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
Get There in Style via Cross Country Trains
For my weekend escape to The Principal, one of Manchester’s most iconic Victorian hotels, I used Cross Country Trains, which transported me from my home town of Bournemouth to Manchester.
One of the UK’s most extensive rail networks, Cross Country rail calls at more than 100 stations and stretches from Aberdeen to Penzance and from Stansted to Cardiff. Given my journey was nearly five hours, I decided to travel first class – a treat that was well worth the investment as it meant that I’d arrive at my destination refreshed and ready to explore the city. Key highlights of the journey included fresh food offerings - not a pre-made processed wrapper in sight – and endless green tea and scrummy stem ginger and fruit and lemon biscuits. They also had a decent free WI-FI signal too, a well-appreciated rarity. I'll definitely be travelling with Cross Country Trains again when the opportunity presents itself.
The Principal Hotel in Manchester is a place of architectural wonder. Centrally located only a short taxi ride or a 10-minute walk from Manchester Piccadilly train station, it stands proud in the North of England’s ‘capital of cool’.
From the exterior, its Art Deco signage and striking clock tower gives onlookers a glimpse of its opulence. Inside, guests are greeted with a spellbinding reception foyer, which recently received a £25 million refurbishment. One of the key focal points within the foyer is a striking bronze stallion, which stands in the space that was once a turning circle for horses and carriages in years bygone.
The hotel was designed by Alfred Waterhouse in 1891, the same architect behind my favourite building, The Natural History Museum, in London. The expansive hotel has 270 guest rooms, 17 conference suites, a business centre, private dining spaces, and one of the largest ballrooms in Northern England that can accommodate up to 1,000 guests. At every turn guests are treated to enchanting Victorian splendour thanks to the exquisite décor in the public areas, bars, restaurants and the lobby, which features decadent design touches such as stained glass, marble and bronze.
Given the hotel’s large size, it lacks the charm of smaller hotels or a B&B, however, the staff are incredibly polite and efficient, nonetheless. What really makes the hotel stand out are its distinctive character and the grandeur it radiates, which make it easy to fall in love with the place. Handy services for guests to enjoy include a concierge, dry cleaning and 24-hour room service.
In addition to its facilities reserved for hotel residents, The Principal also offers non-residents an array of standout venues, including the Winter Garden, a restaurant within a conservatory, which was full of lovely indoor trees and palms lit with white fairy lights to create a magical atmosphere.
For guests who love a sophisticated cocktail bar, The Refuge by Volta, which serves an extensive menu of drinks and simple plates, is a great space to relax with a tipple. For bar-games enthusiasts, there’s The Den, which offers table-football and pool.
The Director’s Penthouse Suite
Upon my arrival I was greeted with a complimentary gin and tonic delightfully presented in a mini corked bottle complete with a cloth-covered lemon, and a delicious vanilla custard tart topped with fresh raspberries – a truly memorable welcome!
The suite itself was huge and fit for a king, or a director of a substantial financial firm, as a nod to its heritage. The room’s impressive 30-foot ceilings and traditional oak-panelling set the scene for a luxurious stay. Furnishings included a three-piece sofa, a coffee table, a 4-seater dining area, a bureau and a large flat screen TV.
A luxurious Victorian town house in a gorgeous leafy suburb
Eclectic Hotels’ delightful Victorian townhouse, Eleven Didsbury Park, is an elegant and intimate property featuring 20 individually designed rooms and suites. Thanks to the care and consideration that has gone into every detail of the hotel and the attentive staff who make you feel truly special, it’s easy to see what sets it apart from larger, local hotel groups.
Throughout the property, the décor is an exercise in tasteful refinement. The calming, neutral colour palette helps guests to instantly relax. Those who love period features will adore the high ceilings, the grand staircase and the restful lounge, which beckons guests to linger.
The Roof Terrace Room
This standout room is incredibly bright and spacious. Features include a super king size bed, a free-standing iron bath, a monsoon shower room with complimentary Temple Spa products, a corner sofa, a large bureau, a widescreen TV with Sky, digital radio and CD stereo with iPhone dock, a mini bar and a complementary butler tray. Where the magic really happens, however, is the stunning private terrace, which guests access through the French doors.
Overlooking the lovely south-facing garden, a private walkway takes guests to a luxury canopied terrace with a balcony - perfect for couples and honeymooners – that includes another freestanding iron bath and a table and chairs. It has the look of a well-restored dove shed, complete with chicken wire and shabby-chic pictures and furnishings.
This high-quality accommodation presents no end of surprises that make you smile continuously, ensuring that it stands head and shoulders above other hotels. Bravo!
Our experience overall
The property: ★★★★★
Food and drink: ★★★★★
Staff attentiveness/friendliness: ★★★★★
Prices from £105, depending on time of year and availability.
Eleven Didsbury Park
I love a good spa weekend. It’s the perfect tonic for truly relaxing after a hectic work week. What’s more it’s even better if I can escape London without having to embark on a massive journey to find a bit of solace. So, Bedford Lodge Hotel and Spa in Newmark (located less than an hour and a half train journey from London) was the perfect place for a bit of R&R.
Set within three acres of secluded gardens and adjacent to some of the most famous paddocks and training stables in the world, this 4-star spa hotel has an on-site restaurant and an award-winning luxury spa.
The hotel is contemporary in style and the rooms are typical of what you’d expect from a 4-star hotel – quite plain but with everything you need for a short stay, including complimentary Molton Brown toiletries. The real highlights of the hotel are the cracking cuisine at the 2AA Rosette Squires restaurant and the superb ESPA spa, which combined provide the perfect weekend escape.
The Spa at Bedford Hotel
Heralded one of the best spas in the east of England, this award-winning ESPA spa complex is a chic retreat. A muted colour palette of creams, sage green curtains, bleached wood floorboards provides a restful atmosphere.
Before we settled into our spa day, we started with lunch in the spa lounge. Lunch options include afternoon tea (with or without champers), and other light bites such as sandwiches and salads. We opted for the Eggs Benedict with Parma ham and a Coronation Chicken wrap, which were both nice.
After lunch, my husband and I each made our way to spa where we’d spend the next couple of hours relaxing before our treatments. The spa area has a vitality pool, sauna, steam room, and a relaxation room with a selection of comfy loungers and two welcoming lounge beds with draping over them, which lend a beachy feel to the décor. To help while away the hours, there are also a variety of magazines to enjoy while you wait for your treatments.
Outside, there is a small hot tub that can comfortably hold four people. As it’s very warm inside the spa, popping outdoors to feel a cool breeze on your face as you bubble away feels fabulous. On the rooftop, you can also view the neighbouring paddocks with the horse residents poking their heads over the stable doors.
Our spa treatments at The Spa at Bedford Hotel and Spa
After our lazy spa day, my husband and I went our separate ways for our spa treatments. My husband enjoyed a 60-minute personalised massage (£70) and I had the 60-minute personalised facial (£65), which starts with the therapist examining your skin to determine the best products for your individual needs. I selected my favourite scrubs and oils from the selection and they were used throughout my treatment.
During the hour-long treatment, my skin was steamed, massaged and moisturised. I also had a neck and head massage, which was so relaxing I fell asleep! There are a variety of spa packages to choose from, depending on the treatments you’d like to indulge in, whether it be a bridal weekend, a romantic retreat or simply a day for a bit of ‘me time’.
Dining at Bedford Hotel – 2AA Rosettes Squires Restaurant
Squires is a contemporary restaurant located within the hotel. Here guests can enjoy breakfast, lunch and dinner in a classy environment.
The charcoal and dove grey dining room with its tapestry print arm chairs, large palladium windows and smartly dressed waiters is the perfect place to enjoy a sophisticated meal. Diners are spoilt for choice with two menus to choose from – the ala carte menu and the daily menu, ensuring that even picky eaters are certain to find something they like.
The cuisine at Squires
We started off with an amuse bouche of raw trout and caviar - compliments of the chef – which was a great start to our meal.
For our starters, my husband went for the mussels in garlic white wine broth, which were salty and garlicky with a bit of creamy goodness from the broth. I opted for the sweet potato ravioli with sage butter, which was gorgeous - each bite was a perfect little parcel of joy.
For our mains, the waiter recommended the Scotch sirloin and the Dover sole, which didn’t disappoint. The sirloin was superb and was served with a homemade béarnaise sauce that was seriously moreish and generous portion of hand-cut fries. The whole Dover sole arrived deboned and was light and flaky and accompanied by a rich butter sauce, which added a bit of flavour.
Although the dessert offerings looked amazing, we sadly didn't have enough room in our bellies to indulge (that’s got to be a first), so we gave it a miss. Next time, we'll ensure we save room! After dinner, we went to bed pleasantly full and tired after such a restful day.
The following morning, we headed down to Squires for our breakfast. I’m a huge fan of breakfast and the breakfast offering here is wonderful. Guests can graze from the continental spread which includes freshly baked croissants and pastries, fruit salad, thick yogurt with fresh fruits, cold meats and cheeses, cereal and a variety of fruit juices. I also ordered scrambled eggs and sausages (they were fab) and the full English that my husband tucked into also looked delicious.
Throughout our stay service was welcoming and friendly in all aspects of the hotel from reception through to the wait staff and the spa attendants. We thought the evening turn down service was a nice touch and they even brought me peppermint tea upon request, so I could enjoy a relaxing cuppa before bed.
This is a great place to visit if you want to feel pampered while enjoying great good and fabulous spa services without a long jaunt from London.
Perched on the side of Richmond Hill, The Petersham Hotel is a gorgeous 4-star hotel in Richmond overlooking the bend of the River Thames and the surrounding Petersham Meadows. Built in 1865, this historical hotel has 58 elegant bedrooms and an award-winning 2 AA Rosettes restaurant.
If Victorian buildings are your cup of tea, then you’ll love this glorious example of Victorian architecture at its finest, which at the time it was built was referred to as ‘florid Italian Gothic’ style.
The first thing that strikes you when you enter the lobby is the magnificent Portland stone staircase, which seems to go on for days. If you continue to cast your gaze upwards toward the magnificent ceiling, you’ll notice a plethora of intricate oil paintings - the work of Italian painter Ferdinando Galli - which further adds to the hotel’s opulent feel.
Guests can choose from a variety of rooms including Classic Bedrooms (the most budget friendly option), Superior Bedrooms overlooking the countryside, Classic Riverview Bedrooms overlooking the Thames or for those who really want to treat themselves - the Penthouse Suite.
We stayed in one of the Classic River View rooms, which had large floor-to-ceiling windows and a patio door, which led onto a long narrow balcony with two iron chairs, which would have been the perfect place to sit and enjoy a cuppa as we watched the boats go down the river had it not been a dreary January afternoon! Needless to say, it was still a pleasure lying in bed and look at that view. The décor was very traditional, think heavy drapes and antique style furniture, but having looked at the website, some of the rooms feature more modern décor.
The best feature of our room was our HUGE bathroom, which was the size of most bedrooms, boasting a large bathtub and shower, both of which fit two people comfortably, should you wish to have a cheeky, romantic weekend.
Feel like a star for a weekend
After we settled into our room, the hotel’s friendly and knowledgeable concierge took us on a tour of the hotel, where we learned that the hotel has been graced by many stars from the worlds of sport, music and film. If you stroll the halls, you’ll see a Hall of Fame with pictures of famous guests who have visited such as Mick Jagger, Jerry Hall, Catherine Zeta Jones, Sandra Bullock and Michael Douglas, who stayed at the hotel for two weeks in hopes of escaping the prying masses while holing up to read a script.
The hotel is also exceptionally popular with brides who want to feel like a star for the day. During our stay a wedding was in progress, which made our visit feel all the more special as we watched the bride and groom in all their finery flit from room to room with their photographer in search of the perfect photo opportunity.
The Petersham Restaurant
The 2AA Rosettes Petersham Restaurant has become a foodie destination thanks to chef Adebola Adeshina, whose culinary credentials include working with the Aubergine team under Gordon Ramsey and at Petrus under Marcus Wareing.
The décor is elegant with inky blue furnishings and mirrored walls featuring sconce lighting, which lend an air of Art Deco chic to the restaurant, while its navy velvet chairs and crisp white table linens add a sense of formality.
The restaurant is unique in that the large picture windows afford guests at every table the opportunity to drink in views of the serene River Thames as they enjoy classic modern British cuisine, focusing on fresh, seasonal produce. Diners can order from a variety of menus including an a la carte or fixed price menu or they can enjoy a spot of afternoon tea or a hearty Sunday lunch.
The food at The Petersham Restaurant
When we visited on a Friday evening, we plumped for the three-course dinner menu, enjoying starters of rabbit terrine - very moist and a great balance of flavours without tasting too ‘gamey’ - and the pork belly served with a spiced apple - also tasty, but not nearly as nice as the rabbit, which was in a league of its own.
For mains, I opted for a whole Dover Sole, which was expertly de-boned by our waiter at the table, accompanied by new potatoes and a mini jug of an indulgent brown butter sauce with capers, which added a buttery saltiness to the fish. It was also served with a lemon presented in a muslin cloth - a nice touch to the overall presentation.
My husband sprung for the Halibut with chorizo and lentils, which was exceptionally moreish - and very photogenic as you can see below!
Although we were stuffed to the gills after dinner (no pun intended), after seeing fellow diners greedily devouring the Cherry Soufflé, there was no question which dessert we’d be going for. When the soufflé arrived in all its fluffily risen glory it didn’t disappoint. Its lovely smooth texture and intense cherry flavour was in one word - sublime. We felt like MasterChef’s Gregg Wallace as we slowly savoured each bite, trying our best not to coo with pleasure to avoid strange looks from neighbouring diners.
Throughout our meal service was faultless and attentive without being intrusive. The mark of a great restaurant.
Another lovely addition to the hotel is their wine cellar, which boasts an extensive wine list that would appeal to any wine connoisseur. The cellar is small and quaint with two rooms for hosting tastings. Within the cellar, thousands of bottles line the walls, giving the impression that one could have a very good time here indeed!
There is also a separate room for champagne, which was only half full but I was informed that they went through a LOT of fizz over the festive period. It would be rude not to imbibe after all! For those who want a private tasting, the cellar can be hired out for groups of 12 or more.
This is a fabulous place to stay if you want a peaceful retreat away from the madness of London but near enough that it's an easy journey when you're ready to join the seething masses feeling fully restored.
Beautiful isolation in the heart of the Lake District...
Located near the edge of the Haweswater reservoir, the Haweswater Hotel is the perfect place to relax if you're seeking to combine long mountain walks in a stunning, isolated setting with rest and relaxation in a stylish bolt hole.
The hauntingly beautiful surroundings of the Haweswater Reserve, a protected area of dramatic fells, rivers and woodland, is the perfect tonic for city slickers looking to escape the rat race to indulge in the peace and tranquility of nature in all its glory.
The journey to The Haweswater Hotel...
As there is nothing more frustrating than getting stuck in London traffic in the pursuit of a countryside escape, my friend and I caught the train from London to Penrith, the gateway to the Northern Lakes, and home to the Penrith Castle ruins (where my husband proposed to me during my last trip to the Lake District nearly four years ago).
Once I was done reminiscing, we picked up our rental car from local car rental company Eden Garage (0176-836-1212) and were soon on our way. The drive was only 30 mins away, which gave us enough time to appreciate the rolling countryside. You know you're in the countryside when your nearest neighbours are a flock of sheep!
Along the way, we came across the Llama Karma Kafe, and its takeaway arm, the Deli-Llama. This cute Peruvian themed cafe, sells a variety of interesting gifts and even has a llama in the back garden (as you do). It's a great place for families to stop off at to stretch the legs on a long journey as it has a nice garden with unique seating (see pics below). Llama lovers can also enjoy on and off-site llama treks via their sister company, Lakeland Llama Treks.
Arriving at The Haweswater Hotel...
When we pulled up in front of the beautiful stone clad building covered in striking bright red ivy, I was blown away by the hotel's location perched on the edge of the Haweswater reservoir. The construction of the Haweswater reservoir started in 1929, amid great controversy from locals who were up in arms about the decision as the valley at the time was populated by farming villages, which would be flooded to make way for its construction. Today, the reservoir provides water for one in four homes in the Northwest.
As a gift to the local community, the hotel was built in 1935. Many of the furnishings in the hotel are a nod to the era, with 1930s touches to be found in the dining room, lounge and bedrooms.
The hotel changed ownership in February 2015 and is currently being refurbished throughout. I had the pleasure of staying in Loft Room 1, which has been tastefully refurbished with modern industrial touches and 1930s furnishings, which have been harmoniously combined.
Our room was large with a fabulous view looking onto the garden and the reservoir. The antique bed was exceptionally comfortable with high quality sheets and a thick duvet - the mark of a fab accommodation in my estimation.
The urban chic bathroom with its blue, claw-footed bathtub and a sleek, oversized shower cubicle, is great for couples who want to relax or indulge in a spot of romance. As I was with my friend, romance wasn't on the cards, but I was already planning my next visit with my husband.
Enjoy an invigorating walk in spectacular surroundings...
After we checked in with the friendly and laid-back staff and dropped our bags off in our room, we decided to explore the local area and take in the stunning landscapes. The area is extremely popular with outdoorsy types who love to go on long hill walks, so we thought we'd give it our best go.
We took a left out of the hotel property and walked for about an hour along the reservoir, which was eerily quite and utterly breathtaking. I was fascinated by how the reservoir changed colour throughout the day from a steely, slate grey to obsidian as the sun dipped over the hills.
There is something quite grounding about walking in the vastness of nature with nothing other than your thoughts to keep you company as you reflect on how stunning nature can be.
The Golden Eagle Restaurant at The Haweswater Hotel
At first glance, the disjointed menu didn't look very promising - many of the items seemed more akin to pub lunch offerings (e.g. Cajun chicken sandwich, fish and chips, burgers, Ploughman's etc.).
However, after perusing the menu for some time, there appeared to be some standout dishes on offer including the ribeye steak, the Cumbrian pork served with black pudding and dauphinoise potatoes and the risotto of the day.
The wine list is quite limited and the food pairings recommendations list that they give you with the wine is a bit naff, but that being said, the presentation of the food was superb and the the quality was also fantastic, which quickly dispelled any doubts we'd initially had.
During our visit we also had the pleasure of meeting Head Chef Phil Clarke, who was genuinely lovely and takes great pride in his food. He informed us that many of the dinner menu options were dictated by the hill walkers who make up the majority of the hotel's business, so it will be interesting to see how the menu evolves over the next year.
After a fabulous day, we retired to our room and woke up feel totally revitalised, an amazing feat considering we'd only stayed one night! The next morning my friend and I enjoyed breakfast in the dining room. My friend enjoyed the stewed fruits and coffee and I decided to treat myself to the scrambled eggs (very fluffy) and the local sausage (fab quality and full of flavour).
Relax in the garden...
After our lush breakfast, we took a few moments to relax in the private garden before our departure. If we had more time at the hotel, we definitely would have spent a couple of hours in the garden simply reading a book or enjoying a coffee, as it was so magical.
All in all, it was a truly wonderful stay and I would heartily recommend The Haweswater Hotel to anyone in desperate need of a bit of peace and relaxation.
How to book:
Phone: 01931 713232
From £155 (for a loft room).
Penrith, CA10 2RP
*During this trip I was hosted by the lovely team at The Haweswater Hotel. All words and opinions are my own.
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