There is something to be said for escaping London for a weekend to indulge in a relaxing retreat. So, when The Vineyard Hotel, a five-star specialist wine hotel located in Stockcross near Newbury in Berkshire, invited us for a wine-focused night away with wine, delicious food and a spa on the cards, we couldn’t resist.
This delightful, award-winning hotel boasts 30,000 bottles of wine housed in the on-site cellar and features 49 individually designed rooms and suites - all named after famous wines. The property also admiringly houses more than 100 pieces of art.
Everything at The Vineyard Hotel is about wine. There are no rules to a visit here, whether the guest is a wine lover or a vineyard explorer, the enigmatic staff do their best to ensure wines on offer are tasted and enjoyed in the upmost luxurious surroundings, to ensure every guest enjoys the wine tasting experience to the fullest.
The hotel's award-winning sommelier Romain Bourger won 'UK Young Sommelier of the Year' in 2016, so guests looking for inspiration can be assured they’re in good hands when he recommends wines to be paired with their meal.
To introduce wines from around the world to a wider audience, The Vineyard has unveiled a Grape Priced Wine campaign (#GrapePricedWine), to showcase fabulous wines that are accessible – whatever your price point.
For those who are serious about wine, the hotel also runs WSET courses and exams across several levels, to allow guests to achieve a qualification in wine.
One of the hotel’s great offerings is its 3AA Rosette restaurant. The a la carte menu is fantastic, however, it’s the tasting menus that make a stay here truly memorable. Guests can choose from the Judgement of Paris tasting menu (£89), where each course is paired with two wines - one Californian and the other French, or The Discovery Dinner tasting menus (£75). We tried the Discovery Dinner menu, an exciting and at times blinder of a menu (one of the wine parings is a blind test), allowing the taster to enjoy five exciting courses, each paired with a different wine.
We loved all the courses, especially the starter of octopus, tomato and green olive sauce, fregula and sweet potato, which was paired with a gorgeous 2015 Viognier from Australia.
Celebrating 20 years of culinary excellence
To mark the hotel's 20th birthday, the hotel has created 'Back to the Vine' a culinary festival featuring the culinary delights of seven Michelin starred chefs who have graced their kitchen over the years. From 25 June - 30 June guests will be able to enjoy a five-course dinner with expertly paired with wines for £150 per person. On Sunday, 1 July guests can enjoy a fabulous four-course Sunday lunch also with paired wines, and priced at £90 per person.
The Vineyard Hotel Spa – the perfect place to relax
All that eating and drinking can sometimes get the better of us, so it’s a blessing that the hotel has an award-winning 5-star spa to help people unwind. In addition to an indoor pool, sauna and steam rooms, the hotel is unique in that it offers a selection of wine-themed spa treatments featuring red grapes including a body wrap, body polish and a back treatment.
This luxury hotel is ideal for a relaxing retreat while broadening one’s wine knowledge. The staff are very helpful, the sommeliers are proficient and the evening meals, superb. It is all about discovery and adventure at The Vineyard, a concept that we love.
Priced from £247 for accommodation including breakfast (based on two guests sharing and depending on time of year and availability).
The Vineyard Hotel
A summary of our stay at The Vineyard Hotel
Look no further for a unique seaside hotel in Margate that's bursting with history
Take a step back in time and embrace the welcoming and quirky delights this large Edwardian family-run hotel has to offer. Located on the Margate seafront, this historic hotel was built in 1914, extended in 1927 and has now been lovingly restored. More than just a place to stay, The Walpole Bay Hotel is a living museum; every wall and each surface is brimming with fascinating antiques, which have been donated by guests or generous benefactors.
The hotel prides itself on achieving a friendly home-from-home atmosphere combined with timeless elegance. Owner Jane Bishop is a fabulous host and her passion for the hotel is evident when she shares her stories with guests who are keen to learn the history of the hotel.
Dining options at the Walpole Bay Hotel
The hotel has an on-site bar and restaurant, both of which are filled with unique objects, giving guests plenty to look at while browsing the displays and enjoying a pre-dinner drink. The hotel also has an impressive 120-seater ballroom with a terrace overlooking the sea, making it a popular spot for Sunday roasts and Cream Teas.
Quirky touches in abundance
Each of the 41 guest rooms has a sea view and boasts its own unique, vintage style. We loved the wealth of interesting features such as the traditional Otis trellis gated lifts, which have been transporting guests throughout the hotel since 1927 and are still in service today, and the snooker room on the lower ground floor, where we played a post dinner game of snooker – there aren’t too many hotels these days where you can do that!
If you’re visiting Margate and love a bit of vintage decor, The Walpole Bay Hotel is a great place to stay. With comfortable rooms and friendly staff, this hotel steeped in rich local history is a truly unique offering amidst a sea of homogeneous modern hotels.
Rooms from £85 - £145 per night.
The Walpole Bay Hotel
A summary of our stay at Walpole Bay Hotel
*During my stay I was hosted by the lovely team at Walpole Bay Hotel. All views are my own. Photos ©Stephen Coote.
An elegant hotel only a stone's throw from Westminster
Located in the heart of upmarket St James, a stone’s throw from Westminster, the facade of The Conrad St James is elegant and distinguished - a clear indication of its former incarnation as Queen Anne’s Chambers, which was built at the turn of the 20th century and used by those who needed to be near the seat of power. Later in its history, the Treasury Solicitor was based here.
From these rather imposing beginnings, a hotel that’s wonderfully warm and welcoming has been created. Forget the stereotype of the stuffily suited, slightly disapproving doorman; here, staff are immaculately turned out, but incredibly friendly and engaging. Arriving from a sudden cold snap in London, into the spacious and brightly lit foyer in which various and diverse artworks are displayed feels like enough of a treat, and that’s even before the swift and seamless check-in. We were informed that we were entitled to executive lounge access and were escorted to the elevator with directions to our room.
The Rooms at Conrad St James
Entering our room, we were greeted by chocolates fashioned into a shimmery, gold replica of Big Ben, and a red double-decker bus. Where else could we have been but in London? Accompanying them was a handful of Union Jack embossed macarons. Of course, no one was allowed to dig in until I took the perfect Instagram shot complete with the in-house magazine artfully appearing in the background!
The decor is luxuriously corporate - deep browns and crisp whites are in abundance - which makes perfect sense given the hotel’s location but it definitely isn’t the last word in romance. Even so, my partner dove immediately on to the broad, inviting bed - after all, it’s the ideal place from which to get to grips with the television, which was partly concealed in the wall and therefore intriguing enough to cause him to lose valuable time fiddling around with its remote. Like I said, the romance factor was lacking. In the meantime, I was happy to explore the bathroom, which was the size of a small London flat, complete with a walk-in rainforest shower, and well-stocked with Shanghai Tang toiletries and thick white towels.
Indulging in some refreshments in The Executive Lounge
Refreshments are available all day, but there are certain times allocated for the serving of drinks and canapes. When we arrived half way through the designated slot, there was a crowd akin to what you might see in an airport lounge: those who were determinedly guzzling beverages before the clock chimed on ‘happy hour’ and those who were taking it all in their stride with occasional sips of prosecco and a thorough read of the day’s newspapers. This dichotomy was mirrored in the self-service area, where provisions were greatly depleted and swooped upon when restocked. Given we were headed for dinner at the hotel’s Blue Boar restaurant, we didn't have the same level of urgency to refill our glasses as some of the other guests.
The Blue Boar Restaurant
It was reasonably quiet at the restaurant when we visited on a Saturday night; I’d imagine that many of the guests were tourists, out to explore, as opposed to weeknights, when you might expect a more business-focused crowd. The standard of personal service is exceptional and there was a genuine friendliness in their approach that was a highlight of the evening.
An introductory glass of champagne with an amuse bouche that combined tomato and mozzarella in a way that’s as far removed from a pizza as possible set the scene for the starters. Between us, we scoffed a sweetcorn risotto (pleasingly toothsome and yielding) with charred courgette, toasted almonds and goat cheese, as well as a plate of gin-cured Scottish salmon, served up with salt-baked beets, pickled fennel and sunflower seeds.
Since the restaurant’s Josper Grill - the high temperatures and wood chips of which add a unique flavour to the meat - is such a feature of the restaurant, we decide to order a steak accompanied by triple cooked chips, a Portobello mushroom and vine cherry tomatoes. In a moment of madness, I ‘forgot’ that I don’t actually like pork and was swayed by the mention of scallops, salt-baked turnips, butternut squash and kale. After a mouthful or so, a swap took place and we were both pleased with our dishes. Sadly, we didn't have room for dessert, but if we had, it would have been the date and custard tart with almond ice cream all the way.
Breakfast at The Blue Boar
When we returned to The Blue Boar the following morning for breakfast, the frantic pace confirmed that the hotel is pretty much at capacity. There were a few hiccups with service at breakfast, however, everything that goes ‘wrong’ was rectified quickly. One highlight of the breakfast was the eggs, which were wonderfully, yolkily, runnily poached and the kiwi and spinach juice from the buffet’s juice bar was green enough to look saintly, but sweet enough to taste sinful.
A bit of inspiration when it comes to what to see and do
There are fitness facilities in the hotel, but on a bright, clear day, we recommend enjoying the charms of St James’ Park; which judging from the number of families and couples in the restaurant that were consulting maps and guidebooks, many a plan was being hatched to get out and explore. If decision-making isn’t your forte, the hotel also offers a range of 1,3 or 5-hour curated itineraries, which focus on the best local art, food, culture tailored to how much time you have to spare. It’s the ideal adjunct to their motto “Never just stay. Stay Inspired.”
Nightly rates at Conrad London St. James start from £249, based on two people sharing.
Conrad London St James
A Summary of our stay at Conrad St. James London
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