24-hour room service: The Talbot Hotel, North Yorkshire
A stately diversion en route to the coast
If you ever find yourself motoring from York to the east-coast resorts of Scarborough, Filey or Whitby, or further north to the North York Moors, make sure you take in the pleasant little market town of Malton, which was founded 2,000 years ago by the Romans. As you drive past the war memorial, you might, if the clouds part, see the golden letters spelling Talbot Hotel reflect the sun.
Should you be tempted further, turn on to the gravel path and you'll arrive outside a sturdy Grade-II listed Georgian building.
If you think the hotel seems as shiny and new as the letters above the door, you'd be right. Although this was once a Trusthouse Forte property, it was closed for several years, largely gutted inside, had £5m pumped in and reopened with 26 bedrooms under new management last month. The result is a picture of country-squire elegance. It's enough to make you forget your route to the seaside and check in for the night.
Inside, there's Meissen china in the hallway cabinets and paintings of 19th-century racehorses, as well as sombre-looking grandees in breeches and waistcoats. Photos of Malton dating back to the First World War hang elsewhere, and there are plush, comfy sofas in the sizeable drawing room. If it sounds a little sober, it isn't – for example, in the centre of the building there's a large atrium next to the bar through which light floods the room.
Hearty eating is a big feature of the "new" Talbot, so Malton-born chef and TV regular James Martin has been drafted in to oversee the kitchen. On my visit, the management was somewhat vague as to how often he'll actually be there, given his culinary and TV commitments elsewhere, but they pointed out that he's just bought a house outside Malton.
The main restaurant is somewhat formal, with an emphasis on local produce – my warm salad of Skipton Moor lamb confit came with pickled cucumber and turnips, mint and watercress from eight miles up the road in Pickering. I noticed that the menu boasted that my main dish of cod was line-caught off the east coast.
At the bar, you can have a pint of Yorkshire Warrior from the Cropton brewery, also near Pickering, to go with your Whitby crab risotto, or a pork chop from Fletcher's butchers in the next-door town of Norton, with scrumpy, black-pudding faggot and spring greens.
Outside, the grounds are still being landscaped, a task not helped by the recent soggy weather, but eventually the large garden will stretch all the way down to the river Derwent at the bottom of a sloping hill.
Malton is not a big town. The picturesque central market place and shopping streets, with a healthy mix of one-off and national stores, are a leisurely five-minute stroll from the hotel. If you're around on a Sunday, the Milton Rooms playhouse offers "Tea and a Tale" – short stories read by an actor while you sit down with a cuppa – for a very reasonable £3.50. And, rather than stay in your room, you could do worse than catch a film at the cosy, family-run Palace Cinema, just down the road.
With a car, you can be in Scarborough in around half an hour, Whitby in not much more, and York in around 25 minutes. Attractions nearby include Castle Howard, Eden Camp (a former Second World War internment site, now a modern history museum) and Flamingo Land amusement park. The Moors, Wolds and Howardian hills are on the doorstep and linked by a decent transport network if you want to bus one way then walk back.
Rooms are cosy and traditional, either painted neutrally or wallpapered, and come in three types – Ryedale, with walk-in shower rather than bath, Malton, with king-sized doubles, and Norton with super king-size beds. Even the smaller rooms have a writing desk, flat-screen TV and are en suite with Penhaligon's smellies. Bathrooms are decked in marble and white block tile of the type my mother describes as being found in a men's urinal. (She refuses to say how she knows this.)
There are also four larger "feature" rooms and three suites – the bottom line being size; some have a four-poster bed and roll-top bath. There's no lift, so the creaky of knee may want a room on a lower floor and, at ground level, one is adapted for wheelchair use. Some rooms face on to Yorkersgate (Malton's busiest road) and while they're double-glazed (and I found them quiet), those who like a totally tranquil night may want to ask for one looking out towards the river Derwent on the other side.
Yorkersgate, Malton, North Yorkshire YO17 7AJ (01653 639096; talbotmalton.co.uk)
Doubles start at £145, including breakfast.
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