This Christmas, you could be spending the holiday before a roaring blaze, in a house aglow with festive lights and snuggled under blankets of snow. Delicious treats and wonderful drinks are passed around while the delightful company, including some new friends, enjoy traditional party games, fresh country air, Midnight services in a country church with a superb choir, surprise presents, and a series of feasts prepared by unseen but very capable hands.
A British country house Christmas is one of those fantasy breaks lots of people dream about. This year, why not let someone else put up the tree and wrestle with the lights? These are the Christmas breaks offered by hotels we've visited and enjoyed.
They're popular, mind you. So you'll probably have to book in September or early October. And you may even have to plan this Christmas break two or three years ahead of time.
Christmas at Tewkesbury Park in the Cotswolds
The hotel, high on a hill but within walking distance of a fabulous, historic abbey, is surrounded by a golf course and has an accomplished kitchen and a spa with a good-sized, heated swimming pool. Plus, it's dog-friendly so the whole family can tear into their holiday presents here. Dog-friendly rooms are limited though and sold out for Christmas by early October, so if you are thinking of bringing your pet on your Christmas break here, consider booking your room early.
For Christmas 2019, the hotel is planning a three-night Christmas Retreat, and they'll even add your own personal Christmas tree for just a little bit extra. Here's the plan:
Arrive in time for a festive afternoon tea. After, head out for a round of winter golf, a walk in the grounds, or a dip in the pool before settling down with other guests for a traditional Christmas family movie—complete with popcorn and hot chocolate. Later, put on your Christmas Eve formalwear to enjoy bubbly and canapes followed by a festive three-course dinner. Then, walk downhill to the town's historic Abbey—a really magical place—for Midnight Mass.
The holiday itself starts with a big country breakfast—plus bubbly again—which you'll need to walk off on the hotel's 163-acre grounds. Next, the traditional Christmas lunch kicks off with a glass of Taittinger, and later, there's Christmas cake with the Queen's speech, and—if you can bear it—a late supper buffet.
After breakfast, the day is yours for relaxed exploring, a bit of bargain shopping in the Boxing Day sales, or a day in the hotel spa. In the evening, there's entertainment and cocktails in the hotel bar followed by another holiday feast. Additionally—because no one wants you to leave hungry—there will be traditional Cotswolds goodies for breakfast before you leave.
A Yorkshire Village Christmas at The Black Swan
Black Swan in Helmsley, North Yorkshire, is the very picture of a Christmas escape—especially if it snows.
The hotel, in the North Yorkshire Moors, has Elizabethan and Georgian elements, with a history as a coaching inn that goes back to the 15th century. Now a small and stylish boutique hotel, it is noted for its award-winning chef and its excellent Yorkshire teas. Both come into play for the hotel's three-night country house Cosy Christmas escape.
Arriving guests are greeted with a mini afternoon tea, including scones and jam and, as we say, lashings of cream. At 7 p.m. it's a champagne and canapes drinks reception followed by a multi-course gala dinner with live music in the Gallery, the hotel's restaurant. Guests who go on to Midnight Mass at the village church are greeted with mince pies and mulled wine to warm up their return.
Presents, food, and wine are the stars of Christmas Day. Guests can take their big Christmas breakfast in their rooms or in the hotel restaurant with some Bucks Fizz (American guests call this a Mimosa—champagne and orange juice). Christmas lunch midday is a long leisurely affair with all the trimmings, and afterward, Christmas cake and port are served in the hotel lounges where guests can watch the Queen's speech. From 4 to 6:30 pm, a harpist will entertain, and if you can still face food, there's a light evening buffet in either the hotel restaurant or one of the lounges. After, there's entertainment by a singer and acoustic guitarist in the hotel bar.
Take it easy at breakfast, a hearty Yorkshire one, then explore the local countryside or enjoy a day at the nearby Weatherby Races. If you'd rather just hang around, there's an afternoon magic show in the Garden Room. Dinner in the Gallery Restaurant and live entertainment in the hotel bar rounds off the holiday. On the next morning, tuck into a big Yorkshire breakfast before departure.
Christmas at the Cary Arms
The Cary Arms, on Babbacombe Bay, is a bit of the Riviera in Devon and at Christmas is very cozy beside the wintry sea. However, if lazing by a fireplace isn't your thing, there's a pool, a sun-filled gym, and a spa as well as plenty of rooms for romantic couples, family groups, and even the family pet.
Each Christmas, the hotel offers a three-night Christmas break, from Christmas Eve to breakfast the morning after Boxing Day as well as a "Twixmas Break" between Christmas and New Year's Day from December 27 to 30.
During these breaks, the inn promises seasonal dishes with a gastro-pub twist, entertainment, and a chance to recharge your batteries—whether that means snuggling up with a good book by the fire, taking a brisk hike on the Devon Coastal Path, or treating yourself to winter-warming spa treatments.
Arrive and settle in when you wish, then join other guests for the festive Devon cream tea that will be served in the residents' private saloon. Special Christmas cocktails precede a Christmas Eve supper. Then transportation is provided for those who want to attend Midnight Mass, followed by mulled wine and mince pies upon return.
Bucks Fizz (orange juice and champagne) gets Christmas Breakfast going, and bus transportation is available for anyone choosing Christmas Day services. Alternatively, stroll along the beach before presents and Christmas lunch, which is served as a five-course feast. Later on, there's billiards, bridge, or simply sitting by the fire followed by Christmas evening's buffet, which is accompanied by the inn's resident pianist.
Boxing Day is the day to take off and explore the local area, maybe even go out in a boat if the weather's mild (as it can be in Devon this time of year) or drop a line off the fishing pier. Of course, treatments in the Spa Room are available on Boxing Day so you could just indulge in some pampering. Boxing Day dinner is accompanied by the inn's resident pianist.
Christmas at Cliveden
Even before Nancy Astor became chatelaine of Cliveden, this amazing country pile had a reputation for house parties. Christmas at Cliveden is a three-night party with breakfast on the day of departure. The break includes surprise presents and lots of traditional activities as well as two black-tie affairs.
Arrive at Cliveden to a personal greeting from a footman who shows you to your room; then it's afternoon tea by the huge Christmas tree in the Great Hall. Later in the evening, champagne, canapes, and mingling with other guests precede a five-course black-tie dinner. Afterward, join other guests for Midnight Mass at St. Nicholas Church in Taplow and return for hot chocolate and traditional mince pies.
Wake up on Christmas Day to surprise presents delivered by the hotel's Santa, who makes an appearance for the children after a leisurely breakfast. A champagne reception precedes a traditional, four-course Christmas lunch, then guests stroll the National Trust grounds that surround the hotel or settle around the fire for card and board games. For Christmas dinner, enjoy a buffet of seasonal favorites at the Cliveden.
It wouldn't be Boxing Day in the U.K. without lots of fresh air and outdoor activities. After a big English Breakfast (lunch is not included on Boxing Day), take in the Boxing Day races at Kempton Park, take a dip in the hotel spa's heated pool or join a butler's tour followed by Christmas cake. In the evening, dress up for the black-tie champagne and canape reception and four-course farewell dinner dance, which features a live band.
Christmas at The Feversham Arms
The Feversham Arms, in the pretty Yorkshire town of Helmsley, offers a three-night Christmas break that includes bed and Yorkshire breakfasts, afternoon tea on arrival, Christmas Eve and Boxing Day dinners, Christmas Day lunch and various organized activities.
Afternoon tea is served upon arrival, from 4 p.m. onwards. After settling in, try the heated spa or book a treatment (which costs extra) or mingle with other guests for pre-dinner bubbly, then dinner at 7:30. If you attend Midnight Mass at the village church, mulled wine, Christmas cake, and mince pies wait to warm up your return.
The Feversham Arms takes a relaxed approach to Christmas Day, meaning you'll have more time to spend with your loved ones without worrying about missing a meal. Breakfast is served whenever you like; Christmas lunch is a five-course affair, served at two separate sittings; and an informal buffet is served in the lounge areas throughout the evening hours.
Join other guests on a guided walk to Rievaulx Abbey where you can warm up with hot chocolate and mince pies in the fresh air. Dinner that evening is a black-tie event where you share tables with other guests and includes live entertainment.
Christmas at Fishmore Hall
Fishmore Hall, on the edge of the picturesque Shropshire town of Ludlow, hosts three days of country house Christmas festivities. Guests can enjoy either two or three-day packages on the border that marches between England and Wales.
More like an elegant country home than a hotel, Fishmore Hall was originally a dower house, built for a wealthy landowner's widow, before becoming a smart 15-room country boutique hotel. Here's what to expect for the Fishmore Hall Christmas break:
Afternoon tea is available for arriving guests starting at 3 p.m, and a three-course dinner follows a champagne reception that evening. Guests who attend Midnight Mass in one of Ludlow's historic churches will be welcomed back with mulled wine.
Buck's fizz puts the sparkle in a full English breakfast, and while you open your presents—in your room or by the tree in the lounge—someone else is doing the cooking. There are more champagne and canapes before a traditional, five-course Christmas lunch with Christmas crackers and silly hats.
The countryside around these parts is lovely, and the hotel staff will happily recommend some scenic routes for the afternoon, or you could watch the Queen's speech and an afternoon movie with other hotel guests if you prefer to remain indoors. Afternoon tea is served between 4 and 5 p.m. and a light supper finishes the day at about 8 p.m.
In Ludlow, they still ride to the hounds (though the hounds chase a drag and not a live fox) to celebrate Boxing Day, and after breakfast, you could join other hunt followers to see the Ludlow Hunt set off from Ludlow Castle. If that sounds too energetic, just stay put and watch the hunt ride past the hotel at about 11:30 a.m.
Have lunch in the hotel on Boxing Day or give it a miss, choosing a traditional Boxing Day tramp in the out of doors, and fill up on afternoon tea and cakes until 5 p.m. instead. A three-course dinner is served starting at 7 p.m.
Christmas at Holbeck Ghyll
Holbeck Ghyll serves up it's country house Christmas feasts in one of the north's best restaurants overlooking Lake Windermere. This lovely Arts & Crafts period house has many original features and is located in the heart of Beatrix Potter Country. There's always a good chance of a white Christmas in the Lake District as well. Their country house Christmas deal is a four-night escape that's a real English house party:
Arrive for tea beside the crackling log fires in lounges and the inglenook; then, relax and look around a bit before five-course dinner and a Louis Roederer champagne tasting at 8 p.m.
After a full Cumbrian breakfast, the hotel's health spa is available for those who want to relax, and the more energetic can explore the Lakeland countryside before returning to a generous afternoon tea. In the evening, after a champagne and canape reception, there's a gala black-tie Christmas Eve dinner with a set menu at shared tables. Taxis will be available to take churchgoers to the nearby village of Troutbeck for the Christmas Communion Service. Of course, mulled wine and warm mince pies will be there when they return.
After breakfast and presents, canapes are served in the lounges at noon followed by a traditional Christmas lunch served house party style at group tables with a set menu. After lunch, join other guests in the lounges to watch the Queen's speech; afternoon tea follows with traditional Christmas cake. Dinner is a light buffet, and later, there are traditional house party games with the hotel team taking part as well.
Besides the usual round of full English breakfast, hot fork buffet lunch, and afternoon tea, guests can take a cruise on Lake Windermere (included), have treatments in the hotel spa, or join the general manager for a brisk Boxing Day guided walk. Then there's more house party fun in the evening with casino gambling following the black-tie Boxing Day dinner. It's only play-money in the casino, but there is a prize for the winner.
Christmas at the Isle of Eriska
If your idea of a country house Christmas means really getting away from it all, you can head to a house party on a private island off the west coast of Scotland.
The Isle of Eriska Hotel occupies its own private island, with plenty of paths for walking, a golf course (weather permitting), and an indoor pool, gym, and spa. It's not entirely cut off from civilization, though; the island is tied to the mainland, near Oban, by a rickety wooden causeway.
During Christmas break, this unique destination hotel offers a four-night escape package which provides accommodations, meals, and activities to guests from December 23 through breakfast on December 27 each year.
Plenty to Eat and Lots to Do
Like most country house Christmas celebrations, you can expect a steady round of full Scottish breakfasts, gourmet dinners, buffets, and Christmas teas. You'll need to email the hotel to find out what exactly is on the menu, but in the past, dining has included a champagne breakfast and a black tie dinner in the evening on Christmas Day as well as a barbecue lunch and a dinner dance with a live band in the evening on Boxing Day.
Some guests just want to relax and do as little as possible, but for those who like a bit of activity, there are plenty of organized things to do. In the past, activities have included a jigsaw challenge, a Christmas Triathalon, and Eriska's annual Executive Golf Competition. Transportation is arranged for guests who want to attend night or Christmas Day services at local churches on the mainland.
Christmas at The Old Swan & Minster Mill
Like its sister inn, The Cary Arms in Devon, the Old Swan & Minster Mill is notable for its hospitality. The Old Swan & Minster Mill is less a country house than a country pub with a converted mill/hotel complex attached. However, it's been cleverly arranged and surrounded by acres and acres of beautifully landscaped countryside beside the River Windrush to appeal to those looking for an escape from the city.
The surrounding countryside, known as Cotswolds, is one of the prettiest areas in England, and the nearby village of Minster Lovell is off the beaten tourist track but has bags of Cotswolds charm, thatched cottages, and a ruined abbey up the road. Like most country houses, the Old Swan hosts a three-day house party over the Christmas holidays.
On Christmas Eve, arrive when you'd like and settle in before enjoying a traditional afternoon tea. Champagne and canapes with other guests are followed by dinner, with coffee and choccies in the Big Dining Room. Then, if you'd like, join other guests for the short candlelit walk to Midnight Mass at the historic local parish church, St. Kenelm's, or enjoy the in-house evening entertainment, both of which are followed by hot chocolate and festive treats by the fire.
There's Bucks Fizz with breakfast and surprise presents from the innkeepers before Father Christmas arrives for photo opportunities with families. Afterward, a midday champagne reception is followed by a traditional Christmas lunch with all the trimmings. Then, weather permitting, walk it off along the river. Later it's board or card games over tea or coffee and cake while you watch the Queen's speech, and for supper, a Cotswold buffet featuring local produce is followed by more surprise gifts.
Enjoy another full English breakfast and then join the Old Minster Treasure Hunt or other, yet to be announced, afternoon entertainments. Alternatively, you may want to catch the first of the designer sales at nearby Bicester Village Designer Outlet Mall, and a family-friendly alternative is the Panto at Oxford Playhouse. The day ends with a farewell three-course dinner. Departure, after another full breakfast, is the next morning—whenever you're ready.
Christmas in the 15th Century Swan at Lavenham
The pretty village of Lavenham is the tourism poster child of Suffolk in the east of England, and its most familiar face is the Swan, a black and white, half-timbered 15th coaching inn and luxury hotel.
The Swan at Lavenham offers a three-night package for guests arriving on the afternoon of Christmas Eve and departing on the morning of December 27 each year. The Swan is located in the middle of town, and throughout the Christmas break, guests have opportunities to enjoy the village of Lavenham in all its Christmas finery.
Arrive on Christmas Eve to a welcoming mulled wine by a roaring log fire, followed by a light afternoon tea. Later, enjoy a champagne reception with other guests and a Christmas carol concert by the local choir. After a grand four-course Christmas Eve dinner, churchgoing guests can join local villagers for Midnight Mass at the local parish church. Finish the evening with mulled wine and mince pies before heading to your room to wait for Santa.
A traditional, five-course Christmas lunch will be served starting at noon, and later, if you can manage another meal, the Swan is planning a buffet supper followed by a Christmas Quiz.
Live entertainment is scheduled for both the three-course Boxing Day lunch and four-course candlelit dinner. Walk off all this feasting with some traditional Boxing Day exercise like an afternoon guided walk around the medieval village of Lavenham.
Christmas and New Year at Ellenborough Park
Ellenborough Park Hotel, near the Cheltenham Racecourse in Gloucestershire, used to put together an a la carte approach to Christmas with guests cherry-picking the elements to make up their own celebrations. However, it looks as though most guests who choose a country house hotel for Christmas want the hosts to plan everything. So two or three-night holiday packages for Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and Boxing Day are now available.
The three-night package includes the usual round of champagne breakfasts, holiday teas, and gargantuan traditional dinners and buffets. Unlike the usual country house Christmas packages, though, you are pretty much on your own after breakfast on Boxing Day with nothing further included in the package.
If you'd like to attend the New Year's races at Cheltenham, you can't get much closer. The family and pet-friendly Ellenburgh Park Hotel & Spa sits on the edge of Cheltenham Racecourse, perfectly positioned for attending New Year's Day racing at this elegant track. If you book a holiday break here, the hotel can book your racing ticket as well as chauffeur-driven transfers to and from the race course.