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Truffling around in Umbria

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Walking through the autumn woodland, hazy sunrays shining between the trunks, and our feet rustling through the colourful carpet of leaves, it occurs to me that this is a beautiful, meandering walk. But we’re not here to fill our lungs with the earthy smell of dewy hummus and leaf mulch and take in the gentle Umbrian scenery.

A few feet in front of us, setting the pace and leading the way is Giuliano, a truffle hunter, and his dog Leda. We’re on the hunt for the white gold that lies beneath our feet – the prized wild tartufo bianco that has a short season and can’t be farmed. Thanks to its elusive habit and the incredibly rich, umami flavour that it brings to any dish, white truffles are the most expensive food on the planet, regularly costing £2,000 per kilo.

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Suddenly the dog barks and rummages excitedly in the undergrowth; Giuliano steps in with his knife. He’s struck gold – we can smell it! The truffle is not much to look at, more like a dirty stone or a gnarled piece of pale clay – but we don’t catch sight of it for long. As quick as a flash it’s in Guiliano’s pocket. By lunchtime it will be on the menu at L’Antica Osteria in the tiny hilltop town of Montone, or for sale in the town square as part of the annual Festa del Bosco.

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The end of October marks the beginning of the white truffle season here and there are festivities to celebrate its arrival across the region. Montone’s Festa del Bosco takes place between 30 October and 2 November. Every restaurant and shop in the small pedestrian town brings out its truffles and forest foods to sell throughout the weekend.

After a slap-up lunch of tagliatelle with white truffle, venison stew with shaved truffles and a slab of steak covered in truffle, washed down with local Umbrian wine from Montefalco, we head north to Citta di Castello.

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Here, the Tartufo Bianco Festival is in full swing (31 Oct-2 Nov) and the atmosphere in the evening is more like a carnival, with dancers, street performers and, of course, plenty of food and wine. The Truffle tents greet you with their intense woody whiff, so strong that it’s almost dizzying, and at every stall you can try truffle pate, oils, truffled honey, cheese, and even buy the real thing. While you might not want to spend E500, you can pick up a small black truffle for about E10 or oils and other treats from about E5.

It’s not all truffles – new season porcini, hazelnuts, wild boar, wine and olive oil are all for sale and foodie stalls sell delicious snacks to eat now or take home for later.

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Our home for the weekend, was a lovingly restored and converted medieval farm and church, Chiesa del Carmine, nestled in a valley surrounded by olive groves, vines and its own truffle woods. The next day we sat in the autumn sun and ate al fresco, while sipping on some of the estate’s own Sangiovese. It was the perfect setting to feast on the harvest bounty from this unspoilt, authentic slice of Italy.

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Getting there

Chiesa del Carmine sleeps 14. From E4,000 a week. www.chiesadelcarmine.com
Fly to Perugia with Ryan Air from £22.99 each way. www.ryanair.com

ALISON TYLER

Go glamping this weekend

Make the most of spring’s arrival with a new season lodge, Shepherd’s hut or quirky cabin – it’s camping, but weather-proofed for fresh evenings.

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Swinton Bivouac, Yorkshire

Sitting in 20,000 acres, Swinton Bivouac is a cluster of handcrafted, gingerbread house-cute log cabins hidden on the edge of the woods, with incredible views.

Inside natural wooden floors, hand-made beds, antique rocking chairs and wood-burning stoves add to the up-cycled, eclectic vibe. As well as a small kitchenette, each shack comes with a flushing toilet and shower, and will sleep seven.

Bivouac Shack 1
There is a fab café, shop, and play area, and Bivouac guests can use the facilities at nearby Swinton Park – so you can combine a day walking in the dales with a massage in the spa or a posh meal.
Seven-night stays from £100 per person. 01765 535020, www.thebivouac.co.uk

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Ges the Horsebox, Surrey

Down a quiet country lane, in the middle of an idyllic woodland meadow, it’s hard to believe that Ges, a lovingly-restored and converted 1970s horse truck, is not much more than an hour’s drive from central London. Inside there’s a king-size cabin bed, a sofa bed and a bright retro interior. And if you need the bathroom, the neighbouring pony trailer, Baby Ges, houses a hot shower and compost loo. A basket and blankets are provided so that you can pack a picnic and explore the bluebell woods.

From £135 per night (sleeps four), www.canopyandstars.co.uk/ges 0117 204 7830

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The Sherwood Hideaway at Thoresby, Nottinghamshire

These rustic-chic wooden lodges, that sleep four, are hidden deep in Sherwood Forest but are contemporary and sleekly designed – from Mulberry and Designer’s Guild soft furnishings, to the state-of-the-art TV, iPod dock and wifi, to the fully-stocked kitchen, to the private hot tub. Yes, you get your own forest-view hot tub. David, the on-site concierge back at the reception lodge, can arrange bikes and advise on cycling and walking trails in the forest – which looks stunning at this time of year as the trees burst into life and bluebells abound.

From £25 per person per night. 01623 824594, www.sherwoodhideaway.com

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The Boat Shed at Ardanaiseig, Argyll

On the shores of the appropriately-named Loch Awe, the Ardanaiseig Hotel’s new Boat Shed combines contemporary architecture with splendid isolation – the glass-walled front looks on to the islands in the middle of Loch Awe and the snow-capped Ben Cruachan beyond. In spring the lake mist clears to offer truly spectacular views of the woods and mountains, reflected in the water. The one-bedroom bolthole, perched on the water’s edge is modern, romantic, and has all of the hotel’s five-star trappings on tap, too.

From £330 per night. 01866 988450, www.ardanaiseig.com

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Bluebells Nest at The Dandelion Hideaway, Leiccestershire

Nestled on the edge of the National Forest in Leicestershire, The Dandelion Hideaway has six canvas cottages dotted around the 250-acre farm and its woodland, arable and grassland. This may be “glamping” but you get all the creature comforts you could hope for, including proper beds, en-suite bathrooms with roll-top baths, a living area with a sofa, and a farmhouse kitchen complete with a dining table and a wood-burning stove.

If you want isolation then opt for Bluebells Nest, a treehouse that sits by the wood and is perfect for two. Pre-order one of Sharon’s farmhouse suppers that will be bubbling on the stove when you arrive.

Canvas cottages sleep up to six, from £700 a week, www.coolrentalguide.com.

The Shepherd’s Hut Retreat, Somerset

Circling a lake and nestled among trees turning golden brown, you’ll find four secluded, romantic shepherd’s huts, each with a private deck and fire pit. Inside, they’re surprisingly spacious, fitting in a double bed, fully-equipped kitchen and a bathroom – they even have electric heating and are insulated against spring nights.

From £90 a night (sleeps two). 07813 393164, www.theshepherdshutretreat.co.uk

Badger Gypsy Caravan, Mid Wales

What could be more nostalgic than a stay in a traditional bow-top gypsy wagon? It even comes with its own kitchen and bathroom, housed in the next-door shepherd’s hut. What’s more, it sits on a 200-acre, organic farm in the Upper Wye Valley, surrounded by walking trails, cycle routes, the river Wye and Cambrian mountains, making it the ultimate, escape-it-all, back-to-nature break.

£265 for two nights (sleeps two) – book for October and they are currently offering a 20 per cent discount. www.underthethatch.co.uk

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Lord Stones, North York Moors

Named after the Bronze-sage standing stones that top the hillside, Lord Stones is a gorgeous, glamorous campsite like no other. For starters, it sits in a stunning private country estate on the ruggedly-beautiful North York Moors. Then there’s the fact that there’s a fine-dining restaurant run by top chef Michael Chase, formerly of the Michelin-starred Star at Harome, which serves the estate’s own Belted Galloway beef on the menu, plus a lovely café and an artisan farm shop on site.

There are five, new bespoke “glamping pods”, which are stylish timber cabins that sleep four and come fully equipped with a double bed and a sofa bed, a bathroom, kitchenette and a wood-burning stove. There’s even an outdoor deck with a BBQ, lanterns and seats so that you can enjoy the best of the camping experience with the comfort of a proper night’s sleep and running water.

Glamping pods from £33.50 per person per night. 01642 778482, www.lordstones.com

 

High Cross Camping Coach, Dorset

If you can’t afford the Orient Express, try out the next best thing – this antique London Brighton & South Coast Railway carriage gleams as if it has just rolled out of the station for the first time. Climb aboard, and into another era – the rich mahogany panelling takes you back in time to the glory days of rail travel. All the original fittings remain – authentic luggage racks, rounded windows, leather straps and brasswork – although the carriage has been converted to house a fully-equipped kitchen and bathroom, while the long bench seat in the main saloon transforms into a double bed and an antique French stove keeps it cosy on chilly nights. The accompanying “living van” houses two single beds (great for kids or extra guests).

From £85 per night (sleeps four), www.canopyandstars.co.uk/campingcoach

 

Apple Tree Yurts, East Sussex

This newly-opened ash, chestnut, cotton and canvas yurt, sitting in a beautiful apple orchard, is furnished in rustic style – think soft sheepskins, a handmade double bed and wood-burner for warmth. The outside barbeque and fire pit make for a fabulous night under the stars – baked apples, anyone?

From £117.50 a night (sleeps five), www.pitchup.com

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ALISON TYLER

This article first appeared in Metro on 27 April 2015

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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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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