Relaxing autumn and winter breaks near London
by Jessica Baldwin (October 2013)
As the days shorten and the winter nights draw in, the London 9 – 5 feels more like a 5 – 9! But away from the city slog this is when Britain’s glorious countryside is at its most dramatic; breathtaking sunsets, glittering dew-scattered fields and fiery Autumn leaves spring in to life. Now is the perfect time to escape the big smoke and recharge your batteries before Christmas. I have handpicked my top ten rural escapes for every taste, from elaborate mansions, world-class wine lists and award-winning spas to forest flings and ancient oast houses.
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Over the last 300 years this infamous property has played host to everyone from President Roosevelt and Charlie Chaplin to George-Bernard Shaw. Set on the banks of the River Thames the Italianate mansion dates back to 1666 and is surrounded by nearly 400 acres of immaculately manicured National Trust gardens. To truly unwind book Spring Cottage, located by the river it was originally built as a Summerhouse and tea room for the Countess of Orkney in 1813. Today it is available for hire and it comes with its own private butler.
Ockenden Lane, Cuckfield
Dating back to the mid1500s this charming Elizabethan manor house has a rich history; having burnt down it rose from the ashes to house Canadian troops in WW2 and became a Jewish Boys School in the 1900s. Today, the striking property is home to 28 individually styled bedrooms, a relaxing spa and a Michellin-starred restaurant. Just a short drive from the rolling South Downs and buzzy Brighton it has the best of town and country on its doorstep. Set within nine acres of gardens and parkland it’s the perfect base for a cosy weekend. Think roaring log fires, cosy wood panelling and world-class dining - all just an hour from London.
Vowels Lane, West Hoathly
Dating back to 1598, Gravetye Manor was originally built by Richard Infield for his bride, Katharine Compton. The ornate Elizabethan mansion went on to become everything from a gun furnace to a smuggler’s hideout, but it is best known for its amazing surroundings. Once owned by the William Robinson, one of the greatest gardeners of all time, this unique property is set within a thousand acres of manicured gardens, wild expanses and rolling countryside. Today, the 17 bedroom property features hand-crafted beds, elegant floral interiors and rare antiques and has recently been declared ‘AA Hotel of the Year 2013 – 14’.
Standing amidst ninety acres of landscaped parkland and just an hour from central London, Hartwell House is an idyllic break for stressed Londoners. Once frequented by Louis XVIII, the exiled King of France, the mansion’s Grade I listed building is crammed with old world charm with Rococo ceilings, fine art at every turn and enchanting antiques galore. Even its grounds are a treasure trove, scattered with ornate statues it has a Gothic chapel, 18th century follies and a picturesque lake to discover. But fear not itchy footed Londoners, it is also a great base for exploring the university town of Oxford and the beautiful Cotswold countryside.
Under an hour from London hides a ‘temple to Californian wine’. With 30,000 bottles to choose from, The Vineyard is the perfect spot for a touch of well-earned vinotherapy. The Californian wines are superb, particularly those from the owner, Sir Peter Michael’s award-winning estate. However, on my last visit it was the wild card wines that got me excited, in particular a surprisingly sophisticated Slovakian Riesling. The hotel, better described as a wine bar with beautiful rooms, offers a range of contemporary bedrooms and suites and a delicious French restaurant. As if that wasn’t enough, it also has a great spa and a magnetic art collection. This is one break where you will want to skip driving and catch the train!
Ashdown Park, Wych Cross, Forest Row
Surrounded by 186 acres of lawns and lakes this 19th century mansion boasts ancient stone arches, elegant balconies and roaring log fires which spring to life in the winter months. One of the special things about Ashdown Park is that it has something for everyone; Children can jump in and enjoy the pool which even offers swimming lessons whilst parents can kick back in the bar and indulge in the hotel’s award winning Champagne list. Hikers will adore its position, close to the famous forests that inspired AA Milne’s famous book, 100 Acre Wood, and keen riders can tack up and explore the tracks and heaths on horseback. After an exhausting day of activities enjoy an elaborate tasting menu in the candle-lit Anderida Restaurant before retreating to your lavish room.
The Mansion House, Luton
If the Hoo looks familiar its because its grand grounds have played centre stage in Four Weddings and a Funeral, and it’s no surprise, when it comes to romantic retreats this hotel ticks all of the boxes: Jacuzzi baths, relaxing spa, four poster beds and even its own chapel. Just thirty miles from London the Grade I listed building is a great choice for couples looking to rekindle their romance away from the hectic big smoke. It has a fantastically romantic restaurant and acres of ornate gardens for leisurely strolls. So, pack your bags, head North and the Hoo will do the rest!
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