Countryside Luxury with period charm
Now I love a pub with rooms with character. And The Vicarage with its exposed beams, walls adorned with mirrors, clocks, polo mallets and helmets has plenty of that. Despite this 17th century Grade II listed building being given a major overhaul, it's great to see that the old period charm exists in abundance. As I walked through the pub and dining area en route to the reception area to check in for the night, I noticed the dining room with exposed beams, a huge fireplace full of logs, an assortment of furniture, and a welcoming bar.
Situated off the main road on the edge of Holmes Chapel in Cheshire, this boutique hotel is the first property from the family-owned Flat Cap Hotels. This historic building has had a modern extension built to the back, which houses 20 standard fuss-free bedrooms. As nice as those bedrooms are for the professional-on-the-go or families alike, the wow factor has been saved for the suites. Each one is individually designed, some with exposed beams, many with antique furniture, yet featuring mod cons such as the luxuriously thick curtains and indulgent carpet.
I think my guest Nita and I bagged the best of them - suite number 24. The bathroom alone, with its stand alone bath tub overlooking a huge window and a separate rain shower, was almost as big as the room itself. And I could have easily slept on the huge bed with its thick comfy mattress the whole weekend - only getting up to make myself a coffee from the Nespresso machine in the room and indulging in the chocolate chip homemade cookies left for us, which was a nice touch.
But the lure of dinner had me in the restaurant as quick as a flash. But first, a crisp cold glass of Prosseco propped up on a stool at the bar, which I was told by the staff was made from an old French altar. With it being a Friday, the place was abuzz with drinkers and diners alike.
Dinner is served in the same cosy atmospheric room on huge tables and comfy high back chairs. After learning that the grub is cooked under the watchful eye of adept chef, Steven Tuke (who previously worked at Chester Grosvenor), I expected the food to be on point, and it certainly didn't disappoint.
The menu, although not flashy with extraordinary ingredients put together as often can be the case at such places, is modest and safe. Food like the steak and chips, pan seared sea-bass and pork belly is well executed. The lamb rump arrived in good sized meaty chucks complete with vegetables and potatoes and suitably covered in a mint and red current jus. How I managed to demolish it after an equally hearty Cornish crab meat starter, I'm not sure. I did, however, have to by-pass the dessert despite the appealing options on offer.
It's funny how after a hearty meal you vow you swear you couldn't eat a morsel for a week. But as soon as breakfast time arrived, my thoughts turned to food again. Well rested from one of the comfiest beds I have slept in for ages, followed by a very long soak in the aforementioned bath tub, I bounced back downstairs for breakfast.
Served in a light and airy conservatory overlooking lush greenery, the food offerings from the buffet cart (think yogurt, pastries, cereals, bread rolls) are welcoming. Half a dozen cooked options are also available on offer, which include a full English with a vegetarian option as well as porridge.
If you want to explore this part of the world and eat well in a cosy place with historic charm, then The Vicarage is for you. The reception has plenty of leaflets on sightseeing and things to do.
Nita and I went for a stroll around Tatton Park, just a short car ride away, which was recommended highly by the knowledgeable staff. Well all that good food had to be burned off somehow. As we walked I reminisced on what a great couple of days we had - made all the more special thanks to our lovely suite.
Rooms from £165 per night for dinner, bed and breakfast, complimentary WFii and parking.
The Vicarage Freehouse & Rooms
*During my stay I was hosted by The Vicarage Free House & Rooms. All words and opinions are my own.
One of the benefits of living in London is that it has a plethora of divine country escapes on its doorstep, with a host of welcoming hotels mere minutes from the city centre.
Down Hall is one of them. Just 45 minutes on the train from Liverpool Street and a short 10 minute text from Bishop’s Stortford, this 14th century country house features contemporary bedrooms, a brand new spa and a AA Rosette awarded restaurant. If you need an idyllic country escape from London, you’ve found it.
With 99 bedrooms, each individually designed to reflect the elegance and character of the historic property, the hotel feels much smaller than it actually is. The main lounge, with its open fire and elegant sofas, is the perfect space to take afternoon tea, or just curl up with a book, while the cocktail bar, adjacent to The Grill Room restaurant, overlooks 110 acres of gardens and woodland the hotel is set in; calling out for a leisurely afternoon stroll in the sunshine.
If, however the idea of being sociable and active is too much, fear not, as the newly-opened Eden Spa offers a hydrotherapy pool, mood lit sauna with full height timber cladding and tiered seating and a state of the art steam room with starry night feature lighting. Is there anything more satisfying than a spa circuit? If it all gets a bit much, there’s also a relaxation room to chill in pre or post, though it could do with some blankets to up the cosiness.
It would be foolish not to indulge in a spa treatment while you’re there, especially as there are four brand new treatment rooms - including one double - and ESPA products. The hot stone massage comes highly recommended; I’d never tried one before but can confirm it was even more relaxing and satisfying than a classic aromatherapy or Swedish.
After floating back to one’s room on a cloud of massage-induced bliss, room service may tempting option, but you’ll want to drag yourself down to The Grill Room for supper. With two AA rosettes, the restaurant specialises in Anglo French cuisine from head chef Matthew Hill, who was recently appointed following experience at top London eateries, Tom Aikens Restaurant Chelsea and Bleeding Heart Farringdon. Using ingredients from the kitchen’s own vegetable patch or local suppliers, signature starters include braised pork cheeks, pulled ham hock, air dried ham and spiced apple purée; and leg of guinea fowl stuffed with walnuts and tarragon, marron purée and orange gel.
I can heartily recommend starting with the roast pigeon, with sweetcorn bacon and popcorn granola, which was incredibly succulent and full of flavour. The roast chicken breast and thigh, with baby aubergine, celeriac and black cabbage was a great choice for main - juicy, tender meat that melted in the mouth - and green olive gnocchi with artichokes salsify and pine nut dressing garnered some rather satisfied noises from the other side of the table.
Puddings include the likes of gluten free passion fruit parfait, mango cheesecake with coconut sorbet, lime and mint sauce and chocolate fondant with pistachio ice cream, but when faced with a pick and mix cheese board with Reblochon as an option, there’s not really any contest.
Retiring to chambers, one can expect a sterling night’s sleep, thanks to a sturdy mattress and pillow perfection - not too soft, not too high. Usually a terrible sleeper, I was out like a light; probably partially due to the aforementioned supper.
There are things to do in and around the local area, if you so desire it, but when faced with a country house hotel with stunning grounds, a stellar restaurant and spa, there’s not really any point in straying from the grounds. The prospect of being in the countryside there within an hour of finishing work on a Friday, indulging your palate and waking up far from the city hustle with a full English and a hydrotherapy pool stretched out before you is one I imagine will be tickling a lot of fancies right about now.
Everything tastes sweeter in Amalfi. Maybe it’s the sunshine or perhaps it’s the warmth of the people here - whatever it is, it’s the perfect tonic for frazzled nerves. As I sat on our private patio overlooking the Mediterranean while an enjoying a delicious apricot and orange (compliments of the hotel), I couldn’t help but feel content.
Hotel Santa Caterina is a 5-star hotel located along the famous Amalfi drive on the Amalfi Coast, only a few minutes away from the centre of Amalfi or a 15-minute walk down the winding road if you’re feeling brave as the cars zip perilously close!
The hotel was built in 1850 by Giuseppe Gambardella and his son later redesigned the property in 1904. Two generations of Gambardellas have upgraded the hotel to bring it up to date. Today, the hotel is still family run and has 67 guest rooms and suites.
The impressive cliff-top location with its landscaped natural terraces, which snake down to the pool at the edge of the sea, makes guests feel as though they’ve just stepped onto the set of a Bond film. A handy elevator transports guests to the poolside area, just don’t look out the window if you suffer from vertigo!
If you love really sleek, modern hotel rooms, then this probably isn’t the place for you, however if you love traditional Italian décor with charm in spades, then you’ll be in for a treat. All of the rooms have traditional furnishings, multi-coloured ceramic tiles and a balcony or a terrace with views of the Amalfi Coast and most rooms have a Jacuzzi bath. Prices start at £336 per night (including breakfast, based on two sharing). If you really want to splurge, book the Romeo and Juliet suite, a two-story chalet perched on the cliff above the sea with a terrace that boasts its own swimming pool and solarium.
As you meander to the pool, about halfway down the descent you’ll see the lush garden – the perfect oasis to relax in the shade with a cool drink should the Italian sun prove too much. A stylish mosaic bench and leafy parasols provide the perfect photo opportunities.
The first thing that strikes you is the spectacular setting of this cliff-side pool with its wavy edges and rocky cliff walls, which serve as a striking natural backdrop making it a unique place to take a dip.
On a hot summer’s day, swim to the end of the pool with its thatched parasol roof, which provides respite from the blistering heat.
When you’ve had enough of the pool, retreat to one of the chic wooden sun loungers, and feel yourself drifting to sleep to the sound of waves crashing against the rocks, providing a soothing symphony of white noise. As you gaze out towards the sea, a bright red row boat named ‘Salvataggio’ bobs gently in the sea next to the cliffs, helping to create a picture perfect scene.
Complimentary bottled water is provided at the pool, however, if you feel yourself getting peckish, grab an apple from the gym or order a snack from the poolside bar, which you can enjoy from your lounger or in the bar area, depending on your preference. Menu options include everything from salads to club sandwiches. One of our favourite treats from the bar was the fresh apricot and orange smoothie, which was delicious, but steeply priced at 19,00 Euros.
Santa Caterina Restaurant
The hotel has two on-site restaurants serving delicious Italian food or for guests who are feeling really lazy, room service is also available.
For a more formal dinner, there is the Santa Caterina Restaurant, with its blue marble floors and crisp white table cloths, which affords guests with breath-taking views of Amalfi and the Meditteranean Sea. At night, the pianist Bruno plays relaxing music and the dining room is lit by candlelight, creating a romantic atmosphere.
Menu options feature a wealth of dishes from the Campagnia region and menu items include starters such as fried zucchini flowers filled with ricotta cheese and salami in a basil sauce or grilled octopus on a potato veloute flavoured with lemon. Mains include homemade potato ravioli with local cheese, broad beans and bacon, risotto with green peas and crispy suckling pig, grouper with vegetables and lemon or chateaubriand with béarnaise sauce.
For a more casual affair during the summer months (early May - late October), guests can enjoy fresh fish, pasta or oven baked pizzas at the Al Mare restaurant at the beach club, which overlooks the swimming pool.
Italy isn’t famous for its breakfast offering, however, the Santa Caterina Restaurant serves one of the best breakfast buffets we’ve come across. Here guests can order freshly made omelettes or tuck into a selection of fruits, pastries, eggs, bacon, sausages, grilled vegetables or traditional Italian foods such as salamis, cheeses, sundried tomatoes and olives. And you can’t start the day without a frothy cappuccino, as you gaze out at the sea while you devour your breakfast.
No 5-star hotel is complete without a spa and the Darphin spa is the perfect place to treat yourself to a variety of treatments from facials to massages. Amalfi is famous for its lemons, so why not try the ‘Amalfi Gold’ massage (120.00 euros), which features a stimulating lemon balm. Or if your legs are tired after strolling around Amalfi, go for the ‘Detox Legs’ massage (95.00 euros), which will make heavy legs and tired feet feel revived.
The staff at the hotel are all friendly and accommodating and seem to be able to guess your needs before you have a chance to voice them. Whether you’re at the pool, dining in the restaurant or relaxing on the terrace, you’ll be well looked after.
If you're visiting Amalfi and want to stay in a luxurious location while being treated like royalty, there's no other place to go.
Traveling further afield
The hotel is perfectly located for taking day trips to Positano, Ravello, Sorrento, Capri, Pompeii and Naples. You can organise trips to these locations from the tour providers located in Amalfi.
The nearest airports are Rome or Naples Capodichino International Airport (located 1.5 hours from the hotel).
Hotel Santa Caterina
S.S Amalfitana, 9
To book your stay, visit www.hotelsantacaterina.it or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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