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TOP 10 BRITISH HOTELS WITH GREAT USPS

Adrian Mourby

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Unique Selling Point is a term that’s overused these days.  All hotels are unique in one way or other. Even Britain’s least attractive chains do not produce completely identical hotels. But there are also hotels with USPs of a kind you’ll simply not find elsewhere. Britain is a country of eccentricity and individuality, and this is reflected in some of its more unusual hotels. Here are just ten that will expand your idea of what a hotel can be - and what a hotel can do. 

Hart’s is a modern hotel built into the ramparts of Nottingham Castle. It began life as an adjunct to Hart’s Fine Dining Restaurant, which opened nearby in an old brick hospital building in 1997. That restaurant, like the hotel itself, was a new venture by Tim and Stefa Hart, the couple who had previously turned Hambleton Hall into a country-house hotel for fine-dining.

In keeping with its contemporary idiom, Hart’s has large glass windows, modern art, and 32 small but comfortable bedrooms and suites, some with views over Nottingham’s Park Estate. There’s also a small courtyard garden up here on top of the ramparts. The hotel is surprisingly close to the city centre, making it popular with business travellers and parents visiting their offspring at Nottingham University.

What is unusual about Hart’s is its theatre connection. The small new restaurant – known as Hart’s Kitchen – is full of signed photos of TV and West End stars who have stayed here while performing a ten-minute walk away at Nottingham’s Theatre Royal: David Baddiel, Dawn French, Bill Bailey, Ruby Wax, Robert Lindsay, Ruby Wax, and Michael Palin, to name but the more obvious. The hotel has more framed famous faces than it can display at any one time, so they get rotated. You may well catch the latest celebrity turn having an after- show supper around 11pm in Hart’s Kitchen. This triangular room used to be the hotel bar and it retains an intimate, late-night Soho feel. Many guests arrange to eat their starter and main course in the Kitchen before the show and return for dessert and a nightcap afterwards.

The hotel is also a keen promoter of the Theatre Royal and other Nottingham venues, offering its own allocation of tickets and a dinner, bed and breakfast package at specially reduced rates. When Opera North is in Nottingham, Tim Hart and his wife Stefa – a keen opera enthusiast -  host a champagne reception for the company and guests and provide transport down to the theatre afterwards.  Not so much a hotel, more a patron of the arts.

Burgh Island is remarkable, an original Art Deco Hotel accessed across a small stretch of water. At low tide you can walk over. At high tide the hotel sends a Sea Tractor to pick you up from the mainland. This tall gangly four wheeled machine is like an open-sided Victorian bathing hut. You sit up top with the driver while down below the waves crash over the wheels and surge up the steps towards you. On a dark and stormy night it’s quite an exciting way to reach reception.

Inside the hotel, Burgh Island maintains the standards of interwar glamour created by visitors like Dame Agatha Christie, Noel Coward and the dubious Duchess of Windsor who – according to hotel legend – occupied Burgh Island’s Beach House before her marriage to Edward VIII. In true Art Deco fashion statuettes of athletic, small-breasted women are everywhere. They hold up light fittings. They are draped round picture frames. They’re even supporting the bar.

The bedrooms are Art Deco too, named after glamorous figures from the 1930s like Amy Johnson, Malcolm Campbell, Josephine Baker and Major “Fruity” Metcalfe who was aide de camp to Edward, Prince of Wales.  But what makes Burgh Island truly unique is its 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. This is named after Archie Nettlefold the man who in the 1920s built a house on Burgh island that he later converted into this hotel. Lovely though The Nettlefold is, most guests choose to dress for dinner and dance to the palm court orchestra (Monday, Wednesday, Friday) or listen to the pianist (alternate nights). The sight of all these glamorous couples at table looks just like a shot from an Agatha Christie novel and indeed the mistress of high class murder did set one of her books, Evil Under The Sun on Burgh Island. Not surprisingly, there are also bedrooms named after two of her fictional detectives, The Jane Marple and The Hercule Poirot.

Should you just be calling in for afternoon tea I would recommend The Great Gatsby which is all the usual pastries and sandwiches served with one of the hotel’s signature cocktails. This is a remarkable hotel even for Britain, a country that prizes eccentricity highly. 

Down a narrow lane, just outside the sweet Sussex village of Cuckfield, sits a hotel with a remarkably split personality. This hotel started life in 1520 as an Elizabethan manor house with low ceilings, sloping floors and open fireplaces, and it still retains that character in reception and in its bar. The manor was subsequently extended in the seventeenth, nineteenth and twentieth centuries and recently developed a reputation for fine dining. Then under the Goodman family, owners of Historic Sussex Hotels, it unleashed a major spa development in 2008.  Unlike many hotels that cram a twenty-first-century spa into the basement or tack it on in a conservatory, Ockenden built a huge new complex in what was originally the manor’s walled garden. This spa is invisible from the historic hotel. It’s a low-rise glass and wood structure with a large indoor pool that is big enough for lap-swimming and with access through a flap to the outside pool. It has the usual treatment rooms and jacuzzis, both indoors and out but on its roof it has six suites, which are the most spacious bedrooms in the hotel. Each has a small terrace on the roof of the spa and there are communal seating areas too, overlooking the treescape of Cuckfield Park. These colourful, comfortable rooms are named after the six children of Pontus and Miranda Carminger, the joint managing directors of Historic Sussex Hotels.

Guests planning to stay at Ockenden really need to decide in advance if they want to be in the historic hotel or the very modern hotel because Ockenden’s USP is that it’s both.  

Langar Hall’s USP is Imo, the name by which the late Imogen Skirving is still known by the staff. Imo died in 2016 but her spirit lives on in Langar Hall. In 1983 this hotel legend, a young woman with no experience of hospitality, decided to turn her family's Nottinghamshire home into a hotel.  She filled it with artwork that took her fancy.  There’s a lovely oil portrait of her in her wedding dress over the main staircase and a large black and white photo of her just after check-in.  Another portrait, of her daughter and two grandchildren – one of whom is Lila Arora, the current owner – sits atop a second  staircase and there are scurrilous cartoons by Imo’s brother Mark adorning the lavatories.

Langar Hall is an early nineteenth-century, slightly baggy family home full of antiques, knick-knacks and oddities. The ghost of Imo is everywhere, a woman with an eye for the eclectic. For example, in the small but busy bar there are four high stools with arms and brass ashtrays. Only on closer inspection is it clear that these are old 1950s wooden shoeshine chairs, which is why they are so high. The dining room has an alcove faced with fluted columns rescued from Imo’s grandmother’s home when it was demolished. After reading that the celebrated Admiral Lord Howe once lived at Langar Hall -and is buried in the church yard nearby - Imo initiated a “Glorious 1 June” celebration every year to commemorate Howe’s formidable victory over the French in 1794. After a brief service, family, guests and staff were invited to strew his grave with laurel leaves and champagne. The remnants were liberally consumed. Not surprisingly Langar Hall developed as a reflection of its eccentric owner. 
Under granddaughter Lila the hotel has continued to go its highly individual way. There is an annual Summer Fayre dedicated to world food and quirky shopping, a Flamenco Fiesta with tapas, sangria and a lot of dancing, and a Midwinter Carnival which in the past has featured snake-charming, fire-breathing and not much clothing.

No doubt Imo would have approved. Her vision remains the hotel’s USP.

As an offshoot of Soho’s celebrated Karma Sanctum, this pub on the Old Cricket Common in Cookham Dean comes as a something of a surprise. It’s certainly not Soho style. The building’s origins lie in its historic use as a Buckinghamshire coaching inn, but its current exterior with large roofs, half-timbered eaves and mellow brickwork owes more to the early twentieth century.  You could easily imagine Spitfires flying overhead during the Battle of Britain and young RAF types arriving here in a big old car for a pint between sorties.

Inside however is much more up to date. Mark Fuller, who co-owns the Karma Sanctum brand, made his money managing rock bands and opening nightclubs in London.  With his friend, the celebrity chef Marco Pierre White, he was also co-creator of Red Cube and Sugar Reef, two of London’s premier restaurant-bars where the likes of David Beckham, George Clooney and Madonna were  seen eating. When White and Fuller went their separate ways, Mark teamed up with Iron Maiden manager Andy Taylor to create a string of food-focused hotels. Karma Sanctum on the Green is one of the more recent. It’s the Soho hotel’s slightly blousy country cousin. There are nine-bedrooms upstairs, the Mole & Badger Restaurant Bar and Wine Emporium downstairs and a 24-foot swimming pool in the garden. 

What makes Karma Sanctum on the Green unique is its unashamed rock connections. Mark’s low-slung, big black Harley Davidson is often parked alongside the pool. The hotel’s artwork is almost entirely originals of rock album cover paintings and there are framed displays of gold albums lining the corridors presented to Andy Taylor as manager of both Iron Maiden and Guns N Roses. At reception there is also the biggest counter bell you have ever seen – the size of a small Tibetan gong - for summoning the hotel staff. 

So it is true that old rockers never die. They simply open pubs and clubs so the good times can continue to roll.

USPs to do not come much more unique – if that is grammatically possible - than the opportunity to go llama-walking. Or to do yoga in the company of llamas or head off into the hills for a champagne picnic carried on the back of your personal llama.

When hotelier Peter de Savary bought the Merry Harriers pub in 2017 he also acquired a small herd of llamas who were living in the three fields behind. Savary kept these bright-eyed, box-like creatures on the payroll.  Now there are eleven, after the recent birth of baby Lorenzo. Originally from South America, llamas are like humpless camels (without the attitude), or maybe short giraffes (without the shyness), or even sheep who have mastered the art of walking on stilts. Their big boxy bodies, long necks and a dumb, smiley faces make your heart melt. And the best thing of all is that they they are very definitely not frightened of humans. The llamas at the Merry Harriers are so gentle and people-friendly that they are also used as therapy for the pupils on the autistic spectrum from the local school.

Danielle and Sam, who came in to run the Merry Harriers for Mr de Savary, soon realised they were on to a winner with the llamas. If you stay in one of the five shepherd huts opposite the pub, your room is decorated with ceramic llamas and llama motifs. These huts – custom-built for Peter de Savary – are another USP. They look like gypsy caravans with curved rooves, corrugated iron sides, small wheels and a wood-burning stove within. They also come equipped with a big comfy bed, spacious shower, TV, and Nespresso machines. Grouped round a small artificial lake, these five huts give the impression they might be towed away at any moment to wherever the flock of Savaray llamas is feeding. The pub also has four bedrooms above the bar and a number of pet-friendly cottages outside, one of which (No7) looks directly out on to the llama pen.

Meals are taken in the Merry Harriers itself which has a big public bar with an open log fire, a dining room lined with the names of nineteenth-century landlords of the pub and two smaller rooms for function hire. The fact that one of these is known as the Snug really sums up the Merry Harriers. This pub is very snug. It’s a cozy place to get away from the real world - with some excellent surf-and-turf dishes by Danielle’s chef husband, Sam and some very lovely animals who won’t mind at all if you stroke their long silly necks. Llama experiences range from £55 - £84 pp but petting them is free.

Music has long played a role at Eastbourne’s five-star palace on King Edward VII Drive. On the second floor there is a suite named Debussy after the French composer who completed his orchestral masterpiece La Mer while staying at the hotel. Debussy was said to be very taken with the acoustics of the hotel’s Grand Hall, which rises the full height of the hotel. These days it is home to the hotel’s Palm Court Strings who play during afternoon tea on Sundays under their leader Shelly Van Loen. You’ll find her ringleted portrait in the hotel’s two lifts along with other leaders: Leslie Jeffries who led the Grand Hotel Orchestra 1934-38, and Tom Jones (no, not that Tom Jones) and Tom Jenkins who were his predecessors. 

The Grand’s commitment to live music is a longterm element in its hospitality. Two pianists play in the hotel’s two restaurants, the fine-dining Mirabelle and the 150-seater Garden Restaurant, and there are a number of two-night music weekends. In February the London Mozart Players offer weekend concerts as part of a dinner, bed and breakfast package, and in November the Pasadena Roof Orchestra is a regular visitor, providing a Friday evening after-dinner concert in the hotel’s glamorous Compton Room, and on Saturday evening a black tie dinner with dancing to the orchestra. The hotel even lays on specialist instructors on Saturday afternoon for those who want to improve their Charleston beforehand.

Jackrabbit is the name of the restaurant at King’s Hotel in Chipping Campden.  This boutique restaurant-with-rooms is run by Emma and Jack (no relation to the rabbit) The restaurant actually takes its name from the hare or “jack-ass rabbit” (as Mark Twain named it) and there is much hare-inspired artwork around the dining that occupies most of the ground floor of King’s. 

Like its neighbour hotel, Cotswold House, King’s has been converted out of an old townhouse on the Market Square. In fact it’s been converted out of several, a compilation of sixteenth and eighteenth-century architecture, all hewn out of warm Cotswold stone. Inside there is also a bar brasserie and a rather stately private dining room. In fact so much ground floor space has been made over to eating at King’s that reception is just a desk squeezed under the stairs.

While the bedrooms -both in the main house and the garden block- are warm and comfortable, people really come to King’s to eat. There is a concise menu of four starters and five mains under the direction of chef Daniel Joss, whose Twitter profile tells us that one day he hopes to become a Sith Lord. And I'm sure he will.

In the meantime the fact that the house wine is Paul Bocuse, one of the pioneers of nouvelle cuisine gives us a hint about the menu. These are small, tasty dishes served with great style. Starters include blowtorched south coast mackerel served with beetroot and miso-glazed “glamrock” pork belly.   Deer from nearby Broadway is presented as a venison ragu with a blackberry crumble and  pickled Campden blackberries. 
Darth Dan uses a mixture of traditional and innovative cooking methods to showcase the best locally-sourced ingredients and rumour has it he recognises no restraints when cooking. The menu clearly demonstrates that he’s happy to experiment new flavour pairings – and it works. For breakfast there is a wide choice but of note is the freshly prepared porridge which comes topped with a choice of banana and honey, seasonal compote or dark chocolate and hazelnut.

Hotel staff reckon King’s Hotel has more than its fair share of guests. Lights in the kitchen have been known to suddenly switch on or, more alarmingly, off. Perhaps the spirits are just making sure that standards in Jackrabbit don’t slip. 

Lucknam Park already has a great USP.  It is one of only two hotels in the UK with its own stables, meaning that if you want a morning’s ride, just walk out the front door and get those feet in the stirrups. But recently it’s been cottaging big time. First there was Keeper’s Cottage, the conversion of an old house on the Lucknam estate for self-catering stays and now in September 2019 the hotel has just opened Squire’s Cottage. This four-bedroom house was formerly the home of the Managing Director, but its potential as overspill accommodation was just too much for the hotel to resist. In fact Lucknam Park is currently embarking on the conversion of most of its outbuildings – a possible total of seven - into self-catering cottages. 

Unlike Keeper’s Cottage – to be honest unlike the rest of nineteenth century Lucknam - Squire’s is very modern inside. The main ground floor room combines a beautiful, gleaming kitchen at one end, a dining table in the middle and at the far end a TV area with a wood-burning stove and huge sofas, big enough to accommodate all eight guests. This is a perfect place to hole up with some friends for a wintery weekend. There’s also a terrace for alfresco dining and plenty of space for children to play in the woods surrounding the cottage. Perhaps not surprisingly, the artwork is modern too and also very horse-themed.

If self-catering doesn’t appeal, you can hire a chef (and waiter) through the hotel or simply order room service from the brasserie, which is no distance at all from the cottage’s front door. The brasserie is in the same building as the spa and has a small but truly great wine list. 

I do hope the Managing Director has found somewhere new to live as comfortable as this!

Marlow on the River Thames is a town blessed with some very good hotels and pubs with rooms. Maybe this is why its lakeside Crowne Plaza is has really upped the ante.  Crowne Plaza as a brand has a very corporate reputation, the kind of hotel where at dinner you’ll often find seven men and one lone woman discussing a work project. But this Crowne Plaza Marlow has a very unexpected, very uncorporate dining room. It’s a large, attractive new glass-fronted brasserie called Glaze that is the latest part of a total refurbishment of the 112 room hotel. This is an exciting space, skilfully divided up into booths, banquettes and tables. It overlooks the artificial lake, and its menu by chef Saud Munshi is exceptional.

Every evening the dinner menu at Glaze is presented on a single sheet of A4. One side is British, which has a lot going for it: Dorset crab souffle or goats cheese and apple mousse to start with, followed by seabass fillet or tortellini of butternut squash. There is also a great range of artisanal cheeses for afterwards, with names like Waterloo, Oxford Blue, and Tunworth. But flip the paper over, however, and a completely different, wholly Indian menu greets you – saffron murg tikka, fish pakora, lamb vindaloo, choley masala, and the wonderful mango kulfi. Whichever side of the menu you choose two courses are £25.95 and three courses £30.95.

Stay the night and you’ll find that Chef Munshi’s dishes have proved such a hit that there is now an Indian menu for breakfast as well. While eating your Indian meal you may even get to watch people water-skiing on the lake outside. This is a hotel to really overturn your expectations of Crowne Plaza. Once the new lobby is completed (hopefully by Christmas) anyone arriving at Crowne Plaza Marlow will be in for a treat.

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