables at 1665 Riverside Brasserie overlook the Thames. Book The Mitre’s picnic service to create a bespoke hamper from the restaurant menu, add a bottle (or two), and enjoy on the river bank in true ‘Wind in the Willows’ tradition. Well-behaved dogs are made to feel at home with a welcome pack of treats in nine dog-friendly rooms on the ground floor of the hotel, which have direct access to an outdoor terrace.
The Mitre Hotel photographed by Claire Menary
3. Dormy House Hotel, Cotswolds
A honey-hued farmhouse dating back to the 17th-century, Dormy House Hotel is a delightful retreat which defines country house cool, an easy ramble from the postcard-perfect Cotswold-stone village of Broadway. There is a ‘kick your shoes off’ atmosphere here, where guests are encouraged to make themselves at home.
A cosy feel runs throughout the individually styled rooms and suites, decorated in dusky blues, garden greens, and rosy apple pinks with a sprinkling of Scandi-chic touches here and there. Spend a heavenly afternoon in the spa, a light and uplifting rural outside-in space with a terrace hot tub, before sitting down to a laid-back supper in The Shed beside the fire.
To feel like you’re stepping onto the set of The Holiday, reserve Dormy House’s Rose Cottage – a tucked away dwelling in the rural grounds of the Farncombe Estate, which sleeps two guests (and a well-behaved pooch) in a king-size bed beneath exposed timbers and fabulously floral wallpaper.
4. The Nare, Cornwall
Flanked by colourful gardens and overlooking the white sands and gentle waves of Gerrans Bay, The Nare has all the exclusivity of a private island. Soak up the sunshine by the bay-side outdoor pool, take a dip in the outdoor hot tub, or get into the swing of things on the hotel’s tennis court.
See Cornwall’s captivating coastline and the picturesque Roseland Peninsula from the water aboard Alice Rose, an elegant 38′ motor launch dedicated for guests’ private use and perfect for exploring the Fal and Helford Rivers, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Back on dry land, kick off sandy shoes in the boot room and indulge in cream tea in the charming drawing room, or curl up with a book in front of the log fire.
5. Monkey Island Estate, Berkshire
An exclusive estate on Berkshire’s river Thames, Monkey Island was originally a medieval monastery, before becoming an aristocratic home and finally a hotel that attracted royalty, writers, composers and actors. A careful renovation has preserved features of the 18th century property, while adding in contemporary comforts like marble en-suite bathrooms. The Grade I-listed Wedgewood Suite steals the show with its wood-panelling and intricate ivory plasterwork sculpted into mermaids and seashells, accessed only via mooring or footbridge.
The brasserie serves up modern British menus – as well as classic traditions such as afternoon tea on the lawn. While in the Monkey Bar and lounge, sip champagne while admiring at the playful frescoes that date from the 1730s. If you can tear yourself away from the idyllic grounds and river views, the estate is close to Windsor, and boating hotspots Henley and Marlow. Swap rowing for some spa time aboard Monkey Island’s converted wellness barge (pictured above), where treatments are enhanced by the gentle movement of the water.
6. Great Fosters, Surrey
Staying at Great Fosters is a little like stepping into a period film set. Surrounded by 50 acres of meticulously landscaped gardens, England’s green and pleasant scenery greets you from the moment you arrive. And with a guest list that includes Orson Welles and Charlie Chaplin, the hotel’s 400-year history is as rich as its delicately tended grounds. From 17th century Flemish tapestries adorning the walls, to intricately carved feature pieces dating back to Jacobean times and Grade I-listed wall features, you will feel like the Tudor royalty who once resided at Great Fosters in any one of The Historic Suites.
The royal experience continues in the Michelin-starred restaurant The Tudor Room, headed up by Great British Menu contestant and former Noma chef, Tony Parkin. Dine on modern English masterpieces surrounded by mullion windows, a Flemish tapestry, and a large period fireplace. Be sure to try the hotel’s very own Great Fosters’ Gin, or their honey which you will find served at breakfast and featuring in the menu.
7. Alexander House & Utopia Spa, West Sussex
A majestic manor house once home to the poet Shelley, turned contemporary retreat, Alexander House & Utopia Spa is wrapped up within 120 acres of picturesque parkland – complete with a croquet lawn. Upstairs, individually styled bedrooms blend designer décor with homely warmth – and boast picture-perfect countryside views. To have your own private residence, book one of the exclusive Cedar Lodge Suites – most come with a balcony or terrace to make the most of the rural outlook.
Bring your racquets for ‘court and cake’, a special offer which includes two hours on the hotel’s newly refurbished outdoor tennis court followed by afternoon tea al fresco on the terrace, or in the Drawing Room if you’ve just had too much sunshine.
8. Ashdown Park Hotel & Country Club, East Sussex
A listed 19th-century mansion set in 186 acres of landscaped parkland in the depths of Ashdown Forest – the woodland that inspired A. A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh – Ashdown Park Hotel & Country Club is a storybook escape. Wander through Ashdown Park Hotel’s grounds to discover secret gardens, paths through woods and elegant lakes or simply gaze at it all through the large windows of your individually styled and beautifully appointed room or suite. Golf enthusiasts may prefer a Fairway Suite with magnificent views over the course.
Indulge in an award-winning Ashdown Park afternoon tea of homemade sandwiches, cakes, and scones piled high on bone china plates with accompanying pots of strawberry jam and thick clotted cream, also available to take into the grounds as a luxury picnic hamper.
9. Tylney Hall Hotel and Gardens, Hampshire
A Grade II-listed country house overlooking sweeping lawns and lakes set within 66 acres of gardens and parkland, Tylney Hall Hotel is the epitome of traditional English elegance. Each room is a little world unto itself, and has been individually decorated and furnished with period pieces. Sweep back the heavy drapes that frame the high period windows in many of the rooms and you will be rewarded with breathtaking views of the rolling Hampshire countryside. This is Jane Austen country after all, which means literary lovers will be well placed to visit the writer’s eponymous museum set in the charming red-bricked cottage where Austen lived and wrote her beloved novels.
10. The Grand Hotel Eastbourne, East Sussex
Famous guests such as Charlie Chaplin and Winston Churchill have enjoyed views of Beachy Head from The Grand Hotel, and now you can too. This glamourous hotel overlooking the English Channel has an idyllic spa to match, where guests can enjoy exclusive tailored treatments and a relaxing space to unwind. Whether you’re looking for a massage, a manicure or the complete spa experience, you’ll find it on The Grand Hotel’s spa menu. Once you’re fully revitalised, sit down in the Mirabelle for lunch or dinner. The hotel’s highly lauded modern-European restaurant has earned accolades from a host of food writers and critics. Treat yourself to afternoon tea in the lounge – which has become somewhat of an institution – after an invigorating coastal walk to Seven Sisters cliffs.