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COSY WEEKEND BREAKS

Adrian Mourby

Back to Inspirations
The first chill snap of autumn always makes me think of cosy sofas and log fires. In October we residents of the UK change from trying to live outdoors – in the hope of warm blue skies - to embracing the inclement weather of autumn. What can be better,  after a long disappointing summer to settle down by welcoming fire with a glass of whisky or brandy. What better time to wrap oneself around a good book - or indeed a good person - and spend a restful weekend away? And where better to do this than at a British pub or hotel where our every need is cheerfully catered for?

This mellow season is the time to enjoy British hotels to the full. Whether it’s up in our secluded bedroom or downstairs one of the cheery drawing rooms - or maybe even a seat in the bar - autumn is a time to savour the warmth and hospitality that is only to be found in a British pub or hotel.

Here are just a few where I’ve stayed recently and which I’d definitely recommend to you as the leaves begin to fall. Some are small and snug. Some are rather grand. I’ve gone for rural and urban, lakeside and lochside to offer many different ways of making the most of this golden season. Who needs summer anyway?  

This historic coaching inn takes its name from the Noels, Viscounts of Campden. In the sixteenth century the Noel family had estates right across the middle of England. In 1605 Edward, 2nd Viscount Campden married Juliana, the daughter of Sir Baptist Hicks, owner of the manor house which at that time stood above Chipping Campden. 
 
The Hicks mansion was destroyed during the English Civil War but its picturesque gatehouse and banqueting hall can still be visited today. After the misery of the Civil War and the puritan Protectorate, Lady Juliana Noel ended her days in the family’s converted stables down in Chipping Campden. Her descendants still live there in the town today.
 
In the twentieth century the novelist Graham Greene took a room at this ancient coaching inn in the early days of his marriage when he was struggling to succeed as a writer. He later moved to Little Orchard Cottage nearby where he wrote Stamboul Train, his would-be potboiler. It was to the telephone box in the market place just in front of the Noel Arms that Greene was summoned – urgently – by his publisher. Evidently the distinguished novelist JB Priestley had got wind of the novel and considered himself defamed by it. Greene had to make last-minute changes to placate the great JB. 
 
Fortunately the novel proved to be Graham Greene's commercial breakthrough when it was published in 1932, being taken up by the Book Society, and adapted as the film Orient Express, in 1934.
 
Today if you visit the hotel you should stay in Rooms 1, 3, 4, 5 or 6 which have large windows overlooking the centre of this lovely Cotswold town and its National Trust market place.  Old sloping floors mean that the antique furniture in these rooms sometimes stands at a very odd angle. Two rooms (Nos 4 and 6 ) even have romantic four poster beds. On the first-floor landing look out for the old servants’ call-display, a 1930s version of the bells found in older hotels. This electric version was used to summon staff to any of the original 19 rooms. Today there are 27 bedrooms in all at the Noel Arms; most are in a modern annex with a few above the old stable block.
 
Downstairs there’s a welcoming real fire in the Dovers Bar with its tartan carpet and solid old wooden bar. Dinner and breakfast are taken in the modern conservatory, which leads off a panelled dining room at the back of the property. Food at the Noel Arms has been excellent ever since the arrival of Head Chef, Indunil Upatissa who has augmented a very meat-orientated, locally sourced menu with delightful Indian dishes. There is even a curry option for breakfast.
 
When not eating, sleeping or reading by the fireplace you really should window-shop up and down Campden High Street. There are several antique shops as well as the Covent Garden Academy of Flowers and the studio of Robert Welch, the designer of Eurostar’s lovely, iconic cutlery.  This is a very traditional street lined with pubs, old coaching inns, hotels and tea rooms. In fact there is just a touch of Four Weddings and a Funeral or the Kate Winslet rom-com The Holiday about Chipping Campden.  The Noel Arms is the perfect place to dip into our nostalgia for days when life was so much easier and none of us wore masks when going down to dinner.

Not all cosy weekends need to be in the country or even a small market town. London this autumn, following the Covid lockdowns is quieter and more welcoming than it’s been for years. 

From large hotels famed for their historic opulence to smaller boutiques, there are some lovely places in the capital to hide away for a few days.

In Belgravia, just round the corner from Victoria Coach Station, stands the Lime Tree Hotel, two early nineteenth-century town-houses that were knocked together in 1900 to provide the premises for the Imperial Nurses Club. Later in 1960 this double-fronted dwelling became a hotel. At one point it worked with the hotel opposite, offering 42 rooms, but now there are just 28. Quirkily, today bedrooms 1-26,  40 and 42 are still the Lime Tree Hotel.  The current owners, Charlotte and Matthew assume that  27-39 and Number 41 must still be across the road in what is now Astors Hotel.  

The idiosyncrasy of Lime Tree Hotel doesn’t end there. The two townhouses are joined together on some floors and not on others so you have to plan your route down to breakfast.

Charlotte and Matthew have recently given the Lime Tree Hotel a multi-million-pound refurbishment. Their visual style is ostentatious but fun, with herringbone carpets, gently distressed wooden tables, and original oil paintings – including some specially commissioned  dog portraits by Nicholas Todd Hunter. The old dining room has been opened up to the public for an 8-2pm daily brunch. Its “Buttery” menu under Executive Chef Fern produces classics like salmon and scrambled eggs and the “full English” but also vegan options such as smashed avocado on toast and aubergine and chickpea sabih, a mid-Eastern dish with gentle hints of curry.  

Just about everyone who works at Lime Tree House seems to be really enjoying themselves and that ambience definitely comes from the top with Charlotte, Matthew and Fern setting an amiable, “anything is possible” and “nothing is too much trouble” example.

Beyond the Lime Tree’s front door there is plenty to do in this part of London, with a great range of independent restaurants for dinner - all within staggering distance of the hotel. Then there’s Belgravia itself to walk around. North of this most expensive London borough are the shops of Knightsbridge and to the west the museums and galleries of South Kensington, but Belgravia, with its squares and terraces is a work of art in its own right. Not even the city of Bath has such unbroken lines of beautiful symmetrical housing. Many are embassies or the homes of ambassadors these days, but a few change hands privately if you have in excess of £60 million to spend. If you don’t, splash out on a night or two at the Lime Tree Hotel.

Just a few minutes from the thundering M6 north of Stoke on Trent lies a stunning Jacobean mansion built in 1636 by Sir Ranulph Crewe. It was such a glamorous, gracious building that Crewe Hall was said by one wit to have “brought London into Cheshire”. By the eighteenth century metropolitan grandees like the artist Sir Joshua Reynolds, the playwright Richard Brindley Sheridan and even the Prime Minister George Canning were coming to stay.

Crewe Hall went through turbulent times during the English Civil War. As Sir Ranulph was a staunch parliamentarian, the royalists besieged his home and did some damage before being chased off. Later Crewe Hall pretty much burned down in 1866 but it was fortunate to have Edward Barry appointed to restore it. Barry, son of the architect who designed the Houses of Parliament, spared the family no expense and managed to reconstruct the highly carved Jacobean house in a way that suited Victorian comforts.

What strikes the visitor immediately on entering Crewe Hall today is the extraordinary amount of wood-carving. Marble fireplaces and wooden screens also abound. The main staircase with carved figures topping the newel posts was greatly admired by that most demanding of critics, Nikolas Pevsner who called it “one of the two most ingeniously planned and ornately executed in the whole of Jacobean England”.

In the autumn and winter there is a warm welcome guaranteed in reception where a log fire burns in a huge marble fireplace supported by Tuscan columns and topped by the coat of arms of the Crewe family. Beyond this entrance lies the East Hall. This was originally a courtyard but Edward Barry covered it over with a hammerbeam roof and built wooden galleries running round it at first floor level to create one of the most dramatic carved spaces in England. 

When Crewe Hall was converted into a hotel in 1998 the public rooms were restored but kept open which means that today it is still possible for guests to wander through them.  There’s a chapel with some superb Arts and Crafts portraits of saints and prophets and a library with carved scenes from great literature running in a plaster frieze below the ceiling. In the former Great Hall, a carving of Plenty is shown rewarding those who live peacefully; in the Carved Parlour, Father Time is seen chastising Sloth and rewarding Industry. The Crewe family poured a huge amount of money into embellishing this house for nearly 300 years - and it shows.

When staying at Crewe Hall do try and nab one of the rooms in the main house. These are in the Victorian extension that Barry built after 1866. There are 26 of them and many are spacious, gracious and quirky. The 91 modern bedrooms are in a wholly separate extension that also contains the hotel’s gym and brasserie. You still get to enjoy the main house – it’s linked to the modern block by a glass corridor – but it’s best of all to be actually staying in history. 

Howard Lewis, the GM of Crewe Hall, has great hopes for further restoration, especially of the lake that used to lie on the hall’s southern edge. When King George V and Queen Mary came to stay with Lord Crewe in 1913 they were photographed breakfasting in the bay window of the Long Gallery overlooking the lake, its boat house and statue of Neptune.  Sadly during World War II it was decided that Luftwaffe bombers attacking the nearby Rolls Royce factory were using this huge lake as a marker for when it was time to turn and run at the target. So the Ministry of Works filled it in. Nowadays the ornate boat house is lost in trees that line what was once the shoreline. There are also plans for a new fine-dining restaurant in the old house.

Crewe Hall is definitely a hotel to watch over the coming years. In the meantime make a point of turning off the M6, one weekend soon and step into history.

Airds is a small whitewashed hotel on Scotland’s coastal Loch Linnhe that has built itself an enviable reputation for fine dining. If you want to be well-fed on your cozy weekend away this is the place to seek out. It’ll take you a while to get there even if you start as far north as Glasgow but the drive along Loch Lomond and through Glencoe is inspiring. This part of Scotland is truly getting away from it all.

Airds began life in the nineteenth century as an inn on the road to Port Appin. Here cattle drovers from the islands could rest and refresh themselves. Today travellers can still take the ferry across to the islands of Lismore, Mull, Eigg, and Rum from Port Appin. 

Guests at Airds have a choice of eleven bedrooms, each guarded by Hamish, a shaggy highland cow doorstop. Put Hamish outside your door if you wish for privacy. He can also be purchased from the hotel if you grow overfond of him during your stay. A decanter of Whisky Mac (whisky mixed with ginger wine) is also placed in every room to warm you before bed or prepare you for a bracing coastal walk.

By day Airds is a great base for bundling up and getting out for a chill autumnal tramp. At low tide it’s possible to walk across the loch to the lighthouse that stands on its own little island opposite the hotel, or stroll down to the quayside at Port Appin and turn inland in the direction of Cliff Cottage for a two-mile circular walk through deciduous woodland. For a longer jaunt, head seven miles north along the loch and you’ll come to Castle Stalker, which famously appeared in the closing scenes of the British comedy Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

On your return be sure to order the afternoon tea, which comes with scones, homemade jams and clotted cream, plus the hotel's renowned fruit cake and shortbread biscuits. The tea selection includes Darjeeling, Assam, peppermint, lemon tea, Lapsang Souchong and camomile. But leave space for dinner where the seafood tasting-menu can run to oysters, smoked salmon, langoustines, scallops and halibut with well-researched and carefully measured wine pairings.  

Many come to Airds for the food and others for the view, but no one rushes away. Savour this hotel on dark autumn nights seated near the drawing room's two fireplaces, or up in your bedroom, guarded by Hamish the cow.

This November Airds is offering three nights for the price of two. Ask about that offer when you book.

Storrs Hall is a beautiful eighteenth-century country house built for John, 6th Baronet Legard on the shores of Windermere. According to local lore, the poet William Wordsworth and the novelist Sir Walter Scott were early guests of generous Sir John. Today the baronet’s drawing room can still make you feel you are in someone’s home. And that he might well enter at any moment in top hat and riding breeches.

The lobby has a welcoming log fire in autumn and winter.  If you’re offered tea on arrival, make sure to try the chef’s own chocolate biscuits, which are irresistible.

Nowadays the hall is a 30-bedroom hotel with six modern Lakeside Suites and a recently refurbished boathouse for exclusive occupation. The bedrooms in the main house combine contemporary design with original Georgian and Victorian architecture and some massive period wardrobes. Not all the wallpaper could be called subtle, but no two rooms are the same; look online to choose what style suits your weekend plans best.

But hidden in trees to the north of the hall, a very different kind of weekend luxury is on offer. Clad in black wood on three sides of a rectangular courtyard, stand the six lakeside suites. From outside this low-rise, adults-only block recalls the simplicity of a Japanese garden house. Each open-plan suite has sliding glass walls that allow the bedroom to blend with nature. 

With stone-clad bathrooms, wooden floors and undyed natural fabrics, these suites are very much in harmony with the treescape outside. Each suite has its own stone terrace with a Japanese-style cedarwood hot tub. Misty mornings gazing out on to Windermere’s temperate rainforest are very relaxing here as are the sunsets (these suites face west). Then later in the evening switch on the gas flame-effect fire to keep yourself warm and comfy all night.

Not all cozy weekends away need to be rural. In the centre of London’s West End stands a hotel that is perfect for resting between trips out to the shops or museums.
 
The Cavendish on Jermyn Street has a glorious pedigree. It was founded early in the nineteenth century as Miller’s Hotel with its entrance on Duke Street. It then passed through various owners and various names before becoming The Cavendish in 1836. In 1902 it was bought by the formidable “Duchess of Jermyn Street”. 
 
Rosa Lewis, the eponymous “Duchess”, had worked her way up from humble beginnings to become one of most successful chefs of Victorian London -- and possibly the lover of the future king, Edward VII. She and her husband bought the Cavendish to capitalise on her renown. In the following decades Rosa cannily extended the hotel by buying up property on nearby Jermyn Street and knocking through, giving the Cavendish a window on London’s most fashionable street for gentlemen dandies. 
 
This remarkable rags to riches story was told in the BBC TV series The Duchess of Duke Street with Gemma Jones as “Louisa” (aka Rosa Lewis). Rosa had already been immortalised in fiction, however. In 1930 when Evelyn Waugh published his second novel Vile Bodies, he based a number of its London scenes in the slightly dodgy Shepheard’s Hotel off Piccadilly. Shepheard’s is run by Lottie, an inveterate name dropper and schmoozer of titled folk down on their luck. When the book was published, Rosa Lewis considered herself traduced and was so annoyed that she banned Evelyn Waugh for life. In 2003 Stephen Fry filmed Vile Bodies as Bright Young Things with Julia McKenzie as the superbly vulgar and manipulative Lottie.
 
Today a plaque unveiled by Gemma Jones celebrates the fact that the Cavendish was ruled “on this site” by Rosa Lewis. Sadly, the original Cavendish was damaged in a Luftwaffe bombing raid in April 1941 that also laid waste to St James’ Church on Jermyn Street. While that lovely edifice was rebuilt, the old Cavendish with its missing façade was demolished in 1964 so a new 14-storey hotel with underground parking could be built on Jermyn Street.
 
The new Cavendish enjoys a superb position opposite Fortnum & Mason and midway down one of the most irresistible streets in London’s West End. Elaborate silk waistcoats and dressing gowns, expensive shaving brushes, beautiful shirts for young gentlemen, bespoke hats and cigars can be bought in Jermyn Street.  This makes the Cavendish a perfect place to spend a weekend if you want to shop for the dandy in your life or maybe visit the Royal Academy for an exhibition. 
 
The hotel also offers some superb views if you don’t want to leave your room.  The view from the fourteenth floor shows London spread out in all its glory to the east: the London Eye, the Shard, St Paul’s Cathedral. The view from the north-facing bedrooms takes in the beehives on the roof of Fortnum & Mason that produce some of the most exclusive and expensive honey in London’s West End.
 
Dinner and breakfast at the Cavendish are taken in the Petrichor Restaurant, which takes its name from the intoxicating summer smell of fresh rain landing on hot dry soil. There is a bar with piano – and pianist if you’re lucky – and a superb jogging map available from reception if you fancy working off a fine dinner around Green Park, the Mall and St James’ Park.
 
Truly this is a place to hide away in London luxury this autumn. And why not? You deserve it.

Is there anything more romantic than being trapped by the tide on an Art Deco island as the sun sets and a pianist plays distantly, downstairs in the ballroom? 

Burgh island sits across a narrow stretch of water on the Dorset coast. From the mainland it shines out all white walls and glass, and wonderfully restored to its original 1920s look. As soon as you sight it you telephone reception hotel and the Sea Tractor, a tall gangly four-wheeled bathing machine, is sent over to collect you and your luggage. 

Burgh Island Hotel was built after the Great War by Archie Nettlefold.  Initially he constructed a house on this private island for himself but so many London friends came to stay for free that in the end he converted it to a hotel, making his guests pay.

Today Burgh Island maintains the standards of interwar glamour created by the likes of Dame Agatha Christie, Sir Noel Coward, aviator Amy Johnson, and the Duchess of Windsor – all of whom,  according to hotel legend,  stayed here in the 1930s. Statues of athletic, small-breasted women are everywhere in the hotel in true Art Deco fashion. They hold up light fittings. They are draped round picture frames. They’re even supporting the bar.

Once inside the hotel - opened in 1929 (and proclaimed as Britain’s answer to Bermuda) – guests will find that nothing seems to have changed. There is the Palm Court Lounge with its stained glass dome, radiating in peacock feather patterns. There is the old cage lift, and the stairs up to the ballroom are framed by two great Art Deco columns topped with glass acanthus leaves.

The bedrooms are named after glamorous figures from the 1930s like Lord Louis Mountbatten, landspeed-daredevil Malcolm Campbell, Josephine Baker and Major “Fruity” Metcalfe who was aide de camp to Edward, Prince of Wales.  There are no televisions in the bedrooms, as indeed there would not have been in the 1930s.  All the bedside telephones are originals - and very heavy indeed. But what makes Burgh Island unique is its rigorous dress code. If you wish to dine in the ballroom, it’s strictly black tie. If you’d rather not dress for dinner, then the Nettlefold Fish Restaurant is for you.

If you’re dining on a Saturday night (or indeed Monday or Wednesday) then the palm court orchestra will be playing so one can take an elegant turn about the dance floor. The sight of all these glamorous couples at table looks just like a shot from an Agatha Christie adaptation and indeed the mistress of high-class murder did set one of her books, retitled as Then There Were None on Burgh Island. Not surprisingly, there are also bedrooms named after two of her fictional detectives: the Jane Marple and the Hercule Poirot.

I’d say Burgh Island is more dramatic and romantic than cosy. For those of a melodramatic turn of mind, it’s hard not to imagine that a fellow guest might well be murdered tonight. But it’s lovely to be inside this hotel, sipping an expertly crafted martini as the sea rages and crashes outside. It’s definitely a place to escape to one weekend this autumn. Who knows, you might even get marooned?

To the south west of Glasgow stands Calderglen Country Park, a relatively recently-created recreational area within the grounds of Torrance Castle. There’s golf, a café, children’s play parks and a zoo, which makes the trek out to Calderglen very popular at weekends. 

Torrance Castle was the home of Stuarts of Torrance, a junior branch of Scotland’s royal family. It began as a defensive tower house but grew over the centuries into a mansion which still stands today. Then in 1705 the dowager Lady Torrance moved out and built herself a dower house a mile or so from her son in Torrance Castle.

Crutherland House was constructed as a sturdy two storey stone building set in parkland with a long single-storey stable  block running off at an angle behind it. In the 1960s the house was sold off to become a hotel and in 1992 the Macdonald Group took over its running.

Today the Macdonald Crutherland House is a 75-bedroom hotel with most of its modern extension hidden in a straight line behind the old white-washed house. There is also a Crutherland Suite to one side of the old house which can host up to 300 guests, making it popular for weddings.

When staying at Crutherland House try to get the Highfield Suite, which is the best bedroom in the old building. It’s immediately above reception and was probably the Dowager Lady Torrance’s room. It’s decorated in modern maroon and beige but retains some of the gracefulness of the original eighteenth-century house.

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