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.
The Swan at Lavenham
If you love quirky, higgledy piggledy historical properties you’ll be swanning with joy over The Swan at Lavenham Hotel & Spa.
A study in beams, this medieval 15th century gem is everything you’d wish for in a period property. The hotel is comprised of three houses from which the hotel was later developed. It's not fully known when the conversion from houses into an inn took place, but it was well established in 1667. During its heyday in times bygone, it served as a public and posting house, with stabling for 50 horses.
So many beams!
Today, the 4-star hotel has 45 bedrooms, all of which are unique. We stayed in Room 34, The Newton Room, which had a very low ceiling and original timber-beamed walls. Although the room was on the small side, we had enough room for a cosy double bed, a desk, two arm chairs and an en-suite bathroom with chequered tiles and country-chic wooden panelling.
Our cosy bedroom - The Newton Room
Within the hotel there are two on-site restaurants – the Brasserie, a relaxed restaurant with original stone floors and contemporary décor serving casual fare, and the award-winning two rosette The Gallery restaurant. On a warm summer’s day, guests can also enjoy afternoon tea in the garden.
The back entrance of the property adjacent to the garden
The chef at the helm is Head Chef Justin Kett, who is passionate about classic British cuisine featuring quality, local ingredients. Wine lovers will be pleased to know that the restaurant also has a sommelier, Head Sommelier Francois Belin (previously of the Goring Hotel in London), who is on hand to help guests navigate the extensive wine menu to find a wine that beautifully matches their chosen dishes.
Dining at The Gallery has a real sense of occasion to it, with its stunning minstrel's gallery where a pianist plays popular medleys on the grand piano while diners enjoy their meals. We opted for three courses, all of which were delightful and served with a smile by our friendly server.
After a restful night's sleep, guests can tuck into the complimentary breakfast, which includes a selection of breads, porridge, yogurts and a cooked breakfast featuring favourites such as smoked salmon and scrambled eggs or Eggs Benedict.
Weavers' House Spa located within the hotel is a serene space with a soothing colour palette of sage green and white, making it the perfect place to chill out after a hectic week. The spa uses Temple Spa products, all of which are available for purchase.
Weavers' House Spa at The Swan at Lavenham
The on-site spa facilities include a sauna, steam room and an outdoor terrace with a small whirlpool - a great place to relax if the weather is cooperating! Guests can choose from more than 30 treatments from hot stone massages to a unique brush massage or more traditional facials, manicures and pedicures.
Upon arrival guests are given an exceptionally fluffy robe and slippers and are then asked to fill out a questionnaire, which arrives on a cute tray with an olive branch decoration and a hot towel and a fresh fruit smoothie to help you ease into your visit.
During my visit, I experienced the New Beginnings mummy-to-be massage (£70), an extra-gentle 60-minute massage tailored for pregnant women. Instead of a traditional massage where you lie on your back, you rest on your side on top of a special water bed as the therapist gives you a head-to-toe massage. Although the massage was relaxing, I found myself wishing for a bit more pressure, but to ensure safety, the therapists have to be as careful as possible, which is why they use such a light touch throughout the treatment.
Exploring further afield
As the hotel is located right in the heart of town, taking a stroll is a must. Lavenham is considered one of England’s best medieval villages with more than 340 listed buildings, so it’s worth checking it out. One of the key things to see in Lavenham is its gorgeous church - the church of St Peter and St Paul - which boasts a striking 141ft-high tower.
If you’re into shopping, head to Snape Maltings with its seven acres of Victorian buildings with shops, galleries and restaurants. If you’re a foodie, head for the Suffolk Food hall, near Ipswich, which boasts more than 8,000sq ft of space filled with some of the best food from Suffolk.
To book a stay at the Swan at Lavenham Hotel & Spa visit www.theswanatlavenham.co.uk.
Rooms start from £185 per night for two sharing including a full Suffolk breakfast; dinner from the a la carte menu is from £39 per person for three courses. Overnight guests have a complimentary two-hour session with use of the facilities in Weavers’ House Spa including the sauna, steam room, outdoor vitality pool and relaxation lounge.
The Swan at Lavenham Hotel & Spa
It’s always nice escaping the chaotic pace of London life, which is why I was thrilled for our jaunt to Burley Manor Hotel in the New Forest. Although we only had 24 hrs to spend away from home, it was the perfect tonic for providing us with a much-needed dose of countryside splendour.
The New Forest is an idyllic escape for a romantic break. Less than 89 minutes by train from London, the New Forest boasts 193,000 acres of serene natural landscape. Here native forests, moors and coastline combine to create the perfect rural escape.
Walking enthusiasts will love exploring 143 miles of track. Start off with the way-marked walks at Bolderwood, Blackwood, Knightwood Oak and Wilverly Plain, which are tranquil at any time of the year. While on your walk, don’t be surprised if you come across a variety of wild life including deer and wild ponies. It’s estimated that there are 3,000 wild ponies roaming freely throughout the New Forest as they tread their own pathways to their favourite feeding grounds.
Wild ponies, goats and pastures in Burley Village, New Forest
Burley Village, New Forest
Burley Manor Hotel, New Forest - A Stylish restaurant with rooms...
During our visit to the New Forest, we stayed at Burley Manor , an impressive adults-only hotel (and former manor house) set in the New Forest countryside. Burley Manor Hotel bills itself as a ‘restaurant with rooms’, a concept which many country hotels seem to be adopting.
Having recently been refurbished at the end of 2015, all of the décor is brand spanking new, apart from the gorgeous antique furnishings. The dark, classic colour scheme (think Farrow and Ball ‘Pelt’ and ‘Calke Green’ painted walls) help to create a luxe feel, while chairs covered in a variety of wildlife print motifs lend a nod of hunting lodge chic to the décor.
We loved the sophisticated drawing room decked out with opulent furnishings and the attractive lounge with its roaring fire, which was very inviting after a brisk walk in the drizzling rain.
A place where four-legged friends are welcome...
Despite the new refurbishment, the hotel is dog friendly, making it ideal for those who can’t stand to be away from their four-legged companions. However, do keep in mind that all doggie guests have to be on their best behaviour (e.g. no barking, fouling the room, chewing on furniture or sleeping on the bed). So, if your dog hasn’t been put through its paces at obedience school, it’s probably best if it stays at home!
Rooms at Burley Manor Hotel
Burley Manor Hotel has a variety of rooms to choose from including: Manor Crown Room, Burley Suite, Garden Suite, Deluxe Doubles, Classic Doubles and ‘Snug Doubles’ (we presume this refers to the size, which would mean it’s so tiny you could barely swing a cat, but to be fair, we didn’t see these rooms, so it’s anyone’s guess!).
During our visit we stayed in Room 40 ‘The Burley Suite’, a generously proportioned room that was furnished with a seriously comfy King Size Hypos bed, a large plasma screen TV, a 2-seater sofa, two stylish arm chairs, a small writing desk and a beautiful antique wardrobe with matching dressers. The contemporary colour palate of aubergine, taupe, white and yellow was both elegant and restful. We also liked the addition of a DAB Robertson radio, which was great for listening to as we lounged in bed reading magazines.
The bathroom had a bath with an overhead power shower and included special touches such as fluffy robes and slippers and a complimentary selection of Temple Spa toiletries. At the end of the day I indulged in a bubble bath, which was pure bliss.
Activities at Burley Manor Hotel
For those who are looking for something to do other than eating and sleeping during their stay, there are a variety of activities to enjoy at Burley Manor Hotel, one of which is horse riding at The Burley Manor Stables, which is set in the grounds of the Burley Manor Hotel.
One or two hour rides cater for everyone from beginners to advanced riders. The ride takes you through the beautiful National Park where you can take in the wonderful views and see the wild ponies and other animals that roam and inhabit the forest.
If horse riding’s not your bag, you can enjoy the outdoor heated swimming pool (open seasonally from 8am-8pm), while gazing across the field at deer and wild horses.
For guests who are staying for a longer period and are looking for activities in the local area, there are a wealth of option including enjoying an educational tipple at Setley Ridge Vineyard or Ringwood Brewery or perfecting your golf swing at Burley Golf Course or Brockenhurst Golf Club.
Dining at Burley Manor Hotel
The kitchen is at the heart of Burley Manor, with simple, seasonal Mediterranean-inspired dishes playing a leading role. The chefs are proud of their wood fired oven, which they use in many of the dishes to enhance the flavours. There is also a small chef’s table located in The Butler’s Pantry near the wood fire oven cooking area, which guests can pre-book to watch the chef prepare a variety of dishes.
Breakfast at Burley Manor Hotel
Breakfast is served Mon-Fri from 7:30am-10am and 8am-10:30am on weekends. If you can’t pry yourself out of bed, you can order a light breakfast from your room. During our stay we had the eggs Benedict and the scrambled eggs and salmon both of which were OK, although not particularly memorable.
Dinner at Burley Manor Hotel
Prior to our meal, we retreated to the bar to enjoy a fabulous glass of the local Hattingley Valley English sparkling wine, which was recommended by the manager. As we waited or our table, a friendly blonde Russian waitress talked us through the menu and provided recommendations as to which dishes we might enjoy.
For our starters my husband had the Moroccan soup, a hearty soup that had a great balance of flavours and a pleasant crunch from the chickpeas and seeds. The portion is huge, so do keep this in mind if you only want a light starter! For my starter, I opted for the grilled halloumi salad, which was nice, but the Moroccan soup was definitely the star of the show.
For our mains we had the lamb shank, which was very tender and a rich beef stew with vegetables and dumplings, which was a classic 'winter warmer'.
Overall, we found that the serving staff were friendly, however, it would appear that many of the staff are still finding their feet as they were struggling to keep up the pace during times when the restaurant was busy. So, although there are still a few teething problems to work through, the restaurant offering has the potential to be great with a few small tweaks. That being said, a special mention is in order for the sommelier who was superb and couldn't be faulted.
For a quick rural retreat from London, Burley Manor Hotel is definitely one to watch. Prices starting from £51.30 per night (based on double occupancy).
Burley Manor Hotel
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