Adrian Mourby

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In the summertime hotels are bases from which we can venture out and explore the world. In the autumn, as nights get longer and we feel the first chills of winter, the British hotel becomes a place for hiding oneself away - or just indulging in comfort.

The ten hotels in my selection below are rural, places where you can escape from city or suburban life for the weekend this autumn - and hardly stir at all. Why should you want to?
The Lion

Wendlebury is one of those hidden Oxfordshire villages cut off from daily life by the M40. Once upon a time, many roads led to Wendlebury but now you loop several times over motorways and the A34 bypass before being delivered to a small settlement based around an ancient T junction.

Wendlebury dates back before the Norman Conquest. There's a church which strangely lacks a steeple and a number of old houses in Cotswold stone and at the centre of the village the Lion, recently renamed, which was formerly the seventeeth-century Red Lion tavern. It's a long, low, roadside building with bedrooms in its roof for landlord and staff. Recently, however, a new, nicely-executed 12-bedroom accommodation block has been added to the rear of the pub. A conservatory dining room had also has been added and a brand new kitchen. And a general manager called Claire has recently arrived to work with Bella the housekeeper and a cheery Hungarian waiter called Tamas.

Ably assisted by young women from the village, these three run a real home from home pub. The Lion is a great place to stay if you're looking for a weekend getaway in the country. The food is locally sourced, the beer is provided by Brakspear – and the welcome is warm.

Moreover, if you are spending the weekend shopping at Bicester Village this is absolutely the place to stay. Bicester Village is an Oxfordshire phenomenon and particularly popular with Chinese visitors to Britain. When I mentioned Oxford in Beijing recently, a few people had heard of Inspector Morse and a few more had heard of Oxford University, but absolutely everyone had heard of the famous outlet mall at Bicester Village. This major point of commercial pilgrimage is only a 2 mile/£6 taxi ride away from The Lion. However, if you don't feel a retail need this autumn, there is still much to be enjoyed at The Lion. There are three wood-burning fireplaces inside the pub – and one outside. There is an Aunt Sally in the grounds if you fancy throwing sticks at an old woman's head (a peculiarly Oxfordshire pastime that may date from the English Civil War) and Laura and Bella kindly keep a “Bits & Pieces Box” for guests who have forgotten anything - and by “anything” I mean everything from needle and thread to collar stiffeners, cufflinks, batteries to bow-ties, shoe shine to sun cream.

In short, this is a nice place to stay in a nice part of the world and while I admit that sometimes “nice” is an overused word, sometimes it is just apt.

South Sands

It's rare for a hotelier to recommend someone else's hotel for the perfect getaway, but that is how I first found South Sands - and I'm very grateful to the general manager who did. We were sitting together in Kent talking about our love of log fires and he said he knew of a hotel on a beach with a great open fire in its bar. The hotel in questions turned out to be South Sands, a white clapboard -almost New England style building in a sandy cove on Devon's south coast.

South Sands is possibly just too popular in the summer but in autumn and winter, it's a sweet, gentle place where you can escape daily life.

Relax in the evenings on ancient leather sofas in front of that real fire within the small but efficient bar. Wake for a bracing swim on the Blue Flag beach that extends right up to the hotel's nautical-looking deck. Eat great seafood in the bright sun-kissed restaurant with its views of a ruined royalist fortress guarding the estuary. And in the afternoon walk the South West Coastal path a few miles to an old RAF aerodrome on the headland (now all-but lost to nature) and in the evening fall asleep as the sea washes to and fro underneath your window.

Inside, the hotel is lined with maritime paraphernalia, modern line drawings and photos of the Salcombe coast - plus some sculptures of distorted heads by the Sussex artist John Humphreys which can prove disconcerting as you take the spiral staircase up to bed after a particular good meal.

There's a free shuttle bus to Salcombe for those who want to spend ten miunutes getting into town but this really is a hotel that you will not want to leave. For gourmets the daily menu by executive chef Allister Bishop is yet another reason not to venture far in fact it's a reason to consider booking half board.

Easting Allister's Eggs Benedict at breakfast time as you sit and watch the waves splash impressively right in front of the restaurant (tide dependent of course) is a great way to start the day.

The Feathers Hotel

Maybe it's the warm fire place in reception. Maybe it's the warren of bedrooms up five creaking staircases or the excellent menu created by chef Wojciech Wolf Chodurski. Or maybe it's really the bar with over 300 different gins on display and another hundred tucked away around the hotel, but I'm always happy to head to The Feathers in Woodstock.

This is a Cotswold coral reef of a hotel made up of several old, overlapping buildings, including a former draper's shop and a public reading room. It only opened as a hotel in the 1960s when doorways were knocked through to connect those four buildings (but all the staircases were retained). The internal decoration has made much of the contrast between old dark wood and lime green and pink furnishings. In fact there is a lot of pink in some surprising places. One night leaving the gin bar, where the charming and extremely knowledgeable Octavian had introduced me to three new distillations, I thought I saw six illuminated pink pigeons over one of the stairwells. When I went back the next morning to check this was not an hallucination, yes there they were there.

There is also a display of piled up pink Victorian teacups in the dining room that looks like it might crash down at any moment Mad Hatter-like (fortunately it turns out they are glued together) and some attractive modern art.

The bedrooms are cozy with low ceilings, the occasional antique illuminated in a pool of light and pink mohair throws on the beds. It has to be said these rooms are mostly quite dark - which means you may miss the odd step coming out of the bathroom – but they exude a wonderful sense of authenticity. Generations have slept here before you (and missed their footing occasionally). Beyond the hotel, Woodstock is a typical Cotswold village squeezed in between the stentorian splendour of Blenheim Palace and the A44. I always feel that if Blenheim ever breathed out one morning or turned over in its sleep it would pitch the whole of Woodstock into the middle of the road. There are plenty of shops for weekend browsing: an independent bookstore, an Aga kitchen shop, a place selling- and fitting - expensive seagrass carpets and several art galleries. But save your money for dinner because chef Wojciech has created an excellent menu that caters equally well for carnivores, pescatarians and vegetarians. And Octavian is always on hand to advise quietly about the best wines – or gins - to match your meal.

Eckington Manor

Close to the sublime Malvern Hills stands a large old farmyard that has been converted into a 17-bedroom hotel by local entrepreneur Judy Gardner.

Fearing that Eckington Manor's derelict farm might be bulldozed and turned into an inappropriately suburban housing estate, Judy – whose home overlooks the manor - bought the land in 2004. Originally she hadn't intended to create a rural getaway but if you meet Judy on your visit – and there's a good chance you will– she'll tell you the story of the evening that her daughters persuaded her to transform the old farm, its dairy, barns and cider mill into one of Worcestershire's most sought-after weekend destinations.

Under Judy's direction the twelfth-century half-timbered farm house, in danger of collapsing under the weight of ages, was taken apart and meticulously reconstructed. Today it offers a series of lounges with an honesty bar, plus an inglenook fireplace and a kitchen for those who book out the whole building.

Reception and the first-floor restaurant are opposite the old house in a cleverly refurbished Dutch barn while bedrooms are scattered in the outhouses with the old farmyard itself acting as car park. There is even a cookery school tucked behind the barn and beyond it a working farm which provides Eckington Manor with its beef. The hotel staff are friendly, professional and proud of where they work. Mark the chef actually won Masterchef: The Professionals in 2015. This is a destination hotel for those who love to eat and drink. But my advice is to get up early, breakfast heartily and drive the 14 miles to the Malvern Hills, which dominate this low-lying landscape.

Arriving early you can spend a day walking the hills with a lunch-time break at the Malvern Hills Hotel (ask for the excellent beef and stilton sandwich) and then come back for a big bath and prepare to be pampered in the restaurant. That's my idea of a healthy autumn break.

The Lygon Arms Hotel

As the days get cooler the Lygon Arms starts lighting its fireplaces again. This famous Tudor coaching inn has recently been refurbished to striking effect but the number of cosy nooks has actually extended. When I was young refurbishment meant removing walls and creating wide, intimidating spaces but the new-look Lygon now actually has more comfortable corners for curling up with a good book. (There are plenty of board games available too.) My godparents had their honeymoon at the Lygon in 1939.

Continental Europe might have been out of the question, but this Cotswold hotel was where Hollywood stars like Mary Pickford, Vivien Leigh and Paul Robeson came to stay - and the Royal family went for lunch. The Lygon was also the centre of an artistic movement in the early twentieth century with the furniture designer Gordon Russell working in its grounds (his father was for many years the hotel's owner) and you'll find pieces of his work around the new-look Lygon.

You'll also find a cozy wine bar, an excellent cocktail lounge and an imposing grill room overlooked by its original 1920s “minstrels' galley”.

The designer of the refurb, Anita Rosato has gone for a palette of dark green, dark blue and purple grey walls which cause the gold picture frames to glow. Without a doubt the dramatic masterstroke of the redesign is the picture wall above the grill where a large portion of the Lygon's original artwork has been displayed, on on top of the other, the way that Victorians used to mount their art. It's not often that paintings vie for your attention in a restaurant of this quality but they do at the Lygon.

There is much to do in and around Broadway itself. The town is on the 100-mile Cotswold Way. The treasure trove of Snowshill Manor, a home where nothing was ever thrown away, is very close by and so is the commanding silhouette of Broadway Tower, which in the 1880s was used as a country retreat by the artists William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones.

There is also a lot of shopping that can be done in Broadway. I always come to The Lygon convinced I have everything I need and absolutely no need to buy anything - and invariably Broadway's luxury boutiques prove me wrong.

But best of all is the village's premiere hotel and its comfy corners for falling asleep under a good novel.

Bodysgallen Hall Hotel, Restaurant & Spa

With its views across the Menai Strait to Conwy Castle, Bodysgallen Hall is an unusual seaside getaway. Walk its rose garden or sit in its oak-pannelled library and it's difficult to believe you are only a few miles from the famous Victorian resort of Llandudno. A weekend at Bodysgallen is like stepping back into a much more distant history.

The hall was built in stages over 600 years but was until recently a private home. That sense that generations of owners have lived out their lives here is palpable. The dining room is formal but run by friendly Welsh ladies. The bedrooms have an old-fashioned feel with Sanderson wallpaper, dressing tables and pleated lampshades. Outside the gardens are divided into sunken lawns and parterres, orchards, walks and bothies.

Bodysgallen can feel so unlike a hotel that it comes as a surprise to discover there is a modern spa hidden in its grounds with a pool, steam room, sauna gum and hot tub.

There are lots of corners to lounge within the hall itself, but my favourite is the landing outside Room 1, which has two comfy chairs and catches the morning sun. Here you can put your feet up with a book of Welsh verse - or maybe a PG Wodehouse novel. Though located in the heartland of Welsh-speaking Wales, Bodysgallen could easily serve as the backdrop to one of Bertie Wooster's 1920s adventures.

I've stressed that all these hotels are worth hiding away in for the weekend but Bodysgallen does offer tempting access to the Norman city of Conwy, built to subdue the Welsh after William's conquest of England. Conwy is a glorious piece of military architecture and if you have driven all the way to Bodysgallen take time out to walk the city walls before you return home.

Fawsley Hall Hotel & Spa

There's a lot to love about Fawlsey Hall but the feature that will stay in your memory, long after the rest has faded, is its “Tudor” Hall.

This four-star Northamptonshire country house hotel is a mishmash of architectural styles from the medieval to Georgian - and it has all been attractively cobbled together - but the two-storey hall, used during the day for coffee and afternoon tea, has that special wow factor.It is just so big, so tall, so littered with sofas and portraits of British monarchs. And in the autumn there is a real fireplace burning logs culled from the 2,000 acres of Fawsley's grounds.

The hotel also offers a bar and a conservatory where you can make yourself comfortable and sit down with whatever book has been provided in your room. (Last autumn Fawlsey published exclusive editions of Wuthering Heights for guests to read and take away with them as a souvenir.)

The Knightleys, lawyers working for the English crown, held Fawsley from 1416 in the time of King Henry V until 1938. Richard Knightley, who was knighted by Henry VII, built the first wing of the current house. Despite all the upheavals of English history, the family held Fawsley for over 500 years until the last baronet died just before World War II.

If you can manage it, stay in the Elizabeth I Suite. There's every reason to believe Good Qeen Bess slept a night or two at Fawlsey though whether this first floor suite existed that time is anybody's guess. Beyond its gardens the hotel is surrounded by grazing sheep who are kept at bay by that most simple and nifty French invention, the Ha Ha.

There is also a church nearby, St Mary the Virgin and the receptionist will provide you with a map that describes a circular walk out to the church and back through the woods. In the evening dine in the Cedar Restaurant, which is less imposing than the Tudor Hall being located in the former medieval kitchens. The hotel also offers a spa and swimming pool in the old stable block, a 29-seat private cinema and many different sizes of wellington boots for those who want to splash through the English countryside and come back for a hearty and well-deserved meal.

Buxted Park Hotel

Buxted Park dates back to 1722, which means that the exterior has a distinctly Palladian quality. It sits in extensive grounds. In fact when Lord Liverpool owned the hall in the nineteenth century, he actually moved the local village out of view to expand his park.

Book to stay at a time when the hotel is not hosting a wedding (it gets through many brides in a year) and you may feel you have this calm country house hotel to yourself.

The current internal layout owes a lot to some celebrity owners in the twentieth century. Basil Ionides was an important English Art Deco architect who redesigned the Savoy Theatre in London and the Savoy Hotel's restaurant in the 1920s. When Buxted was severely damaged by fire in 1940, he took the opportunity to fill it with architectural items salvaged from bombed-out houses thereby creating an eclectic interior.

After Ionides, Kenneth Shipman, the owner of Twickenham film studios bought Buxted and invited the likes of Marlon Brando, Dudley Moore and Gregory Peck to stay (all at different times). Shipman even built a small cinema for his guests which remains in operation today. Latterly the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi used the hotel as an English residence for his wives. Today there are 44 bedrooms and suites, some with huge sofas and most with great views of the park. The Queen Mary Suite is named after George V's wife, Mary of Teck who stayed at Buxted Park while it was owned by Ionides. Queen Mary evidently had an alarming habit of asking her hosts for pieces, paintings and ornaments to which she had taken a fancy. There is also a Winston Churchill Suite – probably the best in the hotel – named after the British Prime Minister who once quipped “I am easily satisfied with the best.”

Downstairs there's a bar with a huge stone fireplace (salvaged during the London Blitz) and a lounge that serves afternoon tea but, as the boots lined up by reception well attest, Buxted is at its best as a place for autumnal walks through its 312 acres of misty grounds.

The Jockey Club Rooms

One of the most unusual places to stay in East Anglia is a private members club in Newmarket that has recently opened its doors to the public. The Jockey Club is the home of an institution that has run British racing since the 1750s when members met in this Georgian clubhouse to place bets. Newmarket remains a remarkable unique town where there can sometimes seem to be more horses than people. There's a human population of around 15,000 but a third of them work in horse-related occupations. Newmarket has over fifty horse-training stables, many of them stretched out along the Bury Road. It also has two large racecourses and is home to the majority of British horseracing institutions. Most importantly for those who care about the “gee-gees”, it is the birthplace and spiritual home of thoroughbred horse racing. Queen Elizabeth regularly visits the town informally to see her horses train.

Now members of the public can stay in Newmarket's clubhouse which has an 18 bedroom accommodation block overlooking lawns at the back of the main building. All the rooms are slightly old-fashioned and are decorated with prints of racing scenes. This style is matched by the rather formal dining room in the clubhouse, which is decorated with a priceless collection of original art. As you sip your sherry look out for a portrait of the Queen with one of her horses, a rather flattering portrait of Winston Churchill that the great man (a successful racehorse owner and breeder in his spare time) donated and an equestrian portrait by Stubbs that is valued at £24 million.

Also on display is the original “black ball” machine which members used when deciding to admit – or reject - new members. Fortunately these days you no longer have to go through the membership process to stay or dine.

In the morning be sure to wake early and walk up to The Gallops to see hundreds of horses belonging to many of Newmarket's stables exercising. It's an unforgettable sight.

The Elms Hotel

The Elms faces into Wales. It's a beautiful Queen Anne country house set in the rolling hills of Worcestershire. It's also very close to Witley Court which was itself one of the finest mansions of the Edwardian era before being tragically burned down in 1937. But for me The Elms has always been the gateway to a weekend in Wales. Down below in the Teme Valley lies Tenbury Wells and beyond it, Ludlow on the Welsh border. As a child arriving at The Elms on a Friday night meant that our holiday in Wales was finally in sight.

These days however The Elms is a destination in its own right. It's a friendly hotel whose large entrance hall is warmed by an impressively carved oak fireplace and whose leather armchairs are a delight to sink into.

Dinner is served in the fine dining Brookes Restaurant and drinks in the Library Bar which – apart from the counter-top taps for pulling pints – could date from the hotel's heyday when affluent young men would drive up from London after World War II. In those years The Elms was one of the pioneers of country house dining. It had only become a hotel in 1945. Its last owner as a house was Sir Richard Christopher Brooke, who bought the house in 1927 and added its two distinctive projecting wings at the front. Richard Brooke was a racehorse breeder who developed the nearby Abberley Stud. (His most famous horse, King Salmon, won the ‘Eclipse Stakes' at Sandown Park in July 1934.)

When a fire damaged the centre block of the Elms in 1929 (English country houses did tend to burn down a lot) Sir Christopher raided Norton Abbey in Cheshire, the family seat to provide fireplaces and doorways to embellish the newly-restored Elms. This is a house that has been much loved and I'm looking forward to sitting by those fireplaces again very soon.

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