THE GROVE, Hertfordshire
It may sound like a contradiction for a country hotel, but arguably one of the biggest bonuses of The Grove is its proximity to central London. Set in 300 acres of verdant Hertfordshire countryside and parkland, it is just 18 miles from the capital (a mere 15-minute train journey from Euston), making it the perfect escape for stressed-out city-dwellers and an excellent base for out-of-towners who want to daytrip to the Big Smoke. As the former home of the Earls of Clarendon, the lovingly restored red-brick manor is rich in aristocratic history dating back to the 1500s – it was even said to be a favorite weekend retreat of Queen Victoria. Today, The Grove is just as renowned for its award-winning Sequoia spa and championship golf course as it is for its woodland trails, walled garden and vast range of family-appropriate activities (children will love the Segway tours, on-site tennis and birds-of-prey experiences). Dining is another strong focus, with two excellent restaurants to choose from: the newly reopened Glasshouse offers no less than eight live food stations, where chefs can whip up everything from fresh pasta dishes to seafood and steak, while The Stables – set in the original 18th-century stable block – is a more cozy and traditional affair. All this country splendor so close to London? Bliss. Victoria Haswell
THE RECTORY HOTEL, Wiltshire
While this postcard-pretty area has no end of boutique stays to choose from, this heavenly spot – the creation of former music exec Alex Payne – has become one of our firm favorites. The Rectory is pure English country charm: breezy salon rooms strewn with Penguin Classics and broadsheets; a cozy bar with colossal club chairs to curl up and sip cocktails in; and the most lovely garden imaginable, complete with an ornamental pond and cascading magnolia. You can’t go wrong booking any of the plush 18 rooms, with their floral soft furnishings and four-poster beds, roll-top baths and vintage touches. While the hotel restaurant is sublime – serving up truffle cheese toasties, chateaubriand cooked to perfection and a breakfast spread to rival Marie Antoinette’s – be sure to visit the hotel’s sister pub, The Potting Shed, for a fresh take on British fare. After a dip in the hotel’s outdoor pool and lemonade on the lawn, you’ll be left feeling like a character from an Evelyn Waugh novel.
THE PIG HOTEL, Brockenhurst
Tucked away amid the sprawling flatlands of the New Forest stands this gorgeous Georgian manor, where everything from the sunny staff to the hand-foraged food is country charm itself. With six hotels now under the Pig umbrella, this is the original Pig Hotel; since 2011 it’s been the go-to weekend escape for city dwellers and locals alike. The happy haven is a true home-from-home; where dimpled leather armchairs embrace you after a long day and the barman will whip up your favorite drink at the drop of a muddy welly boot. All produce is grown on site (or sourced as locally as possible) and, thanks to head chef James Golding, served with passion and detail. If you’re visiting in July, book the wonderfully secluded Forest Cabin, where a claw-footed bath and emperor-sized bed await you, for the hotel’s annual Smoked and Uncut festival; a smorgasbord of artisanal food and live music.
THE WILD RABBIT, Kingham
At the heart of the postcard-pretty English village of Kingham is the charming Wild Rabbit inn. The philosophy here is farm-to-fork, and head chef Nathan Eades has the first-class organic produce from nearby Daylesford Farm’s creamery, bakery, smokehouse and market garden at his disposal, which means you can expect seasonal, vegetable-focused dishes served in the bright, high-ceilinged dining room adjacent to the cozy bar. The sleeping arrangements are also a seductive synergy of luxurious and laid-back: 15 rooms and two new self-contained cottages feature linen sheets, exposed bricks and modern artworks by Hugo Guinness – it’s the ideal sanctuary after a ramble in the beautiful Cotswolds countryside.
THE ANGEL INN, Petworth
Expect nothing less than a heavenly stay at West Sussex’s Angel Inn. This former coach house is packed with period details – think wonky staircases, exposed beams and charmingly low doorways – but its seven rooms have been lovingly updated with all the creature comforts of a thoroughly luxe country stay. For a dose of opulence, check in to the Scots Pine room, a teal-tone suite with a sprawling bed and freestanding bath. If you can peel yourself out from under the covers, you don’t need to venture any further than the hotel’s own eatery for a mean Sunday roast, washed down with 18-year-old whiskey. It’ll set you up nicely for a stroll through the cobbled streets of Petworth, lined with chocolate-box houses, antiques shops and delis such as the Hungry Guest, sure to impress even the most seasoned foodie.
Thyme is the quintessential Cotswolds retreat, film-set perfect and cocooned in its own private hamlet. The 150-acre manor estate boasts a collection of 17th-century farmhouses, cottages and a lodge, where the aesthetic is elegantly bohemian, with reclaimed woods, long trestle tables and chandeliers. Of all the wonderfully light and airy bedrooms, Nepeta is the prettiest, with its beamed ceilings, jugs of wild flowers and gargantuan roll-top bath. The fabulous holistic Meadow Spa is a real draw, set in romantic walled gardens with a heated outdoor pool fed with local spring water. But the brilliant food is the main attraction here – the renowned cookery school takes a sustainable approach to the seasonal menu with locally sourced produce such as pumpkin soup, guinea fowl and braised cabbage, not to mention the nearby Swan Pub, the Sunday roast of which is the stuff of local legend.
THE PIG AT COMBE, Devon
It may be a honey-colored gem of an Elizabethan manor on a 3,500-acre estate, but for all its grandeur, the atmosphere at The Pig at Combe is fun and welcoming. Part of a hotel group that sells its country stays as ‘restaurants with rooms’, this foodie hideaway’s sustainable approach is legendary, sourcing all ingredients within a 23-mile radius or growing them across the hotel’s three walled gardens. The restaurant is fabulously inviting, where platters of piggie bits like crackling and the signature tomahawk chop are piled high at scrubbed tables, but be sure to seek out the magical Folly, too: an enticingly rustic affair where you can enjoy wood-fired pizzas and local cider overlooking the rolling hills of Otter valley. Book one of the three fabulous Curlditch Cottages, which come with their own walled garden overlooking the charming chicken coop at the bottom of the drive.
CLIVEDEN HOUSE, Berkshire
Cliveden is England’s landmark hotel, against which all others must be measured. Sitting among acres of lawn and parkland rolling down to the River Thames, about 45 minutes from London, it needs little introduction: the former country seat of the Astor family, almost every British monarch since George I has been entertained here. But nothing prepares you for the exuberant fanfare of the place – the long gravel drive past the marble Fountain of Love; the formal gardens and scented parterres; the gleam of the towering golden clock tower at the entrance. It is certainly grand, and yet without any hint of preciousness. As Britain’s chilly fall evenings set in, take tea in the cozy drawing rooms surrounded by tapestries, roaring hearths and rolling views of the unspoiled landscape. Hole up for the weekend at the adjacent Spring Cottage, with its heady atmosphere of historic lust (forever associated with Christine Keeler and the scandal that brought down a government), located amid the many romantic wooded pathways in the grounds.
HECKFIELD PLACE, Hampshire
This 44-bedroom hotel in the deep green heart of rural Hampshire is a revelation, less than an hour from London. Nearly 10 years in the planning, it is a no-expense-spared, intricately conceived and designed passion project by its businessman owner, Gerald Chan, who has aimed for a completely self-sustaining environment. His passion has evidently trickled down to the staff – the atmosphere of enthusiasm and job contentment is contagious. It’s a bucolic escape, but also a constant hub of activity: from private screenings in the cinema to the gardening, cooking or art courses. For all the ornamental, symmetrical elegance of the walled gardens and the architecture, there is no standing on ceremony here. Borrow boots and bikes to explore the estate; help yourself to a slice of cake at tea, compliments of the house; pick your own flowers; and hook your own fish to be cooked up in the kitchens of Skye Gyngell’s informal yet sensational Marle and Hearth restaurants, the latter with an open grill and a homely, almost pub-like vibe.
Only 30 minutes from either Gatwick or Heathrow airports, this extravagant country mansion, which opened as an hotel last year, is a huge boon for weekenders and short-breakers. The former country seat of Lord Beaverbrook, a cabinet minister during both World Wars, it is filled with antiques and memorabilia of his era, offering endless hours of distraction but without the reverential stiffness of a museum. On the contrary, the place thrums with life at weekends: for children, the Sharkey and George club, a treehouse and an old private cinema; for grownups, 400 acres of grounds and woodland to wander through. A trout lake, kitchen garden, tennis courts and indoor and outdoor pools make this the perfect escape for the whole family.
LIME WOOD, Hampshire
In this chocolate-box-pretty corner of England, Lime Wood is a star turn; a beautiful manor house set amid landscaped lawns and located at the end of a sweeping drive. While the architecture is grandly elegant, the mood is relaxed and unbuttoned, attracting Londoners with dogs in tow, families, businessmen and locals. This is a place to come to recharge (there are various boot camps and spiritual/yoga retreats throughout the year in the excellent spa) and to indulge in traditional country distractions, from horse riding to archery and falconry. Top chef Angela Hartnett’s dining experience is a refined interpretation of English/Italian comfort food, while the onsite smokehouse offers cured local meats and fish. Bedrooms are equipped with every kind of device to make you more comfortable and coddled, but if it’s available, the stunning Lake Cabin is the one to book: it’s a secluded hideaway cantilevered over the water, with a terrace, wood-burning stove and free-standing bathtub.
LYMPSTONE MANOR, Devon
This Georgian mansion faces psychedelic sunsets over the estuary of the River Exe, surrounded by 28 acres of vineyards, woodland and elegant lawns sweeping down to the water’s edge. The 21 rooms are drenched with natural light in the main house, with individual artworks, marbled bathrooms and our favorite feature: a gin and cocktail cabinet. It’s a place to come for the food, unsurprisingly, since the place belongs to respected chef Michael Caines MBE and holds a coveted Michelin star. Dinner beneath the statement chandeliers is about formal old-school elegance – all white gloves and multiple sets of cutlery and glassware – with an eight-course tasting menu that exploits the best local produce, from Darts Farm beef to Brixham scallops and estuary mussels. Walk it all off the next day by borrowing some wellingtons or bikes for forays along the nearby Triassic coastline.