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For many visitors, the dream idea of a UK country hotel is a charming house where a roaring fire crackles in the hearth, the house dog curled up beside it; tea is served to guests flushed from country walks and dinners are gourmet feasts.
Sounds lovely doesn't it.
But if the country house is a damp and drafty pile, a million miles from anything interesting with stuffy guests, bad cooking and no activities to pass the time, the best country house ideas can turn sour.
Don't worry — we've tried these recommended country house hotels so you'll know what to expect, what we like about them. There may be others that are grander or more famous but we like these for their relaxed and friendly comfortable charm.
The Devonshire Arms Country House Hotel
The original inn at The Devonshire Arms has been welcoming guests for more than 300 years. Rooms here are high and spacious in the period style. Furnishings are either traditional or, in the newer Wharfedale wing, more contemporary.
With a staff to guest ratio of 3 to 1, people are on hand to make things happen for you. You want a picnic at a particular spot, a tennis partner, a chauffeured tour of the National Park? They’ll make it all happen. If you want to walk a dog and have left yours at home, this lavishly dog-friendly hotel will even lend you one of their two Cocker Spaniels to walk.
The Gore Hotel
Walk through the doors, in South Kensington, London, and you could be forgiven for thinking you've stumbled through a time warp to a Victorian country house. This luxurious, eccentric hotel, next to the Royal Albert Hall, is full of surprises - not the least of which is how the cognoscenti have kept it a secret for so long. At the turn of the 20th century, two sisters, Misses Ada and Fanny Cooke, turned it into a genteel hotel. Today, the public rooms, with their polished wood, etched glass and brass, their massive crystal chandeliers and their dark walls covered with framed pictures, recall an earlier era.
This is country house style and then some right in the middle of London. It's a great choice if you're staying on after a concert at the Royal Albert Hall (right around the corner) or planning to do some high end shopping at Harrods or Harvey Nicks in Knightsbridge. If you're lucky you can stay in the room with Judy Garland's bed. The hotel has a highly regarded restaurant but the real standout is its cocktail bar - one of the best in London.
Cliveden was built more than 300 years ago by the Duke of Buckingham, described as a "famous rake, a schemer and a wit". His spirit must have cast a racy spell over this house, because it has been connected with power, politics and scandal ever since. Most recently, in 1961, the Profumo affair brought down a government with the naughty goings on of government ministers, call girls and Russian spies.
And, all of that took place at the lovely, secluded Spring Cottage - that you can book for a stay.
In the 1890s, Cliveden was purchased by William Waldorf Astor, then the richest man in America. He gave it to his son and daughter-in-law, Waldorf and Nancy Astor, who turned it into one of the early 20th century's most important political salons.
Each room and suite is individually and magnificently appointed -- silk wall coverings, antique writing desks, swags and furbelows everywhere you look. Some of it is looking a little bit tired these days but it is all very grand and the gardens - looked after by the National Trust - are magnificent.
The Hallmark Welcombe Hotel
This luxury country house surrounded by a stunning 18-hole golf course, is about mile outside Stratford-upon-Avon, in the hamlet of Welcombe. It has a spa with indoor and outdoor pools, thermal rooms, gym and aerobics studio. The hotel's public areas include an impressive oak panelled bar, restaurant and lounge. There are also tennis courts and facilities for outdoor sports.
A Jacobean-revival house, built in the late 19th century, Welcombe Manor once belonged to George Otto Trevelyan, father of historian George Macauley Trevelyan. It passed through several owners, including Sir Archibald Flower, founder of Flowers Brewery, whose donation financed the original Shakespeare Memorial Theatre, now the Royal Shakespeare Theatre.
Rooms are enormous and beautifully furnished with antiques and period pieces. Most have spectacular views of the Italianate gardens or the golf course. Try to land yourself one of the four poster rooms. They are very romantic and have glorious, huge bathrooms.
The Isle of Eriska
This family-run hotel, in a 19th century Scottish baronial mansion, is quiet, remote and old-fashioned. It's billed as 5-star luxury but a stay, alongside a regular clientele of repeat visitors (Judy Dench is reported to be one of them), is a little bit like joining a country house party thrown by the generous but somewhat stuffy older relatives of a rich friend. After dinner every night, guests gather in the bar to watch the hosts feed milk and bread to the island's family of badgers.
There's a small private golf course, several beachy stretches on which to soak up the Scottish sunshine. Swimming in the frigid water is only for the brave but the hotel has a large, indoor heated pool.
Service is impeccable but, the warmth of the welcome came from the friendliness of the other guests rather than the hotel's own scrupulously correct staff. On its own private island, about 11 miles from the Scottish West Coast resort of Oban, the hotel has been owned and run by the Buchanan-Smith family since the mid 1970s. The wonderfully named Beppo Buchanan-Smith is a charming, if formal, host.
Ellenborough Park Hotel
If you're backing a nag at Cheltenham during Gold Cup Week, Ellenborough Park is definitely the place to stay. Instead of spending hours in traffic trying to get near the famous racecourse, followed by a long walk from the parking lot in your festival finery, you can just ask staff at the luxury pile to run you down to the starting gate in the Land Rover...across the hotel's own front lawns.
Whether you're heading for the races, planning a fabulous wedding or just looking for a luxury country house break in the Cotswolds, this hotel is a thoroughbred that, for the most part, delivers on its 5-star promise. And, as for its country house credentials,it's been around since the 1400s and may have been visited by Katherine Parr - Henry VIII's widow. In it's current incarnation, the spacious and individually designed rooms have been decorated by Nina Cambell, one of Britain's most fashionable proponents of country house style.
If you go in the slow season though, be prepared to be a bit lonely in the cavernous dining room.
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Burley Manor, deep within William the Conqueror's New Forest, bills itself as a restaurant with rooms. That says more about its restaurateur ambitions than it says about what it actually is.
We're not saying that the restaurant is not very, very good. It certainly is. Since opening in December 2015 it has been gathering kudos and satisfied customers galore. We had a pretty special dinner there ourselves.
But this place also has all the credentials of a fine country house hotel - spacious, well furnished rooms, comfortable lounges where guests can share drinks and coffees before a roaring blaze, and a setting that can only be described as magical. Animals - deer, ponies, cows and pigs are allowed to roam free in the New Forest. So when you pull into the driveway of this magnificent house you are more likely to notice the deer grazing the front lawn or the New Forest ponies munching the hedges before you see the faux Tudor brickwork. They've converted their stableblock into some of the best dog-friendly rooms I've ever stayed in as well.
Come for the food, by all means, but book a room to enjoy a country house stay in the unique environment of the New Forest.
One of the most famous views of the Lake District is that of the mountains known as the Langdale Pikes across Lake Windermere. Almost every room at this romantic country house hotel enjoys that view from its vantage point, high over the lake. But you shouldn't need the ravishing view to fall in love with this delightful place. The welcome wraps you in warmth as soon as you pass through the door. Flames dance in an inglenook fireplace. The oak-paneled entrance hall is arranged with overstuffed chairs. Two further lounges overlook a lawn that falls away steeply towards a woodland garden and the misty lake below.
Lord Lonsdale, founder of the Automobile Association, who bequeathed the Lonsdale Belt to Boxing, bought Holbeck Ghyll for a hunting lodge in 1888 and made it over in the Arts & Crafts Movement fashion of the time. There are echoes of Charles Rennie Mackintosh design in the period details all over the house. Lonsdale's sense of humor is evident in the decor's witty touches - the Latin motto in the stained glass windows above the staircase translates to "If the shoe fits..."
Rooms in the main house are individually furnished with antiques and compatible pieces. Beds are lavishly dressed in Egyption cotton. The ensuite bathrooms are supplied with Penhaligon toiletries and fluffy robes.
And, the restaurant overlooking the lake is garlanded with awards
The Old Swan and Minster Mill
The de Savary family's latest English inn is a Cotswold fantasy come to life. They've combined a 600-year-old coaching inn once favored by Winston Churchill, with a historic linen mill to create this lovely, comfortable place. Rooms in the Old Swan have high, beamed ceilings and bags of character while rooms in the Minster Mill are luxurious in a more contemporary way.
Dining is gastropub style - hearty pub grub raised to a high level of sophistication and served in a series of cozy, oak beamed rooms with flagstone floors and welcoming fires in the hearths.
The inn is set in 65 acres of gardens beside the River Windrush and surrounded by the achingly pretty hamlet of Old Minster, just a few minutes from Oxford and less than two hours from London. Minster Lovell Hall, just up the road, is reported to be haunted.
This place is superb - don't miss it.
The Ardanaiseig Hotel sits on a remote hillside above Loch Awe, reached after climbing about 10 miles of winding, single track road from Taynuilt in Argyll. Owned by Bennie Gray, founder of the well known Grays Antique Market in London, it is romantic, distinctive (to the point of theatricality) and very welcoming. The Ardanaiseig Hotel has a very good kitchen, a bar stocked with 52 different Scotch whiskys, and a converted Victorian boatshed that may make you want to propose to someone just to stay there. Oh, and did I mention that Wallace the Westie enjoyed the Dog-Friendly ambiance as well?