Escape the stresses of the city and find bliss in barely an hour of leaving London. Here are my top five tried and tested weekend escapes:
1. Cliveden, Taplow, Buckinghamshire
A beautiful Italianate house set high above the Thames and surrounded by almost 400 acres of the most beautiful parkland imaginable (now managed by the National Trust). This stunning house, once owned by the Astor family, was of course made infamous by the Profumo scandal in the 1960’s.
Barely 40 minutes outside of London this elegant country house hotel is also home to a rather gorgeous spa. Indulge yourself with an early evening soak in the outdoor Canadian maple-wood hot tub before getting ready for dinner, or take a stroll on the beautiful parterre, dating from 1855.
The rooms are classically beautiful and steeped in history, particularly the ones in the main part of the house. The food is beyond delicious with the very talented André Garrett at the helm and a real emphasis on season guided English ingredients. Spend the day in the spa; enjoy a riverside walk, afternoon tea overlooking the lawns, or a champagne sipping evening boat ride on one of the hotel’s vintage launches.
2. The Bear, Woodstock, Oxfordshire
This fabulously atmospheric 13th Century coaching inn is covered by a thick blanket of ivy which has the effect of concealing the hotel from prying eyes; perhaps this is why the hotel was a chosen place of assignation for Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton!?
Situated in the centre of the exquisitely pretty village of Woodstock, it is also right next to Blenheim Palace, the birth place of Churchill. Blenheim is surely one of the grandest of England’s stately homes and the surrounding ‘Capability’ Brown parkland is both magnificent and beautiful.
The hotel has a selection of really lovely ‘feature’ rooms – we stayed in cosy courtyard suite with mezzanine bedroom and sitting area. As well as a day at the palace, there’s a lot to do in the area – the dreaming spires and museums of Oxford are only a short drive away, and for fashionistas in search of designer chic Bicester village is close by too.
3. Hartwell House, Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire
This beautiful country house hotel and spa is nestled in the serene Aylesbury Vale. With elements of both Georgian and Jacobean architecture and sumptuous reception and dining rooms it has a wonderful ambience of an elegant country home.
Try the mouth-watering afternoon tea served on the terrace overlooking the lawns, a game of croquet, or a simple stroll along the banks of the river that meanders lazily through the parkland. Relax and melt in the spa, where there is an array of treatments on offer – I suggest beginning with the 85 minute aromatherapy massage.
The food is spectacular and the wine list is as comprehensive as you would expect. While in the Vale of Aylesbury Waddesdon Manor is well worth a visit – a Rothschild owned manor house in the style of a 14th Century French chateau.
4. The Mermaid Inn, Rye, East Sussex
Once described by Victorian poet Coventry Patmore as: “A little bit of the old world living on in pleasant ignorance of the new”; Rye is a charming historic town close to the Sussex coast. The Mermaid Inn is situated on the picturesque cobblestoned Mermaid Street.
Crossing the threshold of the Inn you can be forgiven for feeling as though you have gone back in time to the 15th Century; indeed the building dates back to the 1420s, when it was a popular haunt for smugglers; the cellars date back to the mid-12th Century – it feels absolutely steeped in history and is complete with secret passages! The bedrooms are cosy, several with panelling, hand-carved 4-poster beds and paper-thin lattice windows overlooking pretty rose and wisteria covered cottages.
There are some beautiful walks around Rye, or if you fancy the seaside the beach at Camber Sands is only a short drive away. Local places of interest include: Bodiam Castle and Derek Jarman’s garden at Dungeness.
5. Kingfisher Yurt, Wendover, Buckinghamshire
Get back to nature with a weekend in this funky little handmade yurt in the Chiltern Hills. Totally secluded and surrounded by the sounds of nature and a babbling brook, any thoughts of the City will soon trickle away. The yurt is very cosy and features a king-size bed. Fall asleep to the sound of owls and a crackling fire as you gaze up at the stars through the central roof wheel. There are a plethora of tranquil and scenic walks in the area, as well as several National Trust gardens and some great pubs offering delicious fare and thirst quenching local ales. If this wasn’t enough, the hosts, are both complementary therapists, so book yourself an aromatherapy massage, reflexology or reiki session – pure bliss.