Adrian Mourby

Back to Inspirations

Britain’s best hotels are always fully-booked at Christmas time. This is, after all the happiest -and most expensive- time of the year and what better place to put your feet up and be waited upon over the Christmas holiday than at a luxury hotel?

But there is another excellent time to enjoy the long, dark winter season at a British pub with rooms, or hotel with vacancies - and that is in the precious weeks and weekends leading up to Christmas itself when rates are lower and you can get away from all the pressures of planning a family holiday by being looked after somewhere warm and welcoming. 

Many years ago, my wife and I decided that we’d do all our present shopping on one big, gloriously busy day and so we’d base ourselves at a hotel somewhere we liked and head out whenever we felt energetic enough. And then we’d come back to flop down and snooze once we had tired ourselves out. It was a great weekend.

So whether you want to get away to shop or just get away from all the seasonal holiday-planning hype completely, here is my selection of ten hotels and pubs you are going to love in the build-up to Christmas 2021.

They range across cities like Bristol and Birmingham, country estates like Lucknam Park and Boringdon Hall and rural hideaways in the Malvern Hills and Cotswolds.

There are two entrances to Lucknam Park. One leads quickly to the car park but the more exciting route is via the main gates. They will open to admit you down a long drive that’s lined with lime and beech trees so tall and interlinked it’s like passing through a tunnel. At the far end of this approach a particularly lovely hotel glows in the sunshine.

Lucknam Park epitomises the old money glamour of an English country house weekend. To the right of the drive horses graze and gambol – Lucknam is one of the few British hotels with its own stables and riding school – and to the left is pasture for picturesque sheep who are kept from the lawns of the mansion by that great seventeenth century French invention, the ha-ha. 

At the end of the drive near the house a circular croquet lawn stands, as befits any English squire’s country retreat. Once inside the front door you’ll find a vestibule stacked with wellington boots to borrow and a lobby with sofas and a small desk which functions as reception. Nearby the day’s newspapers are laid out to be read. Oil portraits of old family members line the stairs and landings, though whose family it isn’t quite clear. The effect is more home than hotel. 

Lucknam was built in the seventeenth-century by James Wallis, a Bristol Merchant who also bought 100 acres surrounding his country retreat to isolate it from the everyday world. The Wallis family had been cloth merchants for several generations in Bristol and young, enterprising James extended their operations by vigorous trading between Europe and America. In 1680 he imported 7,000 lb of tobacco from Virginia, making him a large fortune when it was marketed in England. It was that fortune which funded the purchase of this estate. 

Down the centuries various owners took over the park until 1988 when it was turned -seemingly effortlessly - into an English country house hotel. Today this Cotswold stone building continues to harken back to Britain’s Victorian and Edwardian heyday right down to the working fireplaces in six of the 46 bedrooms –real fires in bedrooms are quite a hotel rarity these days! There may be a Nespresso in your bedroom, but there is also a classic Wedgewood bone-china teapot and cups with saucers. Guests dining in the Michelin-starred Howell Jones restaurant are welcomed downstairs in the drawing room and library for drinks at 6.30 before being seated at 7pm. You can also sit outside on the terrace with your cocktail if the weather is good. Either way there is a sense of expectation, of waiting for the lord of the manor to come by and welcome you personally to his home. In reality it will probably be the charming Sakis Dinas, Lucknam’s hotel manager. 

There’s a lot of sculpted art in the grounds: the usual stuff - horses heads, hares in combat, and wistful greyhounds – plus some original touches like a bronze statue of Puck on the edge of the croquet lawn, apparently laughing at what these mortals are getting up in the main house, and a young Mozart with his violin tucked underneath his chin near the car park.

More modern touches include a spa beyond the old stable block to the rear of the house. Its 20-metre long indoor swimming pool is one of Lucknam’s many attractive features, with an extended flame effect fireplace running the length of it. There’s also a steamy jacuzzi from which you can swim into the heated outdoor pool.

This spa is the perfect place to unwind for after a day’s Christmas shopping in nearby Bath, just nine miles away, or after an afternoon tramping the grounds of Lucknam Park. (The hotel provides a walking map with three routes, from the tiniest of post-prandial strolls to a four-mile trek south down the tree-lined drive and then north to the very top border of the hotel grounds.) What does it matter if it rains? You can warm up in the pool and then enjoy a drink or two in front of the roaring fire in your bedroom.

High on the magnificent Malvern Hills stands an old dower house surrounded by seven acres of woodland. In 1919 this Georgian villa was opened up as an hotel and public tearoom known as The Cottage in the Wood. The villa was built originally as part of the massive Blackmoor Park Estate, which in the nineteenth century stretched over 3,226 acres, ranging as far as the eye could see over the horizon towards Worcester. The great mansion at Blackmoor Park burned down in 1921, so today the dower house is all that remains of Worcestershire’s mightiest country house estate. 

Nowadays guests can stay in the lower house itself, which has seven bedrooms, or in the modern Coach House where there are 19 rooms, many with individual patios or balconies. Designed to resemble, but not replicate, the dower house the Coach House is decorated with some arresting David Bailey-style photography. There’s a young Marianne Faithful and here a relatively young Roger Moore in an open denim shirt. There’s also a portrait of the young Elizabeth II as a punk, complete with neck tattoos and piercings. The ground floor bedrooms at the Coach House have terraces overlooking the Worcestershire Plain. They also have record players. These retro wooden turntables are combined with CD player and radio, but it’s fun to recall the pre-dvd crackle and hiss of vinyl.

Owners Nick and Julia Davies supply each room with a few albums - including the Beatles, Rolling Stones, and Enigma Variations by local boy Edward Elgar. So why not book one of these record player rooms and bring along some of your own LPS for the long winter evenings? 

By day a winter walk on the Malvern Hills is an unbeatable experience. This ancient volcanic ridge towering over the broad Severn Valley is seven miles long as the crow flies, and considerably longer for we humans who are faced with some pretty steep climbs. But almost exactly halfway along is the hidden turn that brings you down through trees to a warming drink in the Cottage in the Wood’s colourful bar with its bold logo “All You Need Is Love”. Later on dinner is served in the 1919 restaurant, which takes its name from the year The Cottage opened. The food is all designed by chef Rob Mason and the service is excellent. The menu describes itself as offering “the best from forest and coast” so you will find local Hereford rib-eye steak and braised pig head as well as roast Cornish cod in a shellfish sauce, and Spanish-style fish stew. (Vegetarians are also well catered for.)  

I don’t normally write about the directions to lavatories in a hotel review, but Cottage in the Wood is unique in having a huge mural of Sir Edward Elgar on the outer wall of its dining room. You may well be told to “turn left (or right) after Elgar” to find them.

From its front, Boringdon Hall in Devon looks like a Tudor manor house - which indeed it once was. When King Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries, he gave the abbey on Boringdon Hill to Thomas Wriothesley, 1st Earl of Southampton. Wriothesley is well-known these days as a character in Hilary Mantel's trilogy of Cromwell novels. Because of his affected pronunciation of that surname Thomas Cromwell nicknames him "Call-Me Risley" and eventually just “Call-Me”.  Risley/Wriothesley soon sold the estate on to one Richard Mayhew of Tavistock and when Mayhew’s granddaughter Frances married John Parker of North Devon, she brought Boringdon into the ownership of the Parker family. By 1587 the Parkers had remodelled their abbey into the manor house we see today, and it remained in the family until the twentieth century. By this time the Parkers were Barons of Boringdon and Earls of Morley. 

When the Parker family moved their main residence to nearby Saltram in 1712 Boringdon Hall entered into a period of decline. By the 1920s it was reduced to operating as a farmhouse but in 1989 it was converted into a hotel and in 2011 that hotel - and its 41 bedrooms - were sold to the Philema Group who also own hotels in Newquay. The new owners have invested in their ever-expanding Gaia spa, which is as modern and up to date as the rooms in the old house are rooted in Tudor times. 

Boringdon Hall is a great place to get away from it all if you are visiting Devon. It’s just six miles from the centre of Plymouth, but in its own world on a hillside surrounded by lots of fields. Stay if you possibly can in one of the four-poster rooms in the old part of the hotel. There is also a royal suite within the main tower of the manor house and two new duplex suites carved out of the old building, one of which is named Lady Jane. This is a reference to poor Lady Jane Grey the nine-day queen of England, and relates to her father Henry Grey, Duke of Suffolk. Suffolk is one of those who briefly owned Boringdon during the turbulent times when monastic property was being passed round amongst the king’s favourites like so much booty.

The old bedrooms are along broad winding landings that follow no discernible plan (or if there was one it was lost in the mists of Tudor time).  

Dinner definitely has to be taken in the Àclèaf restaurant which is located in a series of interconnected rooms above the great hall. See if you can get one of the tables in the minstrel’s gallery, with a view down into the hall. The food by South West Chef of the Year, Scott Paton, is contemporary and pleasingly imaginative.

Try also to spend some hours at the Gaia spa, which is a wholly new glass and wood complex rising up the hill with indoor and outdoor pools, treatment rooms and a small gym. Later on, you can undo all that wellness by retiring to your four-poster bedroom with that bottle of Boringdon Gin that is given to all guests as a welcome gift. Its label proclaims that this gin comes “From the Enchanted Place on the Hill” which is a romantic mistranslation of Boringdon’s original name, Burh y Don which means “the entrenched place on the hill” The name acknowledges the earthwork camp that once sat on top of Boringdon Hill. But “Enchanted Place” has a nicer ring to it - particularly after a gin-based cocktail or two.

The Roseate Hotel in Reading opened in 2015 inside an impressive brick building that had been constructed 100 years previously as the Shire Hall for Berkshire County Council, a place in which the county could conduct its business. Next door stood – and still stands - the County Court. The two buildings are so closely aligned that GM Vicky Punchaye jokes that if he drilled through his Eden function room (built as a council chamber in 1911) he would literally be in court. 

Today this listed building is full of wide hallways, vaulted ceilings and dramatic new cornices. It’s also lined with lots of art, from Impressionist oil landscapes by Isabelle de Ganay to sketchy nudes by Alain Bonnefoit.  Carpets are by designers from the Rug Company using the Roseate’s symbol of a rose which here is rendered in pink & dark maroon (the colours purple, pink and silver dominate the hotel’s décor).

Much of the old Shire Hall has been retained, including its original metal lift shaft that runs the full height of the building. This has now been glassed in for safety’s sake and augmented by a striking Italian chandelier that is made up of 86,000 individual glass beads cascading alongside the lift shaft. 

Many of the bedrooms are stunning, with bronze busts of horses, elephants and tigers - and even the odd full-length hare - by prolific British sculptor Claire Norrington. An unusual touch is that some of the bedrooms even have hand-painted walls. The Roseate in Reading is committed to art and often hosts exhibitions of recent painting and sculpture. 

Downstairs the hotel’s basement restaurant is known as “The Reading Room”, punning on the name of the city and on the small book-lined bar nearby. In Executive Chef Rajesh Maharjan the hotel has a real star. His menu kicks off with oysters and caviar and for pescatarians there are seared Orkney scallops and pan-fried sea bass, while meat-eaters will enjoy the duck terrine and the salt-aged sirloin with winter truffle.

There is also a Whisky Room with an excellent selection of single malts – mainly Scots but also Japanese. Outside the Reading/Reading Room is a small outdoor dining area shrouded by trees that is known as The Secret Garden.

The hotel even has its own 30-seater cinema, a room on the ground floor not far from reception that looks like an upmarket Soho screening room. Bring along your favourite DVD and ask if the cinema is busy tonight. 

Immediately beyond the Roseate are the ruins of Reading’s Priory (dissolved in 1538) which are romantic and fascinating. Beyond them rise the watchtowers of Reading Gaol where Oscar Wilde was imprisoned. A recent addition to this notorious prison is a Banksy mural that shows an escapee shinning down the outside on a rope of sheets at the end of which is tied a typewriter.  

The only disadvantage of this hotel is finding it if you’re arriving by car. The car park at the rear of the hotel has its own – completely different - postcode. If you drive directly to front of the Roseate it will take you a further ten minutes on Reading’s fast-moving ring road to get to the back of the hotel and the car park. It sounds like a joke but it really isn’t. Programme to arrive at the back of the hotel and enter through the Secret Garden into the Reading Room Restaurant and then take the lift up to reception.

Still, this is a lovely place to rest up if you’re shopping in Reading this winter – or if you just want to walk around some abbey ruins in the mist.

Arrive at The Greenway on an English autumnal evening and the first thing that strikes you – apart from what a truly gracious house this really is – is that log fire burning in reception. Should you have have the good fortune to have to wait a few minutes before checking in, settle yourself in one of the two large leather sofas either side of this ancient stone fireplace and enjoy the wait. 

The Greenway sits just outside Cheltenham in the village of Little Shurdington. It’s an august country house hotel, Tudor in origin with only 21 bedrooms. The house we see today was built by the Lawrence family who were in the lucrative wool trade during Elizabeth I’s reign. Records show that later the house was inherited by the wonderfully named Dulcibella Lawrence on the death of her husband. Much later still the brilliant young English architect Alick Horsnell visited and sketched its beauty one summer just before the outbreak of World War One. Sadly, Horsnell was killed on the first day of the Battle of the Somme. 

Today the hotel is owned by Sir Peter Rigby’s Eden Collection. Dinner and breakfast are served in The Garden Room which has wooden floors, silver spoon-backed chairs and expensively embossed Italian wallpaper. The menu is concise, which is always a good sign (too many dishes suggest an overstretched kitchen with meals prepared ahead of time). There are thirteen bedrooms in the old main house, six in a modern coach house over the hotel’s spa and two down in the gatehouse cottage - although plans are afoot to turn the gatehouse into a self-catering unit in 2022. 

The hotel’s proximity to the best shops in Cheltenham (little more than three miles away) means that it’s a great place to base yourself if you are shopping there this December. Enjoy a hearty breakfast, summon a taxi and hit the boutiques of Montpellier and Cheltenham before coming back for an afternoon in the Greenway’s spa. In winter its walled garden is a lovely place to warm up, with a four-person hot tub and fireplace built into the garden’s south-western wall. 

If you can’t make it this autumn, be sure to book for 2022 when, after a short period of closure for refurbishment, the hotel will reopen with a new private dining room at the end of the long lawn that runs from its bar towards a labyrinth of old yew hedges. In the opinion of GM Dean Gunston, this new venue will be perfect for an intimate reunion of friends or even a proposal. Should your mind happen to run to marriage the hotel also hosts small weddings in its panelled Elizabethan Room with reception drinks in the Austin Room off reception, the place with that lovely log fire.

Ludlow is a gorgeous market town on the border between England and Wales. It contains almost 500 listed buildings within its medieval walls. Two of the tallest as you cross the river from Whitcliffe are St Laurence’s, the biggest parish church in England, and Ludlow Castle. Both have towers that rise high over Ludlow’s ancient roofline.

As a place to shop for things you do need but cannot resist, Ludlow is perfect. The Silver Pear in Broad Street is a kitchen shop - but so much more. It’s a place for witty designs that turn food preparation into fun. Broad Bean nearby is an attractive delicatessen and Roundabout Stationery is good for cards. There are also plenty of upmarket boutiques, both chains and one-offs in Broad Street. The weekly Saturday market is also a great wonderful source of impulse purchases (as well has lovely farm produce). 

So shop your fill and then retire to Ludlow Castle House for the night. The actual castle was one of the first built in stone by the victorious Normans. Though now a ruin, it contains many notable rooms including a Great Hall and Great Chamber, plus a solar (the private living sleeping accommodation for the lord of the castle) and a circular chapel, modelled on the shrine in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. English Heritage considers Ludlow to be "one of England's finest castle sites". 

In 1772 the Earl of Powis leased the property from the Crown and in 1811 his brother-in-law, Edward Clive, son of Clive of India bought it outright. Clive eventually took the title Viscount Clive of Ludlow. By the nineteenth century the castle had become a picturesque ruin with a bowling green and an inn in its outer bailey. Clive closed the inn and refashioned it as a gentleman’s residence, which was available to rent from 1826.  This building is still owned by the Powis Estate and since 2007 has been available as a wedding venue with three self-catering apartments above. 

The largest of these is named Prince Arthur and Catherine of Aragon, after Henry VII’s ill-fated son who spent his honeymoon in Ludlow Castle. It sleeps four people but can accommodate six for dinner. Over its kitchen is an elegant nineteenth century lantern that lets in direct sunlight. A slightly smaller four-person apartment (with an attractive window seat) is named after Sir Henry Sidney who was Elizabeth’s Lord Deputy in Ireland and who lived out his retirement at Ludlow Castle as president of the Welsh Marches. On the second floor of the Castle Lodgings is a smaller, more cottagey apartment under the rafters that is named Comus after a masque written by John Milton that was performed at Ludlow Castle in 1634. All three have well-thought-out kitchens if you want to dine at home and guests get free admission to the castle by day.

Long Crendon is a picturesque village in Buckinghamshire. With thatched roofs, half-timbered buildings and a fifteenth-century court-house it's pretty enough to have been used in a number of British TV dramas. Between 1944 and 1958 one of its larger houses was the glamorous home of Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh.

Long Crendon's manor itself stands at the top of Frogmore Lane behind a medieval gatehouse that leads into a courtyard. In 1920 the architect Philip Tilden restored the house. Tilden also worked on Winston Churchill’s Chartwell and has a good eye for the historic. At Long Crendon he inserted a clever floor-level sunken bath into one of the bedrooms (but you have to know it is there before you’d ever think of uncovering it). 

Today the manor is a working pig farm and home to two enormous friendly St Bernard dogs. There is a traditional artisan bakery in the stable block, a farm shop offering the farm’s own “Posh Pork” and cider, and various other local delicacies. There is also a licensed cafe serving breakfast, coffee, lunch and afternoon tea. Inside the manor house there are three guest rooms – Laline’s Bedroom, Lady de L’Isle’s Bedroom and the Yellow Room – that are available on a bed and breakfast basis. This is a lovely place to get away for a quiet weekend amongst those very big dogs, lots of geese, pigs and artisan bakers, although if you hanker for shopping excitement world-famous Bicester Village is only 12 miles away.

A favourite with Warwick’s townspeople, The Rose & Crown sits in the corner of Market Place, an irregular historic space that is lined by listed buildings from many different periods. This pub is all that remains of simple Georgian brick terrace, two modest townhouses now combined happily into one. In summer it’s nice to dine outside, taking in the market square and a statue of the boxer Randy Turpin (1928-1966) who was born in nearby Leamington but sent to school in Warwick.  Inside, the main dining room is whitewashed stone decorated with David Bailey black and white prints from the 60s and 70s: Mick Jagger, Elton John, Lord Snowden with a cigar etc. There is also a private dining room at the back called The Woodshed that seats 16. It is decorated with wallpaper of discarded bottles and gives you the impression you’ve just missed a great party. There are thirteen bedrooms in all, five over the pub itself and the others round the corner above Warwick Books, an independent bookseller that’s worth visiting in search of those last Christmas presents. 

The Rose & Crown takes its name from the symbol of King Henry VII who was a (red rose) Lancastrian during the Wars of Roses but who married Elizabeth of (white rose) York after defeating her uncle, Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth. Henry combined the two contending roses to create what was known as the Tudor Rose and he crowned it in gold to symbolise his position as England’s new monarch. Not surprisingly there are many Rose & Crowns in Britain. This one has been a Peach pub since 2002 and Peach commissioned a large modern logo of a rose and a crown down its side wall. 

All Peach Pubs have an excellent hearty menu with a wine list curated by Jo Eames, one of the founders of this mini-chain. When not dining in (or shopping) leave plenty of time to visit Warwick Castle which is now run by Madame Tussauds. It’s not just one of the most complete medieval castles in Britain but it contains a diverting sequence of Victorian rooms full of waxworks depicting a house-party weekend when the future Edward VII, the young Winston Churchill and Daisy, Countess of Warwick partied at Warwick Castle.

Hotel du Vin specialises in repurposing existing buildings. In Edinburgh it created a wine-themed hotel out of a former asylum for the insane and in Cambridge an old university building was converted into a 41-bedroom hotel. In Birmingham’s banking district one of the more ambitious projects for conversion was the old Birmingham & Midland Eye Hospital. This redbrick structure with overtones of a French chateau was constructed in 1883 at a cost £20,000. When it opened it was able to process 70 in-patients at a time. In 2001, long after eye-care had moved two miles away to the Birmingham Midland Eye Centre this characterful structure became the fourth Hotel du Vin in that company's splendid, ever so slightly eccentric, portfolio.

Bedrooms are named after wines and spirits, including SMWS which confuses some guests (in case you don’t know, it stands for the Scotch Malt Whisky Society). 

Breakfast is taken in Hotel du Vin’s dining room which is painted in that special distressed HdV yellow that gives the impression that generations of French customers have been puffing on their gauloises in here. Afterwards walk cross the churchyard of St Philip's Cathedral to the wonderfully restored Great Western Arcade which is the most stylish place to buy Christmas presents in Birmingham. If nothing suits then head downhill, through half a mile of pedestrianised shopping streets until you reach the twenty-first century splendours of the new Bullring Shopping Centre. Opened in 2003 and attracting 36.5 million visitors in its first year alone, this is Birmingham's high temple of consumerism. If you can't find everything you want here, something is probably wrong with your shopping list! After a busy day you will probably want to dine well, and wine well too. If you can't see what you want to drink on the back of the standard Hotel du Vin menu, ask for the Sommelier's List which comes leather-bound and, at 400 vintages offers an uncommonly wide selection.

Much of Bristol resembles the city of Bath but with far less taming of the landscape. Berkeley Square lies off the vertiginous rise of Park Street, just below Brandon Hill Park. Were this august quadrangle of buildings in Bath they’d be propped up on a plinth and made into a symmetrical design. In Bristol they slope dramatically down towards Park Street and the square is actually an irregular quadrilateral with no two sides the same length. Still, it manages to be very grand in its own way, and at its centre stands the Berkeley Square Hotel, an amalgam of two Georgian townhouses. This building was once the home of Sir Frank Wills, the man whose family endowed so much of the University in the early twentieth century. It’s a lively, modern hotel with a commitment to modern art, and a kitchen that serves excellent food. 

As a base for Christmas shopping the Berkeley Square Hotel and its nearby apartments cannot be bettered. Park Street has some interesting individual shops, including the Bristol Guild design shop, a mere five minutes’ walk away. Head further uphill to Clifton and you’ll be even more spoiled for choice.Clifton is also a lovely place to eat lunch when you need a respite after a heavy day of shopping. Fishes Restaurant has been serving excellent seafood since 2001, and Coppa Clifton Village is a new and attractive informal space where you can put your feet up for as long as you like. 

Back at Berkeley Square be sure to leave your windows open at night and you’ll hear the University bell tower chiming. Great George sits within the nearby Wills Building and is England's sixth-largest bell, weighing over 9.5 tonnes and striking sonorously every hour on the hour.

This website uses cookies. Click here to read our Privacy Policy.
If that’s okay with you, just keep browsing. CLOSE