The 50 Best British escapes
It's not all about the Games this summer. From romantic nights away in luxury hotels to wild camping and activity breaks, Sophie Morris has the expert's guide to getting away from it all
Abi Dare: Assistant editor at i-escape.com, a hand-picked portfolio of boutique hotels, B&Bs and houses for rent
Laura Dixon: A family travel specialist who regularly writes for i-escape.com
James Lohan: Founder and CEO of Mr & Mrs Smith, mrandmrssmith.com
Alastair Sawday: The founder of Sawday's guides, sawdays.co.uk
"Balance the needs of teens and younger children at Armathwaite Hall near Keswick," says Laura Dixon. "The country house hotel is surrounded by 400 acres of deer park and dramatic views of Skiddaw, but if you need more entertainment, they also organise treasure hunts, have an adventure playground, a teen spa experience and Trotters World of Animals."
The Ultimate Family Scottish Highlands Adventure
"A new Wilderness Scotland holiday tying in with the Disney-Pixar film Brave combines family activities, wildlife and wild camping with some of the UK's best wilderness guides," says Laura. "Sea kayak around the sound of Arisaig, cycle the Central Highlands and learn bush craft skills before descending the rapids of the River Spey."
Wilderness Scotland (01479 420020; wildernessscotland.com). Six-night package from £795 per adult, £745 per child
Jasmine Cottage, Norfolk
"This dog and child-friendly cottage for four has some fantastic family touches," says Laura. "It is opposite tennis courts and playing fields and a few minutes' walk from a great pub, but the real bonus is access to one of Wells-next-to-the-sea's candy-coloured beach huts. The cottage sleeps four."
Norfolk Hideaways (01485 211022; norfolkhideaways.co.uk). £325-£595 per week; beach hut £125
North Beach, Tenby
"This pair of super-stylish self-catering apartments in a Regency townhouse has astonishing sea views and each sleeps two adults and two children," says Laura. "The fishermen bring in their catch nearby and there is a lovely family-sized dining table for your evening feast."
Pickwell Manor, North Devon
"The beach is the thing here too: miles of golden sand, ice creams and surf at Woollacombe, plus secret beaches for wild swimming," says Laura. "The luxury self-catering options at Pickwell Manor give parents a treat too. Pick from units sleeping two, four, five, six and seven."
The Gypsy Camp, Essex
"Don't pack your fake tan; do pack your sense of adventure," says Laura. "This set of two bowtop gypsy wagons plus a tent is great for a family of four. Set on Bouncer's Farm amid cherry trees and an apple orchard, there are beaches four miles away and plenty of rainy day attractions too."
Canopy and Stars (01275 395 447; canopyandstars.co.uk). From £90 per night
Lanyon Cottages, Cornwall
This 200-acre Elizabethan estate, inland from St Ives, is a fantastic place for a family house party: there's plenty of room, plus an outdoor pool and woodlands around it, and the largest house, Coswyn Barn, sleeps up to 14, making it ideal for larger and extended families. The glorious kitchen has deep pantries, a long oak table, a dishwasher and underfloor heating using energy from the estate's own wind turbine.
Premier Cottages (01872 242166; premiercottages.co.uk). From £2,156 per week for 14; from £616 for four
"Liverpool celebrates 50 years of the Beatles this summer," says Laura. "The city's Base2Stay apartments has free cots, a concierge service and discounted parking plus kitchens. It's like staying in a hotel where they don't mind how many people share your room – ideal for families."
Base2Stay (0151 705 2626, base2stay.com). Apartments sleeping one from £49 per night, two from £59 per night, four from £129 per night, and five from £149 per night
The Scout Hall, Isle of Wight
"A new addition to the Isle of Wight is this scout hall, sleeping eight on the ground floor with a mezzanine-level kitchen and lounge with views of the fields around it," says Laura. "Vintage Vacations, who also hire airstream caravans and alternative glamping options are offering one-night-only B&B stays this year."
Vintage Vacations ( vintagevacations.co.uk) From £750 per week, sleeping eight
Belle Tents, Cornwall
"This 2.5-acre site bordering Bodmin Moor in Cornwall is a treat," says Laura. "Play badminton in the field, cycle country lanes or drive to Tintagel to explore King Arthur's castle. Watch out for the beast of Bodmin — aka Dave and Laura's enormous black cat, Murphy."
Belle Tents (01840 261556, belletentscamping.co.uk). From £564 per week for camp one, sleeping five
Rhoscolyn House, Anglesea
Make it a family holiday to remember by staying in a beachside house you can only reach when the tide is out. Well, by car, anyway; at other times you can park up and walk along the path. The former fisherman's cottage turned family house sleeps up to 10, ideal for holidaying with your friends and their family too, and enjoying the nearby beaches, restaurants and bracing walks together.
Pubs with rooms:
The Swan at Wedmore
"Perfect for relaxed rural breaks, the Swan is an easygoing haven of local ales and open fires, with six calming bedrooms," says Abi. "Best of all is the scrupulously sourced food, cooked up by Tom Blake from River Cottage – it came as no surprise when the Good Food Guide named it 'Restaurant of the Year' in the South West."
The Ship at Dunwich
The Ship is moments from the beach and a very fine pub: 15 comfortable rooms, a wood-panelled bar and very decent pub and bistro classics served in generous portions, plus there's a large garden out back. The sleepy, and very pretty, village, historically East Anglia's most important port until the sea swept much of it away, oozes the natural charm of the Suffolk coast with wildlife, wetlands and lovely coastal and forest walks.
The Black Horse
Only open a few years, the Black Horse has quickly become a favourite among visitors to North Yorkshire. After a day lost in the wilds of the rugged local beauty, head home to one of the Black Horses's inviting rooms – each is a different design, and Shergar even has its own private garden.
The Red Pump Inn
The Red Pump Inn and its three guest rooms are a labour of love for owners Jonathan and Martina Myserscough, and it shows. The inn is a haven of calm just three miles from Clitheroe with fabulous views over Pendle Hill, and guests wake to a hearty Lancashire breakfast. On the pub side there are local and regional cask ales and the food has put The Red Pump on the acclaimed Ribble Valley Food Trail.
The Bell at Skenfrith
"Long a must-see because of its evocative Norman castle, the Monmouthshire hamlet of Skenfrith has another reason to visit," says Abi. "This is a refurbished 17th-century coaching inn, brought bang up to date with contemporary furnishings, 11 classy rooms, a renowned wine cellar and seriously tasty seasonal food."
Skenfrith, Monmouthshire NP7 8UH (01600 750 235; skenfrith.co.uk). From £110 per night, including breakfast
The Crown at Amersham
The Crown is renowned for its stylish décor, warm welcome and chef David Hawkins, whose kitchen turns out top-notch steaks, perfect English puds and a great cheese board. The ideal choice for an indulgent weekend escape, and only 40 minutes from London.
"A pretty two-up, two-down in bohemian North Oxford," says Alastair. "The sitting room has sash windows facing west and east, the kitchen is superb, slate-blue and spanking new, and the bedrooms all feather duvets and fine linen. Bathrooms are small but perfectly formed, and there are books, barbecue, DVDs, games."
"Perched on the side of a hill with stunning views from kitchen, terrace and conservatory," says Alastair. "The long tiled hall leads to a snug sitting room and on to a double-height conservatory with hand-crafted ash dining table. Downstairs are a single bedroom, a small study and a generously equipped kitchen. Upstairs: four good-sized bedrooms with solid wood floors."
Great Burrow Cottage
"Step into a light living space of oak floors, antiques and smart wood-burner," says Alastair. "You get a vaulted kitchen swathed in flagstones and a large double room with a pretty iron bed and garden views. Justin and Mary welcome you warmly with organic milk, home-laid eggs and logs."
The Garden Cottage at Caervallack
A stunningly romantic and carefully restored romantic hideaway for two. "This charming Lilliputian retreat has a small sunny patio and a curling staircase that leads to a deliciously comfortable bed that fills the room," says Alastair.
A chic bolthole for couples with stripped-back décor but plenty of luxury – feather and down on the bed and a working Victorian fireplace. The village of Coniston is lovely and the Lakes and peaks await exploration, but if you don't want to leave this 19th-century cottage you can have all your meals delivered.
Coniston, Cumbria ( sawdays.co.uk/self-catering). £700 for seven nights.
The Chester Residence
"Edinburgh's a great city for a luxury getaway and this West End bolthole is perfectly positioned for the National Portrait Gallery and Princes Street," says James. "Stone steps and iron railings suggest a vintage-style stay, but inside lie sleek, modern apartments with clean lines, shades-of-taupe furnishings and a geek's arsenal of gadgets; a 24/7 concierge and attentive room service complete the line-up."
9 Rothesay Place, Edinburgh, EH3 7SL (0131 226 2075; chester-residence.com). From £165 per night
Merlin Farm Eco Cottages
"A short stroll from a sandy beach and close to some of Cornwall's best restaurants, these stylish self-catering cottages sleeping two to four have floor-to-ceiling windows and valley-spanning views," says Abi. "They're ideal for families, with plenty of kids' paraphernalia, a sandpit and slide, and farm animals."
The Boathouse at Knotts End
"This is the ultimate romantic retreat – a self-catering boathouse for two on a private stretch of lakeshore, with no neighbours, no passing cars and unbroken views of Ullswater," says Abi. "Inside is a swish kitchen, a lounge and a bedroom with a balcony; you even get a rowing boat for splashing around on the lake."
Near Pooley Bridge, Ullswater, Cumbria ( i-escape.com). From £185 per night
"A Georgian West End townhouse overlooking St Mary's Green," says Alastair. "Number 29 has been renovated with style and feels grand yet friendly. Ceilings are high and cornices and wooden shutters original. The beautiful staircase is crowned by a cupola and lit at night and there are locally sourced treats at breakfast."
Crookham Eastfield Farmhouse
"The lovely Mhairi really looks after her guests at her secluded farmhouse," says Alastair. "There are two immaculate bedrooms with adjacent bathrooms and Craster kippers and eggs from Mhairi's own hens in the morning."
"A luxurious and intimate B&B with a sister-property restaurant across the road, seven-room Vine House near the North Norfolk coast is as pretty and refined as a box of Ladurée macaroons," says James. "It's fantastic value for money, too."
The Reading Rooms
"Margate now not only has Tracey Emin and a Turner Contemporary gallery, it also has a fantastic place to stay," says James. "This bright and beautiful passion project reinvents the B&B just as its seaside-town home attempts to inject life into the classic coastal escape. Each room occupies its own floor and the artful decor is a Remodelista's dream come true."
"Bang in the middle of dynamic Glasgow is this boutique B&B, set in a beautifully restored Victorian townhouse, with five spacious rooms and tasty breakfasts in bed," says Abi.
Number Thirty Eight
"This elegant B&B is hard to beat for city breaks in buzzing Bristol," says Abi. "It overlooks the famous Downs in sought-after Clifton and is within ambling distance of restaurants, shops and galleries."
"We love Endsleigh," says James. "Set in the remote and beautiful Tamar valley between Devon's Dartmoor and Cornwall's Bodmin Moor, this grade I-listed shooting-and-fishing lodge is insanely pretty. Its spectacular location makes enjoying the great outdoors as easy as falling off a picturesque, ivy-clad log."
"The Pig hotel epitomises the kind of laid-back luxury we're looking for in a modern country escape: effortless grandeur without a hint of stuffiness, and incredible locally sourced food – much of it grown on site or foraged in the New Forest's wild woodlands," says James.
Yorebridge House, Yorkshire Dales
"Once a Victorian schoolhouse, this pretty hotel is now an outpost of cosmopolitan glamour in a sublime rural setting deep in the Yorkshire Dales," says Abi. "Spend a day roaming the fells, then return to gourmet dinners, fine wines, luxurious rooms and a soak in an outdoor hot tub."
The Grove, Narberth
"For escapism and the sensory pleasures of food, wine and fresh air, it's hard to beat this charming Welsh country mansion," says James. "Romantic rooms and suites are spread among the original farmhouse, its 15th-century longhouse and a 17th-century coach house."
Withdraw from the world at this ancient Suffolk water mill between Newmarket and Bury St Edmunds, which sits in lush meadowland full of birdlife. The rooms are luxurious and the service spot on, but the real star here is chef Paul Foster, whose menu features poached ray with pea mousse and sea vegetables and whipped sea buckthorn with gooseberries and crispy rice. Mmm.
"We've long admired Cowley's contemporary sensibility and dedication to design detail," says James. "In line with the hotel's 'funked-up stately' aesthetic, there's a fantastic spa with slate-lined pools and Cotswolds stone walls."
Hambleton Hall has been building its well-deserved reputation for 30 years, since its owners the Harts converted the splendid Victorian house into a small hotel – there are 15 bedrooms, a fine dining restaurant and extensive cellar, and given the stunning lakeside setting, it's quite likely you won't leave the grounds.
"This little corner of Brooklyn in Belgravia brings exposed brick walls and casual-cool doormen to an elegant corner of moneyed Sloane Square," says James. "Chef Mark Hix is responsible for both the Philippe Starck-designed dining room and the hip little bar and stylish art collection. This is London luxury that's youthful, clever and inclusive."
"Cliveden's 300-year history as a haunt for politicos and literati (not to mention rom-com filmmakers) is as much a part of its appeal as the air of faded neo-classical grandeur," says James. "It even has its own boathouse, stocked with a flotilla of vintage craft, for messing about on the river."
Ellenborough Park, set on the original Cheltenham Racecourse estate, is grand and elegant without being imposing, and well positioned for the races or exploring the Cotswolds. The sprawling stone building is impeccably turned out inside with luxurious extras throughout.
Lainston House Hotel
Don't be put off by the fact George Bush Snr stayed here and famously spent a small fortune on armagnac. Lainston House oozes classic luxury, is famous for its falconry and sits in 63 acres of parkland.
Sparsholt, Winchester, Hampshire SO21 2LT (01962 776088). From £99
"The beautiful sea view from one of the spacious South Sands beach suites is definitely a luxury," says James. "The chance to take our children somewhere fun without sacrificing on good stuff for grown-ups makes it extra special." Three of the beach suites are open to dogs (£12.50) but be aware that South Sands itself is closed to dogs over the summer.
The Wheatsheaf Inn, Cotswolds
"A cool spin on a traditional Cotswolds coaching inn," says Abi. "A favourite with style-setters seeking country air (past guests include Massive Attack and Kate Moss's posse), it has tasty gastropub grub, a treatment room for massages, and 14 bedrooms blending muted décor with rock '*' roll artwork."
"This 17th-century village manor house sits on the edge of the Cotswolds," says Alastair. "The spacious bedrooms have garden views and the beautifully tended gardens lead to an orchard and canal walk; stoke up on Zehra's homemade muesli and bread. There are doggy breakfasts of scrambled eggs and dog-sitting available."
Bewerley Hall Cottage
"The sitting room of this couples' hideaway envelops you in cheering warmth," says Alastair. "There's a light and cottagey kitchen, a four-poster king dressed in excellent linen and a glam black-and-ivory bathroom. On sunny days, dine out and soak up the views. Pups are welcomed with a goodie pack of treats."
The Beckford Arms, Wiltshire
"This ivy-coated inn, 20 minutes from Longleat and Stonehenge, is wonderfully unpretentious," says Abi. "All the country pub essentials are in place (roaring fire, local ales, leather chairs), but you also get a restaurant serving gourmet fare and eight elegant bedrooms with rolltop baths and heavenly beds." Room six welcomes doggies.
The Peacock, Derbyshire
"I hail from the Peak District and love returning to its pretty villages and dramatic moors," says Abi. "Perched on the River Derwent at the edge of the national park, The Peacock is a stylish base that marries traditional and contemporary design. Just as impressive is the beautifully presented food in the candlelit restaurant downstairs."
'This serenely relaxing restaurant with rooms has been setting the bar high for its Cumbrian competition since 2005," says James. "Handmade beds with Vi-Spring mattresses, utter peace and to-die-for tasting menus are the foundations on which the most memorable weekends are built." Room seven, a duplex cottage, welcomes dogs.
Hipping Hall, Cowan Bridge, Kirkby Lonsdale LA6 2JJ (01524 271187; hippinghall.com). From £120, including breakfast
The Old Coastguard
The family behind the Felin Fach Griffin and the Gurnard's Head have given Mousehole's Old Coastguard a facelift – it's a work in progress but the beds are excellent, the views stupendous, the bar and kitchen doing interesting stuff and dogs are welcome throughout and entirely free.
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