Located between the Lake District National Park and the Yorkshire Dales, Hipping Hall is a 3AA rosette restaurant with rooms that’s perfectly positioned for those seeking rural pleasures and stunning natural scenery. Hipping Hall opened 11 years ago, and since then has drawn visitors from both near and far, who come for a restful stay coupled with sensational cuisine served in a 15th‑century banqueting hall with a minstrels’ gallery.
The grounds are gorgeous – we loved the romantic rear garden with its handful of bistro tables where you can relax and take in the perfectly manicured lawns and the flowering wisteria.
Our Suite – The Tatham Suite - 'Beam me up Scotty'....
During our visit, we stayed in the Tatham Suite, an oasis of calm named in honour of Edward Tatham, the man who built Hipping Hall. This charming attic suite is the perfect place to hole up in for the weekend, curled up in bed with a good book and a cup of tea. While lounging in your bed, you can admire the ancient oak roof beams, which have been lovingly preserved with striking effect.
The Suite has a small sitting room with a sofa and a bistro table, a decent sized bedroom with two closets (one for each guest if you’re sharing) and best of all, a huge bathroom, which boasts a seriously ‘Instagrammable’ oversized egg tub built for two (with large wooden ceiling beams serving as the perfect picture frame), a modern rain shower and complimentary Temple Spa toiletries. The attention to detail throughout the suite was superb and you could tell that no expense had been spared with the modern fixtures and fittings.
Five new rooms have been added to the property in what used to be the stables. Guests can also hire the private dining room (with chef service), which is ideal for family gatherings or small events.
One of the highlights at Hipping Hall is its 3AA Rosette restaurant with its striking 15th century dining room, which features a striking beamed ceiling, original wood flooring and a slate hearth, which create a cozy and elegant ambiance. We loved the little touches that made our meal feel like a truly special experience – from the crisp white table cloths to the impeccable service to the comfortable dining chairs, which were perfect for settling in for a long meal –essential if you go for the seven-course tasting menu!
Head Chef Oli Martin leads the helm at the restaurant, preparing an assortment of inventive dishes he describes as ‘modern English dishes with classical roots that have been brought up to date.’ A self-confessed ‘food addict’, he has been cooking for 12 years, having worked in both France and the UK, but it’s here in the UK that he’s happiest, now that he’s returned home to his roots.
Having worked at Hipping Hall for the past two and a half years, he has definitely found his stride and loves coming up with new dishes. He uses local seasonal dishes as/when possible (such as sourcing the fish from Morecombe and the organic vegetables from a grower down the road), but he isn’t a slave to using local ingredients if he can source better ingredients further afield. At the end of the day, it’s all about delivery the best possible quality for his guests. To keep things interesting, the dinner menu changes daily, but every night they offer a seven course tasting menu or a five course table d’hôte menu. Both menus burst with local and seasonal flavour and all dietary requirements are catered for.
The tasting menu
The seven-course tasting menu is a real gastronomic experience – with 80% of the guests opting for it. Given its popularity, we thought it rude not to indulge, so we got stuck in enjoying all seven courses with wines to match. Let’s just say, you really need to pace yourself, both with the food and the wine – or you’ll be feeling a bit sorry for yourself at the end (in a good way, of course)!
Some of the highlights on the tasting menu included the mushroom jerky with crème fraiche (which was paper thin and crispy with a smoky flavour) and the venison tartare with sourdough crisps, which was beautifully presented and had a nice flavour without tasting too ‘gamey’. We also loved the trout sashimi, which were served on toothpicks stuck in a cucumber, which was quite fun! Other firm favourites included the hake (which was flaky and perfectly cooked) and the pork belly with kimchi, yogurt, kale and soured cabbage.
Throughout the menu the friendly sommelier talked us through each of the wines that were expertly paired with each course. We particularly enjoyed the Limney Davenport wine from Kent (2014), which had great minerality and was light and fruity with citrus flavours. In fact, we even sought it out when we returned to London! Guests who want to enjoy a cheeky nightcap before they retire to bed can relax at all hours in the lounge near the bar.
I arrived in Sherborne late on Friday evening after a long, post-work train journey. Eager to head straight to my wellness retreat at Middle Piccadilly, I was disappointed to learn that I’d have to wait 30 mins for a local taxi – Beaver Taxis, to be exact, to fetch me. Yes Beaver Taxis actually exists and yes, you really do have to wait ages for a taxi in this part of the country - the first indication that I was definitely not in London anymore and I’d have to learn a bit of patience – no easy feat when one’s accustomed to permanently rushing about like a headless chicken!
Once settled in the taxi, I was able to take in the peaceful surroundings – all rolling hills and quiet country lanes, but just when I was starting to get comfortable, the taxi driver slammed on his brakes to avoid a large tractor that was also vying for the small sliver of country lane. Who says country life isn’t exciting?!
After we’d arrived at my final destination of Middle Piccadilly I was slightly frazzled, but pleased to see the quaint, thatched roof cottage where I’d be staying -just the tonic I needed after a hectic, deadline-filled week in London.
Upon my arrival, I was warmly greeted by the owner, Dominic, who quickly showed me around the property which consisted of two communal lounges, a communal kitchen, a shared bathroom and multiple treatment rooms.
If you’re the type that doesn’t like sharing your facilities or mingling with your fellow lodgers, then this probably isn’t the place for you, but if you enjoy meeting new people and relaxing, then it would be right up your alley!
Time to unwind....
Middle Piccadilly's aim is to offer its guests an informal and peaceful atmosphere and a unique range of treatments to help people address whatever their ailment is - be it physical or spiritual.
The copies of Kindred Spirit magazine that can be found in the communal lounge allude to the spiritual nature of the retreat and the mindset of Middle Piccadilly's founders - originally Dominic's parents, who've since passed the baton to him to oversee the running of the business.
Seek solace in simplicity....
My lodging for the weekend consisted of a small room with a twin bed, a small writing desk and a wash basin. My immediate thought was that it felt a bit like being back in college in my dorm room or in a private hospital room. Luckily, I wasn’t having to face the unpleasantness of studying or an operation, but rather a weekend of relaxation - the truest indulgence once can have these days.
With so much peace to be had, I thought 'this must be how monks feel when left with no distractions and only their thoughts for company'...
Perhaps my time here would unleash untapped creative genius? If nothing else, I simply hoped to catch up on some much-needed sleep, although my husband would probably argue that I sleep more than anyone he knows. I reckon I must have been a cat in a previous life! That being said, I found good company in the resident cat who was just as lazy!
A place to unplug and unwind…
It’s a bit weird what happens to one when they being to unwind after being continually connected and accustomed to a more frantic pace of life. For the first hour or so, I felt the need to fill my time with distractions. I felt relieved that I had plenty of writing to do as I felt it was a way to keep my mind active given that I wouldn’t be watching TV or catching up with friends.
As I perused the treatment menu, many of the items such as shamanic healing seemed a bit ‘hippy dippy’, but I decided that I was going to quiet my inner cynic and embrace all of the experiences on offer. After all, the greatest transformations often happen when one learns to let go.
My fellow retreat goers
During the time of my stay, four other women (all of whom were lovely), were also staying at the retreat. After several communal meals (and lots of laughter), I later learned that one lady was a socially worker for the mentally ill, another had escaped a religious cult and the other two were disgruntled flight attendants. Throw in the mix a frazzled PR / writer (e.g. me) and I guess you could say we were a real motley crew! The common thread that united us all was that we made a conscious effort to retreat to the country to seek a bit of solace – an act that feels really indulgent in a society where people feel guilty for taking time out.
Food and drink
Dominic is a dab hand in the kitchen and whips up fresh lunch and dinner for the guests during their stay. Meal times are set (7am-9:30am for breakfast, 1pm for lunch and 7:30pm for dinner), which I'd imagine has been done as it's just Dominic who does the prep, cooking and clean up, so he'd be pretty knackered if he was catering to everyone's individual schedules! Dishes on offer include a raw food option or a vegetarian meal, either of which you can't go wrong with.
Eat simply. Eat healthily.
The treatments are what people really come here for and they didn’t disappoint. My first treatment was the Therapeutic Massage, a traditional full-body massage that made me feel exceptionally relaxed. The therapist was lovely and really put me at ease.
For my second treatment, I was booked in for the Shamanic Healing, which is meant to clear bad energies. As I heard the sound of the drums in the treatment room (a practice done to ‘clear the craggy spirits’, apparently), I felt a bit apprehensive about the experience I was about to have.
Before the treatment, I had asked my fellow retreat goers if they could describe their experience, and they all said that it was an individual experience, with each person’s experience being as unique as the individual, so it couldn’t be easily conveyed. Some people scream, some people cry and others just feel relaxed – it just depends on what happens on the day.
My experience of the Shamanic Healing
Upon entering the treatment room, I was warmly greeted by Sandy, a former midwife who had spent more than 20 years working for the NHS before training as a shamanic healer. Before we started, she talked through her tools of the trade, which included a drum (to help generate energy), a rattle, (a peacock feather to brush away negative energy – no eagle feathers to come by in these parts), pebbles, crystals, sage (which was burning throughout the treatment and smells a bit like a campfire). For the less hippy inclined, it seems a bit hokey pokey, but I decided I’d go with the flow.
I started the process lying on a massage table, while Sandy held her hands over different areas of my body. She also placed her hands over different chakras and then placed her hands on my lower back and held them there, which she said was referred to as ‘bringing the jaguar down from the trees’. Next, she started banging her drum repeatedly and asked me to step back through time, recalling memories from different ages in my childhood. She assured me that I could relax as I had a spiritual guide next to me who would ensure that I was safe.
She asked me to visualise what my spiritual guide looked like and I had visualised an older man with a wide smile and longish grey hair, who was wearing a white linen shirt and trousers. In hindsight, he looked a bit like Richard Branson – weird!
Finally, she asked me to do ‘dragon breathing’ (a succession of quick, forceful breathing) to get rid of any negative energy. Once she was happy that the negative energy had been cleared, she blew air over my stomach to ‘fill it with positive purple light’. After the treatment, I oddly felt a bit emotional and tearful, as the whole process was quite intense. It was definitely one to chalk up as an experience!
After my weekend at Middle Piccadilly, I felt unique combination of being both relaxed and highly introspective, which I believe can only be a good thing.
As I boarded the plane for my flight to Pisa on the way to the stunning Castello del Nero, in Chianti, I couldn't help but reminisce about the last time I was in Tuscany, which was for my wedding at Villa Nozzole (near Greve in Chianti) nearly four years ago.
For those who haven’t had the fortune of visiting Tuscany, I’d definitely put it on your bucket list of ‘must-visit’ destinations. Boasting rich cultural heritage, verdant rolling hills, the infamous Tuscan sun and the remarkably delicious cuisine (and not to mention, world-class wines), all of these factors combined make it the ideal destination for culture vultures and foodies alike. Add to this a generous helping of Tuscan hospitality, and you have all the essential ingredients for a truly memorable holiday.
Castello del Nero is everything you’d hope for in a ‘wow-factor’ accommodation – and then some. I’m now a firm believer that all rooms should come with frescoes as standard. Let’s just say the bar has been seriously raised.
The 5-star deluxe hotel (the first of its kind in Tuscany upon its opening 10 years ago) has 50 luxurious rooms (comprised of 18 lavish suites), two restaurants (La Taverna and 1-Michelin star restaurant La Torre), a bar, a 20 metre outdoor swimming pool, a 1,000 sq metre ESPA spa, a private chapel from the 1700s, and two tranquil lakes, giving one everything they need for a bit of R&R.
Up until 1986 the hotel was a private residence for the Torrigiani family. Rumour has it that the beautiful Cyprus trees that surround the property were planted by Mrs Torrigiani, who didn’t want the servants to see her when she visited her vegetable garden.
The hotel has been sensitively refurbished, ensuring that each room at Castello del Nero is unique, while retaining its natural character. Vaulted ceilings, frescoes and original fireplaces feature throughout the accommodation.
My favourite room in the property was Room 122, which featured Dutch blue and white floral décor, a small sitting room with views of the countryside and a gorgeous bedroom, which is entered via a striking arched doorway.
No trip to Castello del Nero is complete without experiencing its restaurant offering. Whether you enjoy a casual, poolside lunch at La Taverno or a more formal dining affair at 1 Michelin Star La Torre, you won’t be disappointed. The service is impeccable and the authentic cuisine prepared by Executive Chef Giovanni Luca Di Pirro is divine. If you’re just looking for a bog-standard meal, then this isn’t your place, but if you’re looking for a sensational gastronomic experience, then you might want to stay a bit longer...
The wine cellar
One of the highlights of my visit was enjoying a wine tasting in the wine cellar with their friendly and highly skilled sommelier, Roberto. Up to eight guests can enjoy a tasting at the tasting table, which is a real treat and a unique experience that’s both educational and enjoyable.
During the tasting, we learned a wealth of information about Tuscan wines as we tasted several grape varietals, which we enjoyed with a selection of meats and cheeses. While the Chianti Classico, the region’s most famous wine, was great, my favourite wine was the Tignanello, a Super Tuscan wine that’s been produced in the area since 1952. Comprised of 50% Cabernet Sauvignon and 50% Cabernet Franc, the Tignanello is a complex wine with balsamic vinaigrette flavours. Other wines that are worth checking out include Sangiovese (of which there are 600 varieties in Tuscany) and the Brunello di Montalcino, a rich, ripe wine with jammy flavours, which has a strong maritime influence thanks to the sea, which is only 1.5 hours away.
The largest spa in Tuscany, the ESPA spa is a great place to unwind during your stay. The spa includes a vitality pool and relaxation areas to ensure a restful experience. The staff were incredibly friendly and committed to ensuring that you have an enjoyable experience. During my visit, I enjoyed the Signature Spa Treatment that they had created for the 10th anniversary, a 75-minute treatment, which included a welcome foot ritual, a back scrub with Castello del Nero’s olive oil and a head massage.
If you're feeling really lazy, you can simply flop on a wooden sun lounger by the pool with a good book and an Aperol Spritz, in true Italian style, as I did and would highly recommend. In fact, one of my favourite memories was simply gazing over the vineyards in awe of the natural beauty of the landscape. As I took it all in, I thought to myself ‘If I were a grape, I’d be very happy indeed in these conditions!’.
The Italian Garden
Gardening enthusiasts will fall in love with the perfectly manicured Italian gardens, with a handful of bistro tables scattered throughout. I felt exceptionally relaxed sitting in the garden and feeling the sun on my face, showing that it really is the simplest pleasures that can make all the difference.
Activities one can partake in during their visit (for an additional cost) include bicycle rides, horse trekking, hot air balloon rides, truffle hunting, wine tasting in the wine cellar and spa treatments at the ESPA spa. For those who want to try their hand at Italian cuisine, you can also join a pasta making class, which was jolly good fun, despite me being a hopeless pasta chef. Although I love pasta, my experience is generally in eating it, not making it, so I was excited to get stuck in making ravioli, tagliatelle and my personal favourite, tortellini.
To ensure no one rested on their laurels, we were quickly put to work assisting with stirring the Bolognese sauce (made with chicken stock, celery, carrots and onions – who knew?) and cutting the pasta. The chef was sensible enough not to give us free reign with the pasta machine, which looked like a giant and slightly dangerous looking toaster, which you feed the dough through to press it into a long, thin sheet. I was assured that I wouldn’t lose any fingers in the process, but nonetheless I entrusted this step of the process with my fellow pasta makers.
Day trips from Castello del Nero
For those wishing to venture further afield, Castello del Nero provides its guests with a complimentary shuttle service for day trips to a variety locations including San Gimignano, famous for its towers on the hills and gorgeous vistas, and the equally fabulous cities of Florence and Pisa, which are also easily within reach. There is also the option to hire a vintage Fiat 500 (similar to the Castello del Nero branded 1971 model that guests will notice sitting outside of the hotel), for those who want a more authentic driving experience.
After a long weekend at Castello del Nero, I felt totally relaxed, which is testament to the transformative powers of a bit of sun, sensational cuisine and being immersed in stunning natural surroundings, all while indulging in a slower pace of life. I believe I’ve found the perfect tonic for a peaceful existence.
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