Tag Archives: country weekends

Wine and walks in Sussex

Rathfinny great british design

Steeped in a hazy morning mist, between the rolling Sussex downs, between Alfriston and the sea the sun is twinkling on Rathfinny’s vines, which cover the valley like a blanket, as we drive in. They seem to go on for miles, but then Rathfinny is no hobby vineyard – Britain’s youngest sparkling white wine also happens to be its most ambitious. You won’t have heard of Sussex Sparkling yet, as it takes several years for the first vintage to mature, but five years from now Rathfinny’s owner, Mark Driver, hopes that it will be a household name as familiar as Champagne.

aloof-rathfinney-0254_22470091343_oAnd it’s easy to see why, driving into this vast 600-acre estate, with its incredibly modern building and wine room that sits among the swathes of vines. You could be forgiven for thinking you were at a big winery in South Africa or New Zealand, not a tiny village on the South coast. But the soil conditions – the terroirs as the French call it – and the climate are directly comparable with Champagne, if not better, so the question should really be: why has it taken so long for someone to get serious about making decent wine in the UK?

aug15_5_largeTucked away at the very end of the vineyard are the Flint Barns – the original farmhouse of the estate built in the 1860s, they have been immaculately restored from a ruin and now house a large dining room, a snug lounge room and 10 ensuite bedrooms, some arranged for couples or families, and some bunk rooms that are ideal for larger groups of up to eight. But unlike other walker’s retreats there’s no Ikea furniture to be seen here. Every detail has been considered, with bespoke beds made to complement the building, the finest linen and cosiest woollen blankets – it’s not grand or fancy, but it is polished and of the highest quality. Evening meals are family-style dining of locally-soured, crowd-pleasing dishes such as lasagne or shepherd’s pie.

rathfinny-flint-barns-main-stay-2@1xThe manager and chef Adrian is local to Alfriston and a font of knowledge about local walks and visits. A good one to start with is the Rathfinny Trail, which will take you up to the top of the downs for a birds eye view of the vines on one side and the sea on the other, and you can stop at the end at Rathfinny’s Flint Barns Café – an old H van serving delicious cakes and coffees that only walkers can reach – a local hidden gem, and soak up the warm English sun while gazing out at grapes and wild poppies that are doing much the same thing.

rathfinny-flint-barns-main-stay-1@1xWhat started as a rambler’s rest and hostel is evolving. This spring, as Flint Barns is becoming more discovered, they are opening up at weekends offering Sunday roasts and are hosting their first weekend yoga retreat in May, I can’t imagine anywhere more tranquil to salute the sun.

img_0777_25793416523_o-1280x853In Alfristion, Rathfinny has a tasting room and shop, selling local art and produce as well as the first bottlings from the estate, but the rest of this pretty, artist-friendly town is well worth an explore, with its mix of antiques shops, galleries and tea houses.

rathfinny-flint-barns-main-1At the moment, this is one of Britain’s best-kept secrets, but in 2018 when the first Sussex Sparkling corks are popped, Flint Barns and Rathfinny will be to Sussex what River Cottage is to Dorset. And the news that Taittinger has bought a vineyard in Kent is further proof that Rathfinny is onto a winner. Get there now so that you can gloat at dinner parties about how you stayed before Sussex Sparkling was ‘a thing’.

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Rooms from £110 a night B&B, bunk beds from £35pp, Rathfinnyestate.com / flintbarns.com

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Wheel-free weekends

I love the idea of leaving the car behind for a weekend – not only is it less stressful, it also feels eco and carefree to be car-free. Sawday’s has also spotted the trend for travelling by train to escape the Big Smoke and has just launched a collection of properties dedicated to ditching the wheels – here are a few of my favourites.

The Potting Shed
The Potting Shed

A potting shed in Kent
There’s something about a potting shed and this one is exceptional. In the prettiest part of Kent, it stands in the former kitchen garden of Benenden Grange where plantsman Collingwood Ingram once lived. Largely open plan, on three floors, you’ve a sitting room, a natty little kitchen and a double bed up on the mezzanine. Tour the topiary garden, stroll to the idyllic village pub, visit sweet villages and gardens; Sissinghurst and Great Dixter (two of my absolute favourites) are close. Take the train to Headcorn and bus or taxi to Benenden.

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The Potting Shed , Benenden, Kent, from £264 for a 4 night stay (sleeps 2), www.sawdays.co.uk / 01580 240 308

 

Seascape
Seascape

Step out onto the beach in Sussex 
Miles of white sand and shoreline are yours. Rooms are sprinkled with wrought-iron candlesticks, portholes and shells. Awe inspiring to be so close to the sea, as dramatic views encircle the driftwood bed.

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The beach is an extension of the living room and the neutral palette does not compete with those views. Indulge in a spot of pampering: book a massage or reiki session. Take a train to Rye and a bus or taxi to Camber.

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Seascape, Camber, Sussex, from £125 per night (sleeps 3), www.sawdays.co.uk / 01797 224754

 

The Treehouse
The Treehouse

Sleep at tree level in Hertfordshire
While looking out at lofty pines, imagine Henry VIII thundering by… This whole area was part of the hunting estate of nearby Hatfield House. An attractive, white-tiled, living area awaits through the stable door and there’s a small pitch-ceilinged sitting area with Velux window, L-shaped sofa, faux fur throw and magazines to relax with. Look into birds’ nests, and watch deer forage below! Take the train to Ware and hop on the bus to Essendon.

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The Treehouse, Essendon, Hertfordshire, from £495 per week (sleeps 2), www.sawdays.co.uk / 01707271794

 

The Dundas Arms
The Dundas Arms

Canalside in the North Wessex Downs 
This classic inn sits in a stunning spot at the junction of the Kennet river and Kennet & Avon Canal. Check out the papers by the log fire in the Library, a civilised space with leather wing chairs, or have a drink in the modern-traditional bar before tucking into a pork sharing-board, local game pie or whole baked sea bass. Comfortable bedrooms open to gorgeous riverside terraces.Take the train direct to Kintbury and you’re just a stroll away.
The Dundas Arms, Kintbury, Berkshire, from £110 per night, www.sawdays.co.uk / 01488 658263

 

The Barn at Roundhurst
The Barn at Roundhurst

Beautiful barn stay on the South Downs
This 17th-century barn is contemporary with leather sofas, beautiful sculpture and cow hide rugs. Upstairs, there’s an honesty bar, then a library for books and maps, playing cards and poker chips!

20131011-_dsc9694.jpg_gallery_previewChic rooms spiral around a pretty courtyard with boarded floors, blond wood furniture, smart fabrics and the odd exposed beam. Great walks from the door and Petworth and Goodwood are close. Take the train to Haselmere and bus to Lurgashall.

_dsc1910.jpg_gallery_previewThe Barn at Roundhurst, Lurgashall, Sussex, from £130 per night, www.sawdays.co.uk / 01428 642535

 

Fox House
Fox House

Cotswolds country idyll
In this big stylish house, guests can relax in one of two super sitting rooms and take their pick from three immaculate, sunny bedrooms. Wake up to local produce, homemade bread, jams and juices from the orchard. The garden leads to pasture and horses, the countryside is dreamy in every season and footpaths radiate from the door. Take a train to Kingham and bus / taxi to Holwell.

 

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Fox House, Burford, Oxfordshire, from £100 per night, www.sawdays.co.uk / 01993 823409

 

The coach house at Colchester Hill House
The coach house at Colchester Hill House

Listed wooden coach house
This listed brick Coach House is rather special: light and airy with pale beams, oatmeal carpets and merry gingham blinds. Downstairs is a private entrance hall; upstairs a generous open-plan bedroom/living area with a queen-sized bed and en suite bathroom. Find two cream sofas that open into double beds and a balcony with stunning views across the Colne Valley. Take the train to Chappel and Wakes Colne, changing at Marks Tey.

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Colchester Hill House, Colchester, Essex, from £95 per night, www.sawdays.co.uk / 01787221561

 

Waterlock House
Waterlock House

Kent village meets Provencal style 
A stylish Georgian town house with an airy loft apartment on two floors.

hallway-kitchen-sawdays-013_gallery_previewThe vast bedroom/sitting room has French antique quirky pieces (owner, Sophie, has an antique shop next door), a painted black and white diamond floor, a sink-into sofa and a very comfortable big bed with a colourful cover.

garden-shots-009_gallery_previewTake some time in the fantastic, authentic Provençal-style walled garden behind. Take a train to Canterbury and bus or taxi to Wingham.

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Waterlock House, Wingham, Canterbury, Kent, £120 per night, www.sawdays.co.uk / 01227 721792

 

Blue Door Barns
Blue Door Barns

If you must have wheels, borrow better ones
Four charming flint barns hug a candle-lit courtyard, each has been stylishly restored for a relaxed, pampering stay; two have kitchens and living rooms; all are decorated in warm whites, with splashes of colour and vintage pieces.

bluedoor014.jpg_gallery_preview Al-fresco heaven with a rustic table under a rose-covered pergola, and a twinkling outdoor fireplace in the evenings. If you simply must have wheels, hire the stunning 1966 Triumph Spitfire MK1 to cruise the country lanes. Take a train direct to Lewes and walk / taxi to the barns.

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Blue Door Barns, Lewes, Sussex, from £110 per night, www.sawdays.co.uk / 01273 858893

 

 

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A stay in SoCo

Somewhere in the northern wilds of Wiltshire and Somerset a hot new area is emerging, SoCo, or South of Cotswolds is, whisper it, beginning to outshine its chic northern neighbour…

The green arc around Bath’s eastern side, where the West Country ends and the Wolds begin has long been neglected by travellers who zip through heading south for Devon, north to the Cotswolds, or straight through to Bath, Bristol and beyond.

But not anymore. This lush green, properly rural corner of the country has had a noticeable influx of not-so-muddy boots hot-footing it out of the city and into this bucolic, arty no-mans-land.

The tiny towns of Bruton, Frome (which boasts swanky private members club and hotel Babington House on its doorstep) and Bradford on Avon, all have a historic grandness about them, while also remaining just the right side of quaint to be thriving, interesting towns to live in and not just visit.

A wave of galleries, hotels, foodie producers, restaurants and cultural outposts has been putting this hot spot on the map.

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Hauser and Wirth Somerset

 

Most recent, and notable, is contemporary art space Hauser and Wirth (www.hauserwirthsomerset.com), on the edge of Bruton in Somerset, which is home to Pearl Lowe and Danny Goffey. Drive out of the town and you’ll easily miss this farmhouse and its barns that have been converted into a world-class gallery. Outside, Subodh Gupta’s giant gleaming milking pail bucket, a Louise Bourgeois spider and the gently swaying Piet Oudolf-designed gardens (he of New York’s Highline fame) give away the fact that something altogether new is happening here.

Piet Oudolf meadow
Piet Oudolf meadow at Hauser and Wirth Somerset

 

It’s a cultural version of Daylesford in Gloucestershire, a daring and brave mix that includes a shop, four galleries, landscaped sculpture gardens for outdoor walks; and a truly fantastic restaurant and bar – the Roth Bar and Grill. The simple but brilliant, unpretentious food is a sort of Ottolenghi meets gastropub hybrid. The pulled pork and coleslaw ciabatta was lip-smackingly moreish; chicken with rosemary roast new potatoes kept the children happy; and the salad of butternut squash, kale and roasted tomato with spelt and goats cheese, that was meant to be the side dish, stole the show.

HW spider
A Louise Bourgeois spider looms over Hauser and Wirth in Bruton

 

The bar, meanwhile, is an oasis for cocktails, with a dizzying installation built out of local reclaimed materials by Dieter Roth’s son and grandson, Björn and Odder Roth. On Friday nights, locals take over – Reef drummer Dominic Greensmith and Goffey, now drummer for Babyshambles, are in charge of the music. Daisy Lowe has been known to DJ to a crowd that might include locals such as theatre director Cameron Mackintosh, fashion designers Pheobe Philo and Alice Temperley, film director Sam Taylor-Wood or property expert Kevin McCloud.

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You can sleep here, too – Dursdale farmhouse, emblazoned with Martin Creed’s neon words “Everything is going to be alright” – can be rented by the week and sleeps 12.

At the Chapel in Bruton
At the Chapel in Bruton

Don’t miss Bruton itself either. This quiet town makes a big noise: stop for food, wine and a night at At The Chapel on the high street (www.atthechapel.co.uk). Owned by ex-Notting Hill restauranteur Catherine Butler, this bakery, wine bar, restaurant and micro hotel kick-started Bruton’s regeneration more than ten years ago. Stop for a morning cappuccino and you might spot Mariella Frostrup working on her laptop in a corner. Book in at Matt’s Kitchen, a supperclub in Matt’s house on the high street that operates three nights a week, or try Truffles French brasserie. There’s a natural, rustic florist, a rare-breed butcher, and organic grocers and a smattering of galleries and antiques shops – no wonder it’s been alikened to “Notting Hill back in the early days”.

The Ethicurean (photo by Jason Ingram)
The Ethicurean (photo by Jason Ingram)

To the west of Bruton and south of Bristol, The Ethicurean perfectly sums up the mood of the area – it’s a very hip eatery housed in the ramshackle glasshouse of a walled garden, where almost all of the produce is grown. Here country meets cutting edge – they make their own vermouth to go in their Negronis (which come served with a rhubarb swizzle stick), and pickle vegetables to sustain the kitchen the lean winter months. Bohemian, cool, and yet very low-key, it captures the confidence of the region – there can be very few parts of the country where you could open such a venture and succeed financially, to such acclaim. Inside there’s a mixture of yummy mummies, Bristolian hipsters, older artistic types and a few welly-booted walkers. We polished off a sticky toffee apple pudding washed down by a pint of the local Gorge Best beer before heading on to Frome.

The Ethicurean (photo by Jason Ingram)
The Ethicurean (photo by Jason Ingram)

Nearby Frome is a thriving indy town, packed with quirky boutiques, arty spaces and a bit of new age dream catcher thrown in for good measure (well we are a stone’s throw from Stonehenge and Glastonbury after all). The Archangel makes a great pit-stop, and if you want to swoon about in luxury, nowhere does it better than Babington House – the original country outpost of private members club Soho House and the brand’s first hotel.

A little further north in Bradford on Avon there’s a great mixture of shops, galleries and places to run about. The kids will love the country park; we played pooh sticks on the footbridge over the river, and the wandered up to Fat Fowl – a great all-day bistro with jazz on a Sunday and an upstairs play area to occupy the kids.

Old Manor

Just outside the town is the Moonraker (doubles from £135 B&B, www.moonrakerhotel.com), a laidback manor house that feels more like a friend’s rambling house party than a hotel, with higgledy rooms and a restaurant that’s headed up by Matthew Briddon who champions a home-grown farmhouse approach to fine-dining. The pea guacamole with Bath cheese and pancetta served with parsnip crisps and home-made pork scratchings made from the hotel’s own pigs set the tone for a delicious evening followed by the best night’s sleep. Rooms are relaxed and homely and furnished with antique furniture, home-made flapjacks, and local scented candles from Bradford-on-Avon. “When we came here a couple of years ago it was a real gamble,” says owner Tudor Hopkins. “But in that time we’ve seen it change so much, things are just exploding and there’s a real buzz about the area – and we’re getting busier and busier.”

Chef Matthew Briddon in Moonraker's walled garden
Chef Matthew Briddon in Moonraker’s walled garden

For now, thanks to it’s unique location off the beaten tracks of the Cotswolds to the north and the West Country to the south and west, SoCo has managed to retain an authentic, cool vibe, unaffected by tourist coaches and corporate chains. And that’s just the way the locals – and the cognoscenti who do visit – like it.

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This article appeared in METRO on 13 April 2015

ALISON TYLER

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A romantic room with a view

This gorgeous, romantic bolthole in the English Lake District has been converted so beautifully that it’s hard to believe it was once used as a coach house.

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Subtly blending into the landscape, it’s a secret luxury escape beneath a creamy vaulted ceiling. With spa treatments in the cabin and a snug mezzanine to hide in, there’s no need to step outside…

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You can admire the view over Coniston Water while curled up with your lover this Valentine’s weekend (yes, it’s still available!), or take a romantic walk through the eight acres of grounds.

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I’d check in myself, if I wasn’t already at the races at Ascot…

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£495 for 2 nights (sleeps 2) (13/14/15 February, including handmade chocolates, wine and welcome pack), www.sawdays.co.uk / 01824 520008

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10 of the best welly weekends

Grab your Barbour jacket, pull on your Hunter boots and get outdoors for a bracing winter walk – and you can reward yourself with amazing grub and a gorgeous room for the night at the end of it

There’s nothing more exhilarating on a frosty, clear winter’s day than a country walk over fields and hills, and given you can burn up to 400 calories an hour on a good hike, it’s little wonder the likes of Jessica Biel, Matthew Mcconaughey and Reece Witherspoon are fans. Aside from the amazing views, fresh air and vitamin D, our favourite walks include a welcoming inn at the end, with a roaring fire and delicious dinner. So pack your wellies, kids and dog, and make a weekend of it, as we’ve found the best places to enjoy a rural, rambling escape.

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The Milk House, Sissinghurst

This rustic-chic pub and restaurant with rooms is brilliantly located just across the fields from Sissinghurst Castle in Kent (it’s a pleasing 30-minute ramble away). Welly boots and dogs are practically uniform at this timber-framed building. All exposed beams and open fireplaces, there’s a lounge-y bar with comfy leather sofas and a more formal 9though still relaxed) dining room with a menu that sources 80 per cent of its produce from within a 20-mile radius. The four bedrooms are a tribute to Farrow and Ball and the local theme continue with a range of bath products from Kent, too.

Doubles from £90, www.themilkhouse.co.uk

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Woolley Grange, Wiltshire

This homely small manor hotel welcomes families and dogs – if you haven’t brought your boots, you can borrow one of the many pairs lined up in the entrance hall. And if you haven’t brought your dog, you can even borrow the resident King Charles Spaniel puppy Rex and take him for a stroll around the grounds or over the fields down (or down the lane if you’re pushing a buggy) to Bradford on Avon, or head even further a-field to Ilford Manor which is surrounded by hanging woodlands and then walk back along the river.
Rooms at Woolley are eclectic and homely, combining antique furniture with modern design, while the relaxed lounges are the perfect place to warm up with a hot chocolate after a long walk.

Doubles from £120, www.woolleygrangehotel.co.uk

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The Lord Crewe Arms, County Durham

With properly hearty, country food – think shins, hocks, and shanks of meat – Simon Hick’s modern British menu is as robust and humble as this 12th-century former Abbots Priory. Delightfully understated, but in a very stylish way, this pub with 12 bedrooms is warm and welcoming – grab an armchair in the enormous inglenook and settle in with the weekend papers and a pint of Lord Crewe Brew before heading out to the hills. The pub sits at one of the highest points on the North Pennine Hills and is surrounded by heather-clad walks, but fishing and shooting are also available if you really want to give your Barbour a workout.

Doubles from £105, www.lordcrewearmsblanchland.co.uk

 

Askham Hall, Cumbria

Askham Hall makes a very glamorous home from home – owner Charlie Lowther and his wife Juno have renovated and transformed his family home, a Grade I-listed manor house, complete with a medieval tower, to create a 13-room hip-yet-unpretentious hotel with history. The rooms are relaxed yet grand; a winning cocktail of antique beds, dinner-plate showers and jaw-dropping Lake District views. Sitting in the middle OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAof the 70,000-acre Lowther Estate, you’re literally surrounded by walks, from challenging fell climbs to a gentler walk across the estate to the George and Dragon pub in Clifton where most of the food is sourced from the estate itself, or a potter around the Hall’s romatic gardens and woodland and into Askham village.

Doubles from £150, www.askhamhall.co.uk.

 

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The Wild Rabbit, Kingham

Since opening last summer this immaculate pub with rooms, owned by Lady Bamford (the brains behind nearby Daylesford Organic), has recently won Michelin Pub of the Year. Behind its alluring honey-hued Cotswold stone walls and sage green paint, the handcrafted interior has antique furniture, stripped walls and open fires – while the menu stocks artisan ales and wine from small vineyards. Expect thoroughly stylish, and seasonal, food such as pot roast partridge or cacao nib crusted venison with girolles, celeriac and figs. While this may be the poshest pub in Britain, it is also surrounded by fields and farms – dogs are most welcome (they even provide dog beds for free). There are walking maps to borrow and you can hoof it over the fields north to Daylesford Organic to visit the spa, farm shop and restaurant there. Chipping Norton, Burford and Stow on the Wold are all close by.

Doubles from £135, www.thewildrabbit.co.uk

Bar area and dining room, Bel and the Dragon, Churt, Surrey BelDragon_churt3

Bel and the Dragon Churt, Surrey

Less than an hour from London, but a welly’s throw from the National Trust-owned Devil’s Punch Bowl – an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty offering incredible views, this fabulously-restored country inn has 14 bedrooms, a restaurant and bar – complete with a cosy lounge with an open fireplace and an inviting sofa. The new pizza oven and chalk-topped tables are proving a huge hit with families, while the josper grill (for the juiciest steaks) and wine served by the magnum – you just drink what you can – keep grown-ups more than satisfied.

Doubles from £95, www.belandthedragon-churt.co.uk

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Ockendon Manor, Sussex

Surrounded by the South Downs National Park, this Elizabethan Manor House welcomes guests with a roaring log fire and a cosy, wood-panelled bar. Set in nine acres, and with the South Downs Way, Wakehurst Place and Sheffield Park all on the doorstep, you’ll be spoilt for choice for walks. And at the hotel, you can spoil yourself in the state-of-the-art spa and at the Michelin-starred restaurant.

Doubles from £179, www.hshotels.co.uk/ockenden-manor-hotel-and-spa

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The Gunton Arms, Norfolk

You can’t get much more rural than a 1,000-acre deer park, which is where you’ll find this eccentric-yet-unpretentious pub and B&B owned by an art dealer and interior designer. The buzzy restaurant and bar, headed up by chef Simon Tattersall, who worked with Mark Hix, attracts north Norfolk’s finest, from muddy booted walkers and farmers to artists and landowners alike, who come to watch Tattersall cook over a vast 16th-century open fireplace. As you’d expect from a deer park close to Cromer – venison, crab and seafood abound. Just the thing after a misty country walk.

Doubles from £95, www.theguntonarms.co.uk

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The Grove, Pembrokeshire

Between the Pembrokeshire Coast Path and the Preseli Hills, the boutique Grove hotel, and its award-winning restaurant makes a chic retreat after a wild winter walk. Nab one of the fire-side seats in the lounge a snuggle up with a spicy glass of red wine and a great book. Book the Winter Warmer package and the hotel will pack you off in the morning with a walker’s hamper containing a flask of traditional Welsh cawl and tasty bites to keep you warm and toasty on your walk. Then head back to a roaring log fire, a soothing bath with a box of Wickedly Welsh chocolates and a full body massage courtesy of The Grove’s In Room Spa before delicious candlelit meal beside the fire in our award-winning restaurant (£200 per person per night).

Doubles from £165, www.thegrove-narberth.co.uk

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The Gurnard’s Head, Cornwall

There can be few more rugged or wild corners of Britain than the Zennor peninsula in Cornwall, and after a bracing walk, through cow fields, out to the tip of Zennor Point, you’ll be more than ready for a pint of real ale by the fire in the bar. This is pub-grub at its best and most local, from the ham hock terrine to the venison stew, even the soda bread with locally-churned butter is lip-smackingly good. Rooms are cosy but charming, with brilliant beds – you’ll feel so at home that you won’t want to leave. Dogs are welcome and wellies are practically obligatory round these parts.

Doubles from £110 – or book the fantastically good value Winter Escape: £130 a couple for dinner, bed and breakfast, Sunday to Thursday. www.gurnardshead.co.uk

ALISON TYLER

This article appeared in Metro on 26 January

 

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