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
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
Getting out of London for a night has be one of my favourite pastimes; for those days when you need a little break, a time out from real life, but the time constraints and budget won’t quite stretch to a proper mini break in a far flung city. Luckily, there’s a raft of rather delightful spa hotels a mere stone’s throw from the capital that are begging for a post-work sojourn on a Friday evening.
The Runnymede on Thames in Egham is exactly that. Leaving work at 5.30pm on a Friday, we were crossing the hotel’s threshold by 6.45pm, ready for a night of rest and relaxation. Situated on the bank of the river and just a short taxi ride from Egham station, it’s an ideal getaway for a night away from London. With rooms overlooking the river, a spa and fitness room and two restaurants on site, it’s no wonder we found it buzzing with guests upon arrival.
Rooms vary from singles for the solo traveller to doubles overlooking the river, family suites and even dog-friendly rooms for those travelling with a faithful companion. Checking in to ours, I instantly eyed up the ESPA toiletries in the bathroom, ready for my post-prandial soak, along with a bottle of prosecco chilling in the minibar, part of the hotel’s current 'Fizz & Films' package, offering couples a bed and breakfast stay with unlimited films, a bottle of fizz and popcorn from £160 for two. Nevertheless, having leapt on a train straight from work dinner called…
The hotel has two restaurants; The Lock Bar and kitchen is the a la carte offering, boasting a 2018 AA Rosettes award for culinary excellence with a menu of hearty, home-style cooking and a regularly changing menu. The Leftbank restaurant however, our dinner location, may well be the best buffet I’ve ever encountered. Completely spoilt for choice, we absolutely gorged on a smorgasbord of delicious fresh salads and nibbles to start, from lentil, butternut and goats cheese to devilled eggs, before helping ourselves to a selection of fresh fish, calamari and mussels, which the chef cooked up before our eyes in a creamy white wine sauce. With an array of sides to accompany, guests can choose from a plethora of dishes from the theatre kitchen, from sizzling roasts with all the trimming, pasta and sauces cooked to order and stone baked rustic dough with delicious cheesy toppings. The range of food on offer was something else. Puddings must not be overlooked; given we visited on Burns’ Night I very much enjoyed the Cranachan … though the individual strawberry cheesecakes were rather delightful. And the meringues, and for that matter the chocolate brownies… OK, so it was all delicious! The danger with a buffet however is one’s tendency to overeat, so perhaps be mindful when dining that you WILL want it all so probably best to stick with small quantities.
A pre-breakfast swim was just the ticket prior to another gorge at the buffet; fresh fruit with coulis and homemade compotes, a cereal and yoghurt bar, homemade Bircher and granola, a continental spread featuring ham, mortadella and smoked salmon, cheese, pastries and a full English buffet to pick and choose from… needless to say breakfast is another hefty affair, made all the sweeter by the addition of comb honey from their very own resident bees.
With the spa open until 10pm the temptation of a post-dinner session proved too much to resist; after all, is there anything better for the digestion than a jacuzzi? Resplendent with the addition of a steam room, dry and infra saunas and pool, it’s the perfect place to while away an evening. Sauna, swim, steam, repeat is my new mantra in life.
The spa’s treatment many encompasses a whole manner of massages, facials, body wraps and more, with a number of spa day experience packages available. They’ve even earmarked particular treatments for younger guests, a great option to those who might want to treat their teens. Should it strike your fancy the gym and studio classes are also available… though admittedly I didn’t feel the need to break my relaxation with a workout. Come the summer months there’s an outdoor pool available, while guests can also indulge in the riverside hot tub, though the thought of being exposed to all and sundry jogging along the public towpath doesn’t particularly fill me with joy.
Although our January sojourn wasn’t quite the right timing for it, guests can also enjoy messing about on the river in one of the hotel’s boats, with a number of staff licensed to skipper you up and downriver from their private mooring, something it’s certainly worth keeping in mind for the summer months.
The only criticism I had of our stay was the somewhat dubious array off films on offer; for a film package the choice was disappointing, with absolutely zero chick flicks or rom coms (yes I was on a girls’ minibreak…) and more *ahem* adult films than actual entertaining choices we wanted to watch, though given we were so stuffed from supper and drowsy post-bubble bath it wasn’t the end of the world.
For a deliciously relaxing night away less than an hour from London, The Runnymede on Thames is certainly one to add to your little black book.
Set within 14 acres of spectacular scenery, you’ll find Linthwaite House, a 30-room boutique hotel that’s one of the most luxurious hotels in the Lake District. Here guests are offered jaw-dropping views year-round – whatever the weather.
Linthwaite House is the latest addition to the portfolio of Leeu Collection, a collection of exquisite hotels around the world, that were the vision of founder and entrepreneur Analjit Singh. We were lucky enough to have recently visited Leeu Estates in Franschoek, South Africa, so we couldn’t wait to stay at Linthwaite House, knowing that we were going to be in for a treat if the properties we visited in South Africa were anything to go by.
The first thing you notice upon arrival at Linthwaite House is the picturesque setting with its cracking mountain views. The hotel is surrounded by nature at every corner, giving guests the impression that they are the only people lucky enough to enjoy this remarkably beautiful area.
The grounds are gorgeous, so it’s worth taking a stroll around the property to see the boating lake with its cute, country chic summer house or to simply watch the local sheep grazing in the adjacent field.
The tranquil boating lake and the summer house
Within the hotel, there are several communal areas for guests to enjoy including two lounges (each with a fire) and a beautiful, glass conservatory that overlooks the lake. On a warm sunny day, there’s no better place than the outdoor terrace with its views of the snow-capped mountains in the distance.
The décor boasts vintage touches throughout with weathered leather trunks stacked atop one another and a variety of bric-a-brac adorning the walls.
Quirky touches and vintage decor
The manager informed us that the hotel is going to be refurbished soon (from June - October 2017), so it will be interesting to see what new changes will be revealed when the hotel is reopened in all its glory. There is talk of guest rooms on stilts with private hot tubs on the boating lake, which would have us rushing back in no time!
Our Room – Room 7
We stayed in a junior suite, which consisted of a separate lounge area with a sofa and TV and a large bed. The décor was neutral throughout with pops of purple (via throw pillows and curtains), to add a sense of luxury. Best of all, there were large picture windows, which provided fabulous views of the croquet lawn.
We loved that there were lots of lovely little touches throughout including complimentary Kendal Mint Cakes (a renowned local treat), Molton Brown toiletries and a Nespresso coffee machine that George Clooney would approve of. Sadly, he wasn’t there to join us for a coffee!
There is an on-site restaurant and a private dining room, for those wanting to host private functions.
Breakfast at Linthwaite House
Breakfast is served in the dining room where guests dine at tables covered with white linen table clothes covered with a gingham table cloth, lending a Provencal feel to breakfast proceedings. To start, guests can choose from a selection of cereals, fruits, yogurts and pastries.
Lovely background music plays as guests pour their tea and tuck into their breakfast. Breakfast offerings at Linthwaite House are on the traditional side and include options such as smoked salmon with scrambled eggs, grilled kipper rarebit glazed poached cod, a full English breakfast, French toast, or homemade pancakes with blueberry compote.
Our breakfast at Linthwaite House Hotel
Salmon and scrambled eggs, a home-made rosti with caramelised onions, grilled mushroom and a soft fried egg and assorted buffet options
Dinner at Linthwaite House
Before dinner, guests have the option of enjoying a drink and nibbles in either of the lounges or in the stylish bar with its black and silver colour palette, which had a bit of a 1920s-vibe going on.
After enjoying a glass of wine (my husband) and a non-alcoholic Mojito (me), we headed to the dining room for dinner in the restaurant. Dim lighting and crisp white linen table cloths added a sense of formality to dinner and it was nice to feel like we were going out on a proper date!
For our starter, we enjoyed a cup of mushroom soup and I had the goats cheese mousse, dusted with gingerbread crumbs and served with heritage vegetables, while my husband had the teriyaki salmon. For our mains, my husband had the lamb and I had the pork, which was very interesting as it was served in a variety of ways to keep things interesting. All the dishes were inventive and beautifully presented, so we couldn’t fault a thing.
Throughout our stay, everyone we met was very laidback and quick with a smile and they were more than happy to provide recommendations for things to see and do in the local area.
Exploring further afield
No trip to the area is complete without a boat tour on Lake Windermere. The local tour provider, Windermere Lake Cruises, offers three tours for visitors to choose from (Red, Yellow or Blue routes), which can take you to either Lakeside or The Islands or a combination of the two (from £11 per person).
The tours get very busy, especially during the summer months, so ensure that you arrive in plenty of time before the scheduled departure to ensure a place at the front of the queue. If sharing a boat with strangers isn’t your idea of a nice way to spend an afternoon, you can hire a row boat or a mini speed boat (£25-£50 per hour) to explore the lake at your leisure.
Virgin Trains operates services from London Euston to Windermere. The hotel is only a 10-minute taxi ride away. It’s recommended that you pre-book your taxi in advance to avoid waiting.
Prices from £246 to £322 per person per night – for dinner, bed and breakfast in a junior suite.
Rates vary according to view, size of room and time of year.
To book your stay visit:
Linthwaite House Hotel
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