Adrian Mourby

Back to Inspirations
For me the run-up to Christmas is as exciting as Christmas itself. Every day in December Britain office workers seem to get less and less work done as shopping, food preparation, writing Christmas cards and planning parties take over as the nation's primary activities. But all that preparation can get a bit too much sometimes. Our insistence on a perfect Christmas Day can mean that the weeks running up to it are get fraught at times.

So the Pre-Christmas Getaway has become our family's new Yuletide tradition. The idea is simplicity itself. Find a hotel you really like and see what offers they'd doing early to mid-December. While most hotels are booked solid over Christmas and New Year itself, a lot of them have spare capacity in the first three weeks of December. Some have pre-Christmas events you might want to join, but for me it's the getting away from it all that is so delicious. A log fire, a good book, a deep sofa and no responsibility for anyone else's happiness is my perfect recipe for relaxation. And when it's time to go home, you'll return to the Christmas fray refreshed.

Alternatively find a hotel in a place with a Christmas market or shops you like nearby. Whenever you've had enough Christmas shopping, you can nip back to your room for a siesta and maybe a mince-pie.

Here are ten lovely British hotels where you can hide away for a night or two this December.
Mallory Court Country House Hotel & Spa

Mallory Court is a beautiful mock-Tudor country house outside Leamington Spa with mullioned windows, tall brick chimneys and formal box-hedged gardens. Despite its historic appearance, it was actually built during World War I on nine acres of land bought from the Earl of Warwick. The new owner was James Holt, a retired industrialist from Manchester who wanted a country home that looked as if it had been here for centuries. He certainly got his wish.

Mallory Court remained a private house until 1950 when it was briefly a company headquarters before becoming a family home again in 1956. Then in 1976 it became a hotel, as is so often the fate for these oversized country houses. Twenty years later it was bought by Sir Peter Rigby who lives nearby. Sir Peter wanted Mallory Court for his Eden Hotel collection. With one exception (in Stratford upon Avon), all Eden hotels are in rural locations, reflecting the English country house ethos of muddy wellies, cheerfully excited dogs and afternoon teas by a roaring fire.

Sir Peter added an East Wing with eight bedrooms in 1999 and more recently an Elan Spa. Both buildings are in the same style as the original 1916 house and make for a harmonious whole. There's a delightful formal garden beyond the East Wing and wide lawns with views over Warwickshire.

What better place to get away to for a pre-Christmas break? During December the hotel has a real floor-to-ceiling Christmas tree in its drawing room. A festive afternoon tea is served in front of the five fireplaces during the week and at the weekend a complementary winter cocktail is included. There are also two black-tie dinner-dances during the pre-Christmas period with a jazz pianist – and a plentiful supply of mince pies – on offer. This year the jazz dinner-dances will be held on 14 and 20 December.

The Grand Hotel

The Grand is a hotel that lives up to its name. It reminds me of a great ocean liner resting on the shoreline at Eastbourne. Very much the centre of this seaside town's social life, the Grand has a number of regular festive offers this December, and its “Winter Warmer” deal runs from the beginning of December all the way through to the end of February 2020. This package offers great value on two-night stays with dinner. If you're looking for something more specifically Christmassy, there are festive lunches that run until 22 December in the Garden and Mirabelle Restaurants and best of all the afternoon tea in the huge Great Hall (originally the hotel reception in Edwardian times) with live music and towering Christmas trees. The composer Claude Debussy is supposed to have loved the acoustics in the Great Hall; certainly the Grand makes the most of them with its live music programme.

There are two parties for which you can buy tickets, including a black-tie event in the Compton Ball Room (which will be Ice Palace-themed) on 21 December this year. All these events are open to the public as well as hotel guests. If all that partying is too much, take a bracing winter walk down Grand Parade to the Edwardian bandstand and Eastbourne Pier itself. Why should the seaside just be for summer?

Chateau Rhianfa

Château Rhianfa on the Welsh island of Anglesey does indeed look like a Loire Valley chateau. It was built by Sir John Hay Williams (1794 – 1859), the High Sheriff of Anglesey and the owner of nearby Bodelwyddan Castle. Having only daughters, Sir John knew that after his death the family castle would pass to his nearest male relative (shades of Downton Abbey) and so he had to build a home for his wife and daughters to live in after his death.

Turning this cause for concern into a celebration of their marriage, Lady Sarah Hay Williams designed her dower house in French style because she and Sir John had enjoyed many happy travels in France. Today Chateau Rhianfa still feels like a family home and even more so in early December with two huge Christmas trees, one in the entrance hall, just after reception and one by the piano in the music room. The hotel also makes sure welcoming log fires are kept burning. Be prepared for a lot of candles and decorations in vibrant red, green and gold. This winter the chateau will have party nights at the weekends (6, 13 and 14 December) and a murder mystery night on 7 December. There'll also be two afternoon teas with Santa (15 and 22 December). Lady Sarah designed the house so that its four public rooms can be opened up to create a big space for events or closed off to create a series of drawing rooms and music rooms for quieter moments. There's a lot going on if you want to join in but my advice would be go midweek when you can have the lovely turreted reading rooms to yourself and maybe take time to explore the Isle of Anglesey itself.

Ettington Park

From floor to ceiling is quite a distance at Ettington Park, a tall, neo-gothic mansion just outside Stratford Upon Avon. When the hotel installs its floor-to-ceiling Christmas tree at the beginning of December, it's quite a sight.

Like many British hotels in the run-up to Christmas Ettington offers a festive afternoon tea with freshly baked scones and clotted cream, a selection of pastries, and a glass of prosecco. Like many hotels too, the fireplaces will be lit but at Ettington they will be burning logs cut from the park itself.

Make time to visit to the church that stands within the grounds. Its memorials recall the fact that the Shirley family held the manor of Ettington for almost a thousand years, from before the Norman Conquest all the way up until 1912 when Sewallis Shirley died. After that Ettington was leased out, served as a prisoner of war camp during World War II and suffered a major fire in 1979. You'd never guess it now. The house, a Puginesque Victorian masterpiece, has been beautifully restored. The library fireplace – a copy of one in Windsor Castle – is a lovely place to warm yourself on a winter's day.

With Stratford so close, it's possible to take in one of the RSC's December productions and then motor back to the hotel. The choice this year is between a modern dress version of Shakespeare's rarely-performed King John (which in this production includes a food fight that has been known to hit the audience), David Walliams' musical comedy The Boy in the Dress, and A Museum in Baghdad, a play about Gertrude Bell at the RSC's Swan Theatre.

Stratford is also worth venturing into for some Christmas shopping, but best of all is coming back to a warm, brightly-lit hotel with an enormous Christmas tree to welcome you.

Airds Hotel & Restaurant

There are few hotels so perfect for getting away from it as little, white-washed Airds on the west coast of Scotland. True, it might take you a day to travel there from certain parts of the UK but once you arrive, you'll immediately breathe in that fresh, clean air and relax. How lovely to wake at this cozy former inn and see snow on the mountains of the Morvern Peninsula, rising up over Loch Linhe. After a breakfast with a fortifying dram of whisky in your porridge, walk to Port Appin and watch the island ferry come and go, or stride out as far as Castle Stalker, a striking stone fortress which featured in the finale of Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

Back at the hotel there is always excellent food. Peruse the dinner menu every evening over drinks in front of two log fires. Afterwards you'll find Hamish, one of the hotel's cuddly stuffed highland cows waiting on your bed. Put him outside your door if you don't want to be disturbed. The hotel even provides a flask of Whisky Mac in each of its eleven bedrooms for a warming nightcap.

In the weeks immediately before Christmas Airds has some tempting offers for two and three-night stays that include dinner. The only problem may be that you won't want to leave at all.

Cliveden House

As one of Britain's most glamorous hotels, Cliveden lives up to expectations at Christmas time. If you have the spare cash, you can stay there over the three days of Christmas itself prices start at £3,765 per room. More modestly, book a night during the December run-up and make the most of the lavish decorations and seasonal ambience. As you arrive upthe long drive there are illuminated trees standing in front of the elegant porch and inside the mansion a huge Christmas tree - erected between two suits of armour collected by Lord Astor - greets the visitors. This being Cliveden, the festive afternoon tea is served with Veuve Cliquot, which this year became the house champagne.

No visit to Cliveden would be complete without a tour of the grounds which have been meticulously restored. If you get down to the Thames, check out the old half-timbered boathouse where her Lady Astor's canoe, Liddesdale has been restored this year. This Thames “canoe” is a very glamorous boat that is powered silently by electric batteries . Next year six visitors at a time will be able to travel along the Thames as the Astor family did at the beginning of the twentieth century, when they were the foremost Anglo-American family in Britain. Definitely something to look forward to in 2020.

Langar Hall

From the outside, Langar Hall looks like a rather superior red-brick rectory out of a Jane Austen TV adaptation. In 1860 it was bought by Annie Bayley, wife of former Nottinghamshire MP, Thomas Bayley. In 1983 their great-granddaughter, Imogen Skirving turned it into a hotel and - despite having no experience in the business – created a happy, warm ambience that was enjoyed over the years by the likes of Barbara Cartland, Penelope Keith, Jools Holland, Keira Knightley, and cricket raconteur Henry Blofeld. In 2011 the Labour leader Ed Miliband married his long-term partner at Langar Hall.

Now run by Imogen's granddaughter Lila, Langar Hall is a lovely place to unwind in the Nottinghamshire countryside. At Christmas time its interiors are a riot of colourful decorations, far more Dickens than Jane Austen. The library fireplace almost disappears under traditional red and green bunting and the staircase is swathed in gold and green. Most impressive of all is the alcove in the main dining room which seats six and is a riot of OTT golden decorations.

Bailiffscourt Hotel & Spa

Bailiffcourt is a 39-bedroom hotel on the West Sussex coastline, made up of a series of mediaeval houses and stone cottages, reassembled on an estate by the sea. As you arrive, the mullioned windows of reception and the dining room are illuminated by candles. There is also a modern spa -with heated swimming pools indoor and out – that has been cleverly built to resemble a wooden Sussex barn. In this rural paradise the hotel offers a 'Do Not Disturb' package that encourages you to take things slowly, including strolling on nearby Climping Beach, a unique 79-acre Site of Special Scientific Interest. Back at the hotel dining is by candlelight from the hotel's Climping Beach Menu and guests are encouraged to make ample use of the spa. There is also a “Counting Sheep - Do Not Disturb” sign to hang on your door.

Additionally, in the pre-Christmas period there are three days in December when carols are sung in Baliffscourt's thirteenth-century chapel. The building is lit by candles and white fairy-lights. The music is provided by the Agnes Collective who have sung at the Royal Albert Hall and at nearby Glyndebourne.

What can be lovelier than carols by the coast, followed by a walk along the wintery sand dunes to summon up an appetite for supper?

Macdonald Bath Spa Hotel

For a different kind of pre-Christmas break, visit the MacDonald Bath Spa Hotel which stands just above Sydney Gardens, a Georgian pleasure ground that was frequented by Jane Austen during her time in Bath. The hotel began life as Vellore House, a private mansion. Later it was extended in 1879 when when Bath College took it over.

The expansion of Vellore House was cleverly achieved by building a duplicate mansion at the end of a long colonnade that elegantly linked the old and new buildings. Today the hotel's Colonnade Bar, off this glass corridor has old leather chairs, faux bookshelves and a cheery staff making it an ideal place to unwind in the evening after a day's Christmas shopping. This what is so good about a pre-Christmas break in Bath. Spend your day browsing the Christmas Market with its 150 different chalets, full of items by local designers and artisans, then rather than drive home, come back here to relax. The market runs from 28 November to 15 December, and there is also a Christmas Craft Fair up at the American Museum above the Bath Spa Hotel.

The walk from the centre of Bath to the hotel takes you down Great Pulteney Street, which is one of the most gracious in an already gorgeous city. It doubled as Georgian London in the film of Vanity Fair starring Reese Witherspoon. From Great Pulteney Street walk back up through Sydney Gardens, crossing the picturesque canal and pausing at the hotel's grotto before getting ready for that cocktail in the Colonnade Bar. Finally end the day in the Vellore Restaurant, which was originally the ball room of the old mansion. Who says Christmas shopping has to be hard work?

The Chester Grosvenor

Another great hotel for turning Christmas shopping into a holiday itself is the Chester Grosvenor.

A hotel has stood on this site inside the walled city of Chester since 1784. It opened as the Royal Hotel, a rather grim eighteenth-century brick building but in 1815 the Grosvenor family bought it, renamed it and then rebuilt it completely in splendid mock-Tudor style.

With carol singers in the half-timbered streets below, this historic city in December really can feel like Charles Dicken's Christmas Carol transposed to Cheshire. You can venture out to the nearby shops and come back again with parcels as often as you like always be greeted with aplomb by the uniformed doormen. In the afternoon, if the wintery sun has put in an appearance, take a break from the shops and stroll on the city walls which – uniquely in Britain – are unbroken and run for two miles. Start your visit by taking the steps up on Pepper Street, close to the Grosvenor Hotel and turn left. You'll soon come to a tower from which Charles I watched his troops being defeated at the Battle of Rowton Moor in 1645, and then to the impressive sandstone cathedral as you pass the falconry field.

After completing a circuit of the walls, it may be time for a rest and then a long hot bath before preparing yourself for dinner at the hotel's Simon Radley restaurant (named after its executive chef). This dining room has held a Michelin star since 1990 along with 4 AA Rosettes. Add in the 700 bins in the hotel's wine cellar and it's a wonder anyone bothers to go out Christmas shopping at all.

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