Dreamy Christmas Holiday Breaks in Cozy Country Houses
Just imagine it. 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 tidbits and wonderful drinks are passed around while 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.
No, not Grandma and all the Aunties in the kitchen. These fantastic meals will be prepared by professional chefs at the top of their game.
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
If Christmas in the Cotswolds sounds appealing, Tewkesbury Park, in the heart of this pretty, historic corner of England is a great place to get cozy this Christmas. 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 a dog-friendly Christmas break here, consider booking a year ahead.
For Christmas 2018, the hotel is planning a three-night Christmas Retreat starting at £840. They'll even add your own personal Christmas tree for just £30 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 glad rags (or not, up to you). for bubbly and canapes followed by a festive three-course dinner. Then, you can walk down hill to the town's historic Abbey - a really magical place - for Midnight Mass.
A big country breakfast - plus bubbly again - needs walking off with a big country walk in the hotel's 163 acres of grounds. The traditional Christmas lunch kicks off with a glass of Taittingers. Later, there's Christmas cake with the Queen's speech, and - if you can bear it, a late supper buffet - phew.
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.
And, because no one wants you to leave hungry, there's traditional Cotswolds goodies for breakfast before you leave.
A Yorkshire Village Christmas at The Black Swan
The 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 and 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, starting at £1397 in 2018.
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 in the Gallery, the hotels restaurant, with live music. 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 - champers and orange juice). Christmas lunch mid day is a long leisurely affair with all the trimmings. Afterwards, 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 at 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. Next morning, tuck into a big Yorkshire breakfast before departure.
Unusually for a country house hotel Christmas break, the Black Swan has a single room available. So if you're at loose ends at Christmas and looking for some sociable company, it's something to think about.
Christmas at the Cary Arms
The Cary Arms, on Babbacombe Bay, is a bit of the Riviera in Devon. At Christmas, it's very cozy beside the wintry sea and if lazing by a fire isn't your thing, there's a pool, a sun filled gym and a spa too. Plenty of room for romantic couples or family groups and Fido can come too.
In 2017, the hotel offers a three-night Christmas break, from Christmas Eve to breakfast the morning after Boxing Day. 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.
Here's what you can expect:
Arrive and settle in when you wish. A festive Devon cream tea 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 on return.
Bucks Fizz (orange juice and champagne) gets Christmas Breakfast going. Transfers are available for anyone choosing Christmas Day services. Or take Fido for a walk on the beach before presents. Christmas lunch is a five-course feast. Later on, there's billiards, bridge or simply contemplating the fire. Christmas evening's buffet is accompanied by the inn's resident pianist.
Today's 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.
Departure is after breakfast on December 27. The package starts at £1650 for a double room, and Fido can come to this dog-friendly spot.
The whole package is so popular that the hotel is now also offering a Twixmas Break - betwixt and between the holidays so to speak, from 27 to 30 December.
Christmas at Cliveden
Even before Nancy Astor became chatelaine of Cliveden, this amazing country pile had a reputation for house parties. So it's a natural for Christmas.
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. Make sure to pack your glad rags because there are two black tie affairs. Here's what to expect:
Arrive 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. Champagne, canapes and mingling with other guests precedes a five-course black tie dinner. Join other guests for Midnight Mass at St. Nicholas Church in Taplow and return for hot chocolate and traditional mince pies.
Wake up to surprise presents delivered by the hotel's Santa. He makes an appearance for the children after your leisurely breakfast. A champagne reception precedes a traditional, 4-course Christmas lunch (smart casual), then stroll the National Trust grounds that surround the hotel or settle around the fire for card and board games. Supper is a buffet.
It wouldn't be Boxing Day in the UK 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, the hotel's spa with its 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 4-course farewell dinner dance with a live band.
Departure is 11 a.m. the next morning after yet another relaxed breakfast. This one is for guests with deep pockets. Prices for this package in 2018 starts at £3,585 for two sharing a room.
Christmas at The Feversham Arms
The Feversham Arms, in the pretty Yorkshire town of Helmsley, is offering 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. It starts at £1409 in 2018.
Here's what to expect
Afternoon tea on arrival (from 4 p.m. onwards). Try the heated spa or book in for some spa treatments (which cost extra). 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.
Breakfast whenever you like. Christmas day lunch is a five-course affair, served at two separate sittings. An informal buffet dinner is served in the lounge areas.
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. The spa is available for treatments on Boxing Day. Dinner that evening is black tie, at shared 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 Marches between England and Wales. Two night packages for two people start at £770 and 3 nights start at £1070.
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 in 2018:
Afternoon tea is available for arriving guests from 3 p.m. A three-course dinner follows a champagne reception. Guests who attend Midnight Mass in one of Ludlow's historic churches will be welcomed back with mulled wine.
Bucks fizz (champagne and orange juice) 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's more champagne and canapes before a traditional, 5-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 the other guests. Afternoon tea is served between 4 and 5pm and a light supper finishes the day at about 8p.m.
In Ludlow they still ride to the hounds (though the hounds chase a drag and not a live fox). After breakfast, you could join other hunt followers to see the Ludlow Hunt set off from Ludlow Castle - a very traditional Boxing Day country event. If that sounds too energetic, just stay put and watch the hunt ride past the hotel at about 11:30a.m.
You can 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 from 7 p.m.
Christmas at Holbeck Ghyll
Holbeck Ghyll serves up its country house Christmas feasts in one of the north's best restaurants overlooking Lake Windermere.
This lovely Arts&Crafts period house with many original features is 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 is a 4-night package that's a real English house party:
Arrive for tea beside the crackling log fires in lounges and the inglenook. Relax and look around a bit before 5-course dinner and a Louis Roederer champagne tasting at 8.
After a full Cumbrian breakfast, the hotel's health spa is available or the more energetic can explore the lakeland countryside resturning 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, a chance to take in the countryside. This hotel has the best views of Lake Windermere for miles around. Then, join other guests in the lounges to watch the Queen's speech - and comment on how well she's holding up for a woman in her 90s. 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), or 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's 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, what about 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 indoor pool, gym and spa. It's not entirely cut off from civilization of course. The island is tied to the mainland, near Oban, by a racketty wooden causeway that announces every arrival with a rolling thunder that sound like a battery of artillery. Here's what the four night Christmas break (from December 23 through breakfast December 27), starting at £2850 per room, is like at the Isle of Eriska:
Plenty to Eat
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 on Christmas Day and a black tie dinner in the evening, a barbecue lunch on Boxing Day and a dinner dance with a live band in the evening.
Lots to Do
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, those have included a jigsaw challenge, a Christmas Triathalon and Eriska's annual Executive Golf Competition, with a trophy for the winner. Transportation is arranged for guests who want to attend watch night services or Christmas Day services at local churches on the mainland. And it wouldn't be a break on the Isle of Eriska without the nightly visit of the local badgers, who sup on bread and milk at the back door to the delight of the hotel's guests.
Christmas at The Old Swan & Minster Mill
Like its sister inn, The Cary Arms in Devon, this de Savary property is notable for its hospitality. What better place to get cozy for Christmas? And you can bring Fido to this dog friendly country hotel.
The Old Swan & Minster Mill is less a country house than a country pub with a converted mill/hotel complex attached. But it's been cleverly arranged and surrounded by acres and acres of beautifully landscaped countryside beside the River Windrush. So a Christmas stay has a country house party feel. And what country; the Cotswolds are among the prettiest areas in England. The 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. This is one place where you'll want to put snow on your Christmas wish list.
Like most country house Christmases, theirs is a three-day celebration marathon, starting at £1320 per room.
Arrive when you like and settle in before enjoying a traditional afternoon tea. Champagne and canapes with other guests is followed by dinner, with coffee and choccies in the Big Dining Room. Then, if you like, join other guests for the short candlelit walk to Midnight Mass at the history local parish church, St. Kenelm's. Or enjoy the inhouse evening entertainment. Forget the mulled wine for after. There's hot chocolate and and festive treats by the fire after church instead.
There's Bucks Fizz with breakfast (US readers will know the champagne and orange juice combo as a Mimosa)and surprise pressies from the innkeepers before Father Christmas arrives (the hotel is family friendly with several nice family rooms). Wear loose clothing because endless feasting is the order of the day. A mid day 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 followed by surprise gifts.
If you've the room, have another full English breakfast and then join the Old Minster Treasure Hunt or other, yet to be announced, afternoon entertainments. Or, you may want to catch the first of the designer sales at nearby Bicester Village Designer Outlet Mall. A family friendly alternative is the Panto at Oxford Playhouse. (If you'd like to go, ask about booking tickets when you book your room). The day ends with a farewell three-course dinner. Departure, after another full breakfast, is 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. Imagine celebrating the holidays in this fairytale setting.
The Swan at Lavenham offers a three night package, arriving on the afternoon of Christmas Eve and departing on the 27th of December. It's 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. A light afternoon tea will be offered followed later by a champagne reception with other guests and a Christmas carol concert by the local choir. After a 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, 5-course Christmas lunch will be served from noon. 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 - 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. But, 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 3-night package starts at £626 per room, per night and, oddly given the spirit of the season, they charge an extra £100 per night per child.
They, of course, include 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.
And 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 tickets too - plus chauffeur-driven transfers to and from the race course.