The arrival of autumn just calls out for cosy weekends holed up in luxurious hotels and mooching about cobbled cities with hot chocolate and pastries. If you’ve never visited, York is the perfect candidate, with its winding alleys, quirky galleries, antiques shops and delicious eateries.
Merely a hop, skip and jump away from the station, the Principal Hotel is the grand dame of York and has hotel a hotel on the site for nearly 150 years, with views of the city’s Roman walls and the iconic York Minster from many of the windows, it’s as much a part of the city as both.
Bathed in light from the epic windows, the downstairs lobby and lounge are filled with plump, inviting armchairs, cosy nooks in which to curl up with a book or enjoy an afternoon tea. The masterpiece is a gloriously sweeping staircase, stretching up to the top floors of the hotel and hinting at its glamorous past. The decor is light luxe, all muted greys and creams, chic, elegant, and grand.
With Standard, Superior and Suites starting from around £125 a night, there’s something for all. Our Superior twin room was cosy and chic, with a welcome basket of local goodies to greet us and an inviting roll pop bath calling out for a soak. Suites include a living room area and views of the city, York Minster or the hotel gardens, all luxuriously spacious and in the classic colour palette shared with the rest of the hotel.
The Refectory is the Principal’s restaurant, a casual brasserie with a menu of favourites using fresh, seasonal, local in gradients from Yorkshire producers. We indulged in a fantastic Korean fried chicken burger with kimchi, gem lettuce and gochujang mayo in a pretzel bun and some seriously delicious sticky chicken wings, washed down with a couple of pretty excellent cocktails courtesy of the Chapter House bar. Five stars from us.
The hotel includes a pool, sauna, steam room, jacuzzi and gym, all of which are free to use for residents, as well as treatments available from a local beauty partner Réflextions de Beauté. We popped down for an early morning swim and spa and while it was erring more on the leisure centre side than the luxury spa side, it wasn’t too busy and served the purpose.
A Summary of our stay at The Principal, York
Wales is an outstanding country filled with beautiful, wild nature and rolling hills, a fabulous green oasis on our doorstep. Bodysgallen Hall, a historic house and part of The National Trust, sits nestled to the west of Pydew Mountain, almost invisible from afar, with the exception its chimneys, which overlook the trees. I couldn't wait to spend two nights there, relaxing in this grand seventeenth century country house.
Bodysgallen Hall in Llandudno - “O’r Môr I’r Mynydd” "From Mountains to Sea" - enjoys a privileged location in North Wales with spectacular views of Snowdonia. The Grade I listed, the house features 31 spacious bedrooms split between the house and cottage suites.
Bodysgallen Hall has all the elements for the ultimate getaway. Built in the late 1800s, this beautiful 17th century house was sympathetically restored by Historic House Hotels in 1980 and was given to the National Trust in 2008. Set within 220 acres of its own parkland and award-winning gardens to the south of Llandudno, Bodysgallen Hall is a unique property, and the perfect destination to escape to while immersing yourself in the surrounding Welsh countryside.
The main entrance room to the hall is the ideal place to sit and relax in front of the historic and stunning fireplace whilst the sunlight beams in through the beautifully quaint glass and lead windows. Various other relaxing sitting rooms are close by and offer a slightly different setting, such as the first-floor drawing room with its oak panelling, a myriad of fine art and antiques to browse, a splendid fireplace and stone-mullioned windows. All the seating rooms are the ideal spot to enjoy Bodysgallen’s Traditional Afternoon Tea, which includes a selection of finger sandwiches, freshly baked scones with clotted cream and strawberry jam, cakes and pastries and a choice of freshly brewed teas.
The 15 bedrooms and the four Principal Suites offer modern ‘un-touched’ country comforts and sophistication, all individually furnished in a traditional style and decorated with antique furniture and works of art. The luxurious principal suites are furnished with a king-size double bed (the Vaughan Suite has a queen-size four-poster), with ensuite bathroom and separate Sitting Room. The Suites have views out over the gardens and parkland. There are 16 cottage suites located in the garden court or near the Bodysgallen Spa the former of which benefit from their own private gardens.
Diners are invited in to relax in style and enjoy food prepared from the best and freshest local produce whilst enjoying the views of the gardens and surrounding mountain ranges.
All meals are served in the dining room and are a casual chic affair. Breakfast selection is continental with hot dishes to order. The evening meal is a fine dining affair. The Dining Room at Bodysgallen boasts 3AA Rosettes, for 19 consecutive years, with a wonderful varied selection of imaginative creative food by award-winning chef John Williams.
The menu offers fine courses such as roasted sea scallop, monkfish, seasonal sorbet to cleanse the pallete followed by a selection of main course fresh local fish, meat and vegetarian platters. I devoured the scallops followed by the Creedy Carver Duck. For dessert I was keen to taste a little selection, so I could tell you just how wonderful they were from the Tonka Bean parfait, passionfruit panna cotta and the nutmeg egg custard tart – all absolutely to die for. I enjoyed pre and post dinner drinks in the main lounge, Library room. An evening well spent I’d say with a button or two unbuttoned post dinner whilst sinking into the living room’s sumptuous sofa.
The bar on the ground floor offers a variety of gins and malt whiskies. The Welsh Penderyn is a great place to gather, or wander to the crocodile alcove on first floor, ideal for tete a tete over coffee or glass of champagne!
Beautifully housed within a converted stone farmhouse in the award-winning historic grounds, Bodysgallen Spa is a short walk from the hotel and boasts a good sized indoor swimming pool, air-conditioned gymnasium with all the latest cardiovascular equipment, sauna, steam room, sun terrace and Club Room along with several treatment rooms. There are a variety of beauty and well-being treatments on offer from massage, pedicures, all using products by Aromatherapy Associates, Environ, Caci, while the longer more intensely pampering treatments like the 5-D Gommage Facial from Paris, with anti-ageing treatments to assist with those appearance of wrinkles, dark spots and fine lines, are well worth it. My skin seemed noticeably more toned, tighter and enjoyably youthful after the 5D Gommage treatment.
Places of Interest
There are some simple enjoyable woodland walks from Bodysgallen Hall, such as the Terrace Walk, the Ladies Walk, the Eastern Covert Walk or the Pydew Village Walk that leads to a Gothic Tower and the obelisk located on top of Pydew mountain. I did the walk up to the obelisk which was enjoyable and a simple walk, about 20 minutes from the hotel, if it is a fine day when you reach the point the views of Conwy Bay are impressive. If you’re feeling a little more adventurous, places like Aber Falls, Bangor, Conwy, Bodnant Garden and Llandudno, a perfectly preserved seaside resort, are all enjoyable easy to reach destinations.
If you're feeling more active, head out on an adventure to Wales' mountains, moors lakes and rivers at Snowdonia National Park. The park has a historic Snowdon Mountain Railway that climbs to the summit of Wales's highest mountain, Mount Snowdon, offering views across the sea to Ireland and back along the North Wales coast. The Park also has an extensive network of trails, over 100 lakes and craggy peaks such as Cader Idris and Tryfan. Or if you just fancy a little R and R, be sure to enjoy the hotel grounds. Bodysgallen’s beautiful gardens include a rare 17th century parterre of box hedges filled with sweet scented herbs, a rockery with a cascade, a walled rose garden, and several follies.
A stay in North Wales at Bodysgallen Hall is ideal for all manner of staycations throughout the year.
B&B priced from £215.00 per night based on two sharing.
A summary of our experience at Bodysgallen Hall
With 13 hotels, serving more than 3,000 people each night, Z hotels is making its mark across the UK. Renowned for their small but perfectly compact rooms located in the best locations, their hotels are perfect for those who are seeking somewhere both stylish and reasonably priced to stay.
We stayed at Z Holborn, a 197-bed hotel located in the heart of London’s Midtown (that sweet spot between The City and the West End), making it the ideal place for those wishing to visit Somerset House or shop in Covent Garden.
Housed in a beautiful building bursting with traditional features such as intricate cornicing and high ceilings, it instantly impresses. Upon arrival, the reception area is very subtle – so subtle in fact that for the uninitiated, you do find yourself wondering whether you’re in the right place as it is open to the brasserie. Check in is friendly and efficient – a minute or so after your arrival, and you’re on your way to your room.
Although the rooms are compact – no cat swinging here - they don’t compromise on quality; all of the seriously comfy beds are handmade in Devon and they use luxurious materials for the headboards and room furnishings.
The petite size of the rooms gives them an almost womb-like comfort, creating the perfect environment for a good night’s kip. At the foot of each bed is a large HDTV with all Sky Sports and Movie channels, ideal for unwinding after a day exploring London’s sights. The rooms also come equipped with a private bathroom with a power shower, in room tea and coffee making facilities and a small desk for those travelling for business.
Most guests stay an average of one or two nights, and with all London has to offer right on your doorstep, you won’t be spending much time in your room anyways.
Prices from £55 (for an inside double).
A summary of our experience at Z Hotel, Holborn
Beyond the hustle and bustle of the capital city Marrakesh, there is so much more to experience in Morrocco. We discovered Essaouira, paradise on the Atlantic coast, just a three-hour flight direct from the UK.
Essaouira is a free-spirited destination like nowhere else in Morocco and the Jardin des Douars, the leading independent hotel, is totally unique. Despite the fact that Essaouira officially has around 320 days of sunshine per year, it remains relatively crowd free, so visitors can get to experience a quiet beach, a manageable and enjoyable medina and combine a coastal and city vibe without the hassle.
The drive to the hotel is short, just 15 minutes or so from the airport, and takes you through the countryside. Even before we arrived at our accommodation, we felt like a weight had been lifted.
Le Jardin des Douars, is a family-run hotel and offers luxurious yet affordable accommodation nestled in the heart of the Essaouira hills. Located inside a botanical garden, the hotel overlooks the Ksob River with views of the argan-studded hills. The grounds around the hotel are beautiful and peaceful. This is what makes it a real gem and a place where you do not feel overrun. I’d suggest a stroll around the hotel to enjoy a wonderful selection of Moroccan Berber art; while away time in the lush gardens where you can enjoy many varieties of tropical trees and plants, and keep an eye out for the resident peacocks, last seen gliding past the infinity pool.
There are 19 bedrooms and six suites in total with five luxury villas (two recently launched), with their own heated swimming pools. We arrived in the evening at our two-bedroom suite to a roaring fire and a tray served up with warm sweet Moroccan mint tea and home made biscuits, ordered on arrival of course, priorities! The rooms are filled with trinkets and treasures that the owners and staff have selected from the local area and are decorated in earthy colours, with drops of Argan and African prints and colours from deep reds, teracotta’s to warming oranges and cool sands. There is an abundance of local beauty and bathroom products provided to use and slippers and robes are ready for you to slip into something more comfortable.
As I sat sipping my mint tea in front of the roaring fireplace that first evening, I could see for myself why this is the most raved about independent hotel in Essaouira.
Wellness at the Hotel
Every day before breakfast we enjoyed a swim in the heated outdoor infinity pool. With a quiet zone for adults, it's the perfect spot to relax with a drink from the poolside bar soaking up the sun and enjoying the peaceful setting. Those with families can also enjoy pool-time fun, thanks to the family pool with a wading section, located nearby. All towels are provided, so the only thing you need to focus on is relaxing.
Pool and spa time...
Le Jardin des Douars offers a variety of hammam and spa treatments not typical of most hotels, the Argan oil used is local and organic. Treatments include skin exfoliations, massages and Hammams with Smimou Salt and Argan Oil. On the second night I enjoyed one of the spa treatments. Walking through two grand double doors into a elegant marbled softly lit sanctuary you feel like the whole world is there to pander to you. I laid down on the warm marble bench in just a pair of paper pants and enjoyed one of the best Hammam’s I’ve had yet - a great experience, refreshing, revitalising and very relaxing. Needless to say i was very clean!
Dining at the hotel
There are three dining areas to choose from, a big open plan restaurant, a couples’ dining room and al fresco dining on the terrace. We made the most of one of two sunny days we had and enjoyed an al fresco lunch of fresh catch of the day and a home made burger on the patio. Washed down with a deliciously crisp white and rosé wine.
From the Royal breakfast to dinner, the hotel serves up delicious cuisine with foods sourced from the local area. These guys definitely know how to create dishes that are both complimentary and extremely fresh and delicious. The menu is al la carté and offers light balanced healthy food with daily specials and suggestions on the blackboard. One evening when the weather was whipping up a storm outside we enjoyed an aperitif on the sunken sofas in front of the roaring fire in the great hearth. Divine.
Essaouira is well located for a food adventure in Morocco. Visitors can try Atlantic catches at the fish souk whilst also sampling traditional Moroccan tajines across this cosmopolitan city. The medina includes traditional and new dining ventures, showcasing both the city's location by the sea and the country's freshest produce at local markets. Restaurateurs head to the port each day to get fresh fish.
The region is best known for its art, is a cosmopolitan medina and is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The local souks and medina are the main attraction, not to mention the lovely boutique shopping – be sure to haggle for those leather, silver and home goods. Enjoy other activities from water sports, horseriding to camel rides and surfing. As the artistic capital of Morroco there is an abundance of cultural attractions. Enjoy art from the Arab and Berbers cultures at The Galerie Damgaard, L'atelier des Arts Empreinte and the Elizir Gallery and the Galerie l'Arbre Bleu.
The verdict – Le Jardin des Douars is a little piece of paradise. A beautifully peaceful and charming hotel for single travellers, couples and families alike.
B&B priced from around £115 per room, per night or £500 per villa, per night.
Travel Information: Ryanair flys between London Stansted and Essaouira twice per week on Tuesdays and Saturdays. Essaouira airport is located 15 minutes from Le Jardin des Douars and a shuttle service is available. Marrakech is about three hours away.
Le Jardin des Douars
Douar Sidi Yassine, BP209 44000
A summary of our stay at Le Jardin des Douars
Oh, how I love a wee jaunt to Ireland. Living in Glasgow, Scotland, travelling to Ireland is very convenient thanks to daily flights and with a flight length of just over an hour, it couldn't be easier. Add to that the fact that welcoming and friendly nature of the Irish, and you're pretty much guaranteed a fabulous time.
For our latest Irish escape, we booked a stay at The Westbury, a five star boutique hotel, which is a part of the Doyle Collection.
The vibe and location
Located in the heart of the city, just off the main shopping hub on Grafton Street, the place is absolutely buzzing. The hotel is very central; St Stephens Park is a stone’s throw away - perfect for a bit of chill time - or, if you're seeking something more lively, you can hit the pub & restaurant scene, which are also a short walk from the hotel. Shoppers will love Grafton Street, a shopping mecca. Alternatively, if you're looking to buy something that will remind you of your time in Ireland, you can head over to the Powerscourt Centre, where you'll find a selection of boutiques which stock unique Irish designs.
Voted 'Best Hotel in Ireland' in the Conde Nast Traveller Awards 2019 Reader's Choice Awards, the Westbury is the epitome of a grand boutique hotel. From the minute you enter the hotel, the attentive and friendly reception staff put you at ease straight away.
All of the rooms have all recently been refurbed and I was lucky to be upgraded to a luxury studio suite, located on the sixth floor. The room was lovely; it had a large lounge and dining area and was furnished with original Irish artworks and trendy minimalist furniture. I loved the spacious marble-clad ensuite, which was quite flashy with one wall consisting of just mirrors, however, the piece de resistance was the king size four-poster bed, which was so comfy I didn’t want to leave!
Food & Drink
The hotel has two bars and two restaurants. Balfes Bar & Brassiere is located on the ground floor of the hotel on Balfe Street, and you have the option of dining al fresco or indoors; we opted for a seat perched indoors at the bar.
Balfes is very reminiscent of a trendy French bistro. It was a Thursday night and the place had a great buzzy atmosphere. We weren’t too hungry, so decided to have just the one course of gamberoni in a delicious garlic and tomato sauce, which we washed down with some chilled Perrier Jouet. After a wee bite to eat, we headed to the first floor and looked in on Sidecar, the bar next to the reception, it was packed so decided to give it a miss, and retire to the suite.
After a good night's sleep, we looked forward to breakfast, which is served in Wilde. The central design ethos fuses 1930s elegance with an abundance of greenery, giving guests the sense of alfresco dining. It is very luxurious and my fellow diners looked like they had just stepped out of the pages of a high-end magazine. After a hearty Irish breakfast, sadly t was time for me to depart.
The Westbury is perfectly located to enjoy everything Dublin city has to offer. From the moment you arrive, the staff are friendly and attentive.
The Loch Lomond Waterfront Lodges is a collection of holiday lodges based on the eastern shore of Loch Lomond near the picturesque village of Balmaha. Located in southern Scotland, only 20 miles from Glasgow or 30 miles from Stirling, the lodges sit within The Trossachs National Park. The surrounding highlands area, renowned for its breathtaking wooded glens, is home to a variety of wildlife including red deer, making it the perfect place to get up and close to nature and all its inhabitants.
Everything outdoorsy is heartily embraced. With plenty of decent footpaths and cycle trails, you can explore all that Loch Lomond has to offer. Adventure lovers can attempt to climb the craggy Ben Lomond Mountain, (3,196 feet of Munro), or the less adventurous can tackle the smaller Conic Hill, (which takes approximately one and a half hours), both of which afford spectacular views.
The lodge is perfect for a small family; there are two bedrooms upstairs, both of which have en-suites, ideal when travelling with teenagers. Each ensuite also has its own balcony, and it's wonderful to wake up to views of the loch.
We were booked into the diamond lodge, consisting of a spacious open plan living, kitchen and dining area, which fast became our favourite area to hang out in, thanks to its fabulous views. On the ground floor there is a WC complete with shower and a two-person steam cabin. Outside there's an outdoor dining area and a large jacuzzi with loch views, which we made full use of!
The local area
Given you're in the heart of the countryside, the focus really is on enjoying nature. However, if you want to head to town, it's only a scenic half hour's drive away.
Travelling further afield
There are a few options to explore the local area; you can go by foot or you can hire a car and drive from one end of the loch to the other. We recommend a visit to Luss, a picturesque village complete with stone cottages, a few small bistros and a cosy pub inn. Sadly, we didn’t get a chance to visit Killin, which is home to the Falls of Dochart, a dramatic waterfall, which is well worth a visit.
The location cannot be faulted, the scenery is second to none and the lodges are perfect for a family holiday.
For more info visit https://www.loch-lomond-waterfront.co.uk/.
On the fringes of Hampton Court Palace’s spectacular grounds, The Kings Arms Hampton Court is the epitome of boutique chic. This cosy hotel with 14 beautifully-renovated rooms, not only overlooks the Palace’s maze, but sitting opposite Bushy Park, makes it a dream location for a cosy autumn night away.
Hop on a train at Waterloo and within the hour you’ll be checking in. Having been in existence as a pub, hotel or inn since at least 1709, it’s by far the oldest business in the area. While its interiors have been updated in recent years, it’s lost none of its elegance and charm, even boasting a stunning mosaic-tiled lobby unearthed by the current owners.
This is cosiness personified. Small, but perfectly formed, The King’s Arms feels at once homely and comfortable. The moment you cross the threshold you know you’re going to get a great experience with real English hospitality.
With each room a unique shape and style, you can handpick your ideal bed for the night. The Hampton Suite even offers luxurious living in a family size. Designed for a family of four or five, it features a luxurious master bedroom with a separate room with built-in bunk bed.
Our Luxury Room overlooked the gates of Bushy Park, with cloud-soft carpets, a beautiful fireplace and ultra comfortable bed, decorated in calming, muted tones of purple with some stunning artwork on the walls. Despite being on the main road, the hardcore glazing ensured total silence, and with the addition of blackout curtains, a good night’s sleep was all but guaranteed. The bathroom featured heavenly scented local toiletries from London brand Jenny Betts and with the well-stocked minibar one could be forgiven for indulging in an early night and taking to bed with a movie.
The Food & Drink
On our Friday night visit the bar was buzzing, as was the lounge next door, a cosy space with a roaring log fire in winter. The real star of the show, however, is restaurant The Six. Named after Henry VIII’s wives, The Six prides itself on eclectic cuisine using local ingredients where possible. I indulged in a creamy lightly smoked English burrata, served with baked beetroot, walnut and sage, followed by an absolute divine plate of organic welsh lamb rump, artichoke, sweet onion, lamb croquette and rosemary. The food was sublime, quite one of the best meals I’ve had this year and certainly worth the visit alone, regardless of whether you will stay the night or not. Washed down with an Argentinian Malbec and followed with an absolutely beautiful baked vanilla and hazelnut cheesecake with confit orange and plum sorbet, we rolled up to bed stuffed and sated and thankful for the feast.
After an undisturbed night’s sleep, we rose for breakfast to be greeted by a continental spread of fresh bread and pastries, fruit, cereal, cold meats and cheeses with a cooked menu also available. While we didn’t indulge this time round, after the success of our evening meal I’m certain the breakfast would also have been something special. After a stroll around Bushy Park it was time to check out, our brief sojourn to the suburbs had come to an end.
The King’s Arms was a delight from start to finish. From its buzzing bar and restaurant with inventive twists on classic dishes to the cosy bedrooms, it’s an ideal night away from the bustle or town.
The King's Arms
2 Lion Gate
Hampton Ct Rd
As a time-poor Londoner, I often find myself craving a Friday getaway from the city; a countryside escape to take you from desk to spa with as little effort as possible. Lucky for us, the glorious Grove in Hertfordshire ticks all of those boxes and more.
Set amid 300 acres of Hertfordshire countryside, The Grove hotel is conveniently less than an hour's train ride from London Euston and a 10-minute taxi journey from Watford Junction station. Only an hour after leaving my desk I was flopped on my bed, with the hardest decision ahead of me being whether to hit the spa or the buffet first. Bliss.
The resort features three unique restaurants, an award-winning spa and a championship golf course.
This is country house luxury living at its best. Beautiful rooms, an indulgent spa with outdoor pool, stunning gardens begging to be explored and a host of drawing rooms packed with art, beautiful chandeliers, board games and log fires in the winter, ensure there's plenty to do during your stay.
Rooms range from Deluxe (in either the original Mansion House or contemporary West Wing overlooking the garden), to a vast Presidential suite with its bay-fronted window and marble bathroom. We found ourselves in the former, with its French windows overlooking the formal gardens, and roll top bath surrounded by luxurious ESPA toiletries, which demanded a post-prandial soak.
Food & Drink
Agreeing to leave the spa for the morning, we headed downstairs to The Glasshouse, a lavish dining theatre that will put any buffet you’ve ever visited to shame. The restaurant features eight live food stations with chefs constantly preparing an overwhelming option of delicious, international cuisines. A word to the wise; ensure you do a lap before committing to your dining plan, this much delicious food needs a strategy.
We started at the crustacean station, piling plates high with fresh oysters, juicy prawns and sushi rolls, leaving a little sliver for some of the delicious, crisp, fresh salads. Next up was a custom creation of Asian soup, a hearty bowl of mushrooms, egg, chicken, seaweed and crispy onion in a warming broth. We skipped the roast dinners and pasta station - against my better judgement - and headed to the robata grill to pick up a couple of lobster tails, before hitting the dessert trolley hard…
There is a slight possibility we overindulged at this stage, given I selected a coconut and Malibu sponge, rose lychee mousse, crème brulée and a dish of three flavours of ice cream, drizzled with hot molten chocolate and covered in mini meringues, chocolate balls, crunchy biscotti and nuts like the overexcited five year old I clearly am inside. Nevertheless, glutton or not, it was delicious!
Alas, after such a feast it wasn’t long before we retired. After a much anticipated bubble bath, I crawled into bed in my robe ready for a movie, only to disappointingly find the only options were pay to view. It was disappointing that such a luxury hotel didn’t have any movie options on the TV at all; thankfully I’d brought along my laptop and ergo Netflix, so not all was lost and we eventually drifted into a peaceful slumber to the dulcet tones of Bridget Jones.
Sadly, breakfast wasn’t as successful as dinner, particularly as the receptionist unhelpfully told us the wrong end time, something which also wasn’t noted in any in-room correspondence. As such we were left with 10 minutes to rush around The Glasshouse, grabbing from its array of breakfast spoils, when had we been a tad earlier, we could have enjoyed a leisurely a la carte fare of The Stables.
Given we were the last ones in, we were somewhat left with the dregs; eggs en cocote that had unfortunately solidified in their time under the lamp, the last few pancakes that were more than a tad limp, dishes that were supposed to be hot but were anything but; at least the pastry basket was still going strong. It would have been nice to at least have one chef perhaps still at his station, willing to make something hot and fresh for those guests who may have lost track of time, though I guess lesson learnt to not leave breakfast until the last minute next time…
Saturday morning dawned bright and sunny and feeling revived after an early night, it was time to hit the gym and spa. With its black mosaic-tiled pool, heat experience rooms and specialist treatment options, the award winning Sequoia spa is an experience like no other. There’s a state of the art fitness studio, programme of exercise classes, indoor pool, jacuzzi, sauna and steam room, the ideal circuit for a relaxing Saturday morning.
Hotel guests can enjoy use of the facilities included with their room, while there’s a range of day use and treatment packages for those wanting to indulge in a special treat. I adored having the pool to myself at 7.30am, swimming my lengths and getting a steam in before wrapping myself up in a robe and poring over the Saturday papers.
During the warmer months, however, there’s also another special something The Grove has up its sleeve, in the form of its heated outdoor pool. Situated within the Walled garden, a secluded outdoor space, it’s also neighboured by a ‘beach’ complete with deckchairs and volleyball court. The sun blazed on the morning of our visit, and combined with the dazzling warm water it felt like we could have been abroad, not in the middle of Hertfordshire. What a treat.
Breakfast aside, a night at The Grove was the perfect tonic for a busy working week in London; we were both astounded at how close it was. There are also various pop ups and events throughout the year to entertain guests, including a pop up cinema in the summer.
The SCHLOSS Roxburghe Hotel & Golf Course is a four AA star, 20-bedroom property located in the beautifully scenic Scottish Borders countryside, approximately an hour’s drive from Edinburgh.
I first visited The Roxburghe Hotel & Golf Course in Kelso, Scotland around five years ago, when it was still owned by the Duke of Roxburghe. He sold it in 2018 to the German developer 12.18 Investment Management and it reopened this year following a £30m redevelopment, rebranded as SCHLOSS Roxburghe Hotel & Golf Course.
On our first visit, the historic property was clearly in need of a cash injection and some TLC to bring it kicking and screaming into modern times, and that's certainly what the 12.18 group has achieved. The entire hotel has had a complete refurbishment and the results are pretty impressive.
Activities on offer are reflective of olde world Scottish sports - think shooting, fishing, hunting, and of course, golf.
Each of the 20 rooms falls into five distinct categories: Suite, Duplex Suite, Junior Suite, Deluxe Room, and Superior Room. German interior design firm Kitzig Interior Design developed the design concept, which was inspired by the unique location, the surrounding landscape and nature.
The interiors are a combination of Scottish patterns and colours, with rustic materials such as oak wood, natural stone and linen. Kitzig have successfully managed to balance tradition with contemporary design and have kept many of the original features including the fireplaces (a necessity during the cold Scottish winters) and stucco embellishments on the ceilings and walls.
Food & drink
The hotel is home to a variety of food and drink options including the 1745 Bar, Sunlaws (the fine dining restaurant), the State Room Lounge, and the Drawing Room, which is ideal for a relaxed afternoon tea.
The kitchen is helmed by Executive Chef Jacques-Olivier Borja, who has been at the hotel since 2016. His speciality is Scottish cuisine with a French twist - a nod to his French roots.
Chef Borja completed a three-year apprenticeship at the Bourgogne, a one star Michelin restaurant in his home town Troyes in Champagne, and he then continued his training in Paris for 18 years. He started as a kitchen assistant, working his way to the position of Executive Sous-Chef in the most renowned two and three Michelin star Restaurants, including Lucas-Carton and the prestigious Hotel de Crillon.
During his military service at 23 years old, he was deployed to serve President Jacques Chirac at de l’Elysée in 1996.
In 2006 he moved from Paris to Mexico City, where he was employed as Executive Sous-Chef for InterContinental Hotels. In 2008, he made the leap across the ocean to settle in the Scottish Borders.
The new culinary team is very international with staff from all corners of the world. They are devoted to sustainability and the environment, with a focus on sourcing sustainably sourced and locally sourced ‘Estate-to-Plate’ food where possible, with the chefs actively foraging the grounds of the estate for as much produce as possible. They then bring it to life with culinary delights inspired by a passion for Scotland’s abundance of fresh produce, meat, fish and game. Additionally, they strive to source produce from in and around the local area, working with local suppliers to support local businesses, whether it be a local supplier of tomatoes, potatoes, meat, fish or jam, making the best use of Scotland's natural produce. The game is sourced from the estate and to take the concept to the next level, the staff can provide guests with the full experience of ‘estate to plate’ where a guest can see the journey from the hunt, through to the kitchen and finally to the table.
Guests have a wealth of activities to choose from including use of a championship golf course and a comprehensive range of sporting pursuits from clay pigeon shooting to tomahawk throwing and fly fishing.
The Local Area
The hotel is located next to the town of Kelso, deep in the heart of the Scottish Borders. The landscape is always stunning come rain, hail or sunshine. If you love nature and wildlife, then this is the place for you.
Travelling further afield
I would recommend travelling to the town of Hawick, which is approximately a half an hour drive from the hotel. Here you will find everything that this region is famous for: cashmere, tweed, and of course, whisky! Hawick has a rich manufacturing heritage and an international reputation for producing quality goods. The main activity takes place within the four bridges of Hawick, where you will find a collection of weavers, knitters and distilleries, all of which produce premium Scottish products. And if you are missing city life, head to Scotland’s capital city, Edinburgh, which has a fabulous culinary offering, an edgy art scene and culture in abundance.
A summary of our stay at SCHLOSS Roxburghe Hotel & Golf Course
Most people who know me know I love the great outdoors and expansive coastlines and I have a penchant for country manor houses - especially those with a relaxing spa and an abundance of oversized sofas that invite you to curl up with a good book and glass of red, post outdoor adventure, of course.
After my recent visit to the breathtaking Isle of Anglesey in North Wales for the Zest Life retreat, a trip East to the northern coastline of Devon seemed like the perfect next step in my exploration of the wonderful UK isle.
The vibe and location
Located in North Devon, Highbullen Hotel is the ideal base for exploring Exmoor and beyond. Dating back to 1879, this contemporary manor house set within a sprawling 127-acre estate boasts magnificent views across the Mole Valley and Exmoor National Park. Exceptionally inviting, this classic country manor offers sumptuous living quarters and a relaxed atmosphere combined with modern luxuries, making it the ideal place for a much needed respite, and when ready, the perfect spot to explore North Devon.
The country house lobby offers classically decorated drawing rooms off the main hall and invites you to drop your bags at the front desk and sprint to find your best viewing spot.
The main building, a Victorian Arts and Craft manor house, is home to 12 beautiful bedrooms, all individually decorated with their own charm. The spectacular award-winning Loft Suite comes complete with its own steam room and infrared sauna, while a further 30 bedrooms can be found throughout the Estate in The Courtyard, Gardener’s Row, Golf View and Stable Cottage. Highbullen also offers four luxurious self-catering cottages.
It’s the little touches that make each room welcoming; the classic William Morris style fabrics, beautiful floral and old English styled rooms, very super comfy beds, with a higher than normal level, definitely made me feel like a princess in a castle; a room with a view. Each room has tea and coffee making facilities and bright airy bathrooms with ample space to indulge in those well needed self-spa moments; a lovely hot bubble bath while enjoying cosmetic minis from The White Company. There was even a spot to carefully rest my iPad and catch up on Netflix - bliss.
The spa and leisure centre at Highbullen Hotel is a dream, especially in the warmer months, which provide plenty of possibilities to enjoy the outdoors. A short walk from the main house, facilities include seven all-weather tennis courts, an outdoor swimming pool and an 18-hole golf course set in a wooded parkland. Indoors, guests can make use of a 20-metre indoor swimming pool with a sauna, steam-room and Jacuzzi.
Highbullen Hotel has partnered with leading skincare brand, ELEMIS to offer a wide range of wonderful spa treatments. I indulged in the pool, steam and sauna before enjoying a great ELEMIS collagen facial, hoping to erase some of the years! It was a very calming, enjoyable treatment, so much so I almost fell asleep and needless to say, my skin felt exceptional for a few days afterwards. I will definitely be diving into one of those treatments again very soon.
Food and Drink
There are plenty of dining options at Highbullen. Formal dining takes place in the 2 AA Rosette Devon View Restaurant, under the careful watch of head chef Stephen Walker. The elegant dining room features floor-to-ceiling windows, granting spectacular panoramic views. The menu showcases seasonal and local produce with a modern British theme across all dishes. An extensive wine list offers wines from the old and new worlds and staff can suggest wine pairings. We enjoyed a night in the restaurant and dined on the a la carte menu and enjoyed a delicious selection of courses. The chef served up an amuse-bouche of tomato soup, with snippets of coriander, a burst of flavours and rich tomato flavour and creativity point of view. We followed this with a choice of steak, and local Hake with spring green risotto, served with care and consideration; an impressive bouquet of flavours
Highbullen recently opened Laura Ashley The Tea Room. Designed in the distinctive Laura Ashley style, the room accommodates 74 covers, providing guests with unrivalled views bringing together the quintessence of England: the timelessness of afternoon tea, elegant country living and one of the most iconic English brands. This space is converted into The Supper Room between 6pm and 10pm daily. The casual dining menu here includes a wide style of dining options that will entice everyone including; ‘small plates and sharing platters’ priced from £4.50, ‘big eats’ priced from £12.50, ‘pizza and pasta’ priced from £11.00, ‘salads’ and ‘desserts’ priced from £6.50.
We enjoyed the Champagne Afternoon Tea, I requested a gluten free option and it was exceptionally a like for like with my dining partners non-gluten free option and the staff were very accommodating.
The Local Area
Highbullen Hotel’s location in North Devon is the ideal base for exploring Exmoor and beyond. The walks in this area are particularly spectacular in the warmer months when the sun sets later in the day, allowing more time to discover this magical part of Devon.
Travelling further afield
With the coastal resort of Ilfracombe only a short drive away, we recommend a trip to see the old Victorian bathing tunnels and beaches, the Damien Hirst Verity statue or indulge in some real Devon ice cream from Hockings; a local family run business, of course after a classic paper-wrapped portion of fish and chips. And if you are in the car, take the coastal road on to Croyde, a route that's not be missed for some of the best views of the coastline.
There is an intimate green charm to walks around Exmoor. The Moors also provide plenty of myth and legend to explore. But walking here is a joy and walkers will encounter subtle blends of prehistoric past and wilderness present. Highbullen can provide written and mapped walk details for 6 walks local to the hotel.
With its exceptional location, this hotel may be suited for the traveller with a penchant for classic country comfort teamed with adventure for the outdoors.
Bed and Breakfast is priced from £110 per room per night
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