As children, Hugh and Steve Ridgway, the new owners of The Royal Oak Inn (01548 810 313; theroyaloakbigbury.com), enjoyed their first bottle of ginger beer and ready salted crisps at this traditional Devon hostelry. So when the opportunity arose, the local boys jumped at the chance to take over this inn in the village of Bigbury. Also the proprietors of the successful St Moritz hotel in Cornwall, the Ridgways have used their expertise to restore this newly reopened inn. The inviting bar and restaurant serves traditional favourites – Welsh rarebit and beer-battered fish and chips – while the four rooms have been done in a light, contemporary style with a nostalgic thread that extends to retro board games and BTC bedside lamps. Doubles start at £60, B&B.
What's the attraction?
Once a place where horse-drawn travellers could break their journey and bed down – with the added bonus of dinner and a pint of ale – the British inn has come a long way. Damp walls and a Ploughman's no longer set the standard. Around the country, historic hostelries are becoming destinations in their own right, luring a new generation of guests with the promise of award-winning food and Farrow & Ball colour schemes. Retaining their charm and sense of history, these quintessential inns have an informal atmosphere, but the attention to detail is high. Cosy up by a crackling log fire, enjoy a dinner of locally sourced ingredients and slip between Egyptian cotton sheets for a restful night's sleep.
London's chi-chi Marylebone Village may seem like an unlikely location for an inn, but here you'll find the smart and urban Grazing Goat (020-7724 7243; thegrazinggoat.co.uk). The bar menu features contemporary pub fare, while upstairs there are eight stylish bedrooms with luxurious marble bathrooms. Doubles start at £195, including breakfast.
Within 20 minutes' drive of the centre of Edinburgh, The Sun Inn (0131 663 2456; thesuninnedinburgh.co.uk) is an old coaching inn at Lothianbridge. It now has five rooms done with statement wallpaper and handmade beds. Its popular dining room makes the most of abundant local produce. Doubles start at £95, B&B.
Celebrating its first anniversary this month, The Gunton Arms (01263 832 010; thegunton arms.co.uk) near Cromer in north Norfolk is an understated but sophisticated country farmhouse (above) in the middle of a 1,000-acre park roamed by herds of deer. Head chef, Stuart Tattersall, used to work with Mark Hix and the eight antique-strewn bedrooms are the work of veteran interior decorator Robert Kime. Doubles starts at £95, B&B.
This year, The Pipe and Glass Inn (01430 810 246; pipeandglass.co.uk) in East Yorkshire was awarded the highest honour in the "2012 Michelin Eating Out in Pubs Guide" for its cooking. It also has two charming suites from £160, B&B.
Ilse Crawford's design talents are usually associated with high-profile projects such as Babington House and the Soho House chain. But she has also turned her attentions to renovating The Crown (01494 721541; thecrownamersham.com), a Grade II-listed coaching inn in the heart of Amersham (right), easily reached on the Metropolitan line from central London. Oozing period charm, this inn dates from the Elizabethan era and has 37 rooms scattered throughout three buildings, some reached across the cobbled inner courtyard. The Chophouse restaurant offers simply cooked dishes, with an emphasis on grilled meats. Doubles start at £85, including breakfast.
Gloucestershire has no shortage of charming places to stay. Completely refurbished last year, The Wheatsheaf Inn (01451 860 244; cotswoldswheatsheaf.com) in the picturesque Cotswolds village of Northleach has become the latest place to park your Hunter wellies (right). Given a new lease of life by a husband-and-wife team, Sam and Georgina Pearman, the 17th-century inn combines relaxed country chic (a dining room lined with oil paintings) with a menu of classic comfort food. The 14 rooms are a study of understated tones, dotted with period features and antiques. There's also a small treatment room in the garden for massages and manicures. Doubles start at £130, B&B.
Who said that?
"There is no private house in which people can enjoy themselves so well as at a capital tavern. No, Sir; there is nothing which has yet been contrived by man by which so much happiness is produced as by a good tavern or inn." – Samuel Johnson
"Take the old-established Bull's Head with its... old-established four-post bedsteads... its old-established cookery." – Charles Dickens, writing about Ye Olde Bull's Head Inn, Anglesey in The Uncommercial Traveller
"The incognito of an inn is one of its striking privileges." – William Hazlitt
Shrop til you drop
You can huddle up with a pint of Shropshire Gold ale in the inviting surroundings of the Inglenook bar that forms part of The Lion and Pheasant (01743 770 345; lionandpheasant.co.uk), a coaching inn that dates from Tudor times in the centre Shrewsbury. During its early days, the inn served as stopping-off point on the arduous route between London and Ireland. These days, it's more of a destination in its own right. There are 22 guestrooms spanning eight historic houses, all done in a lightly Scandinavian-chic style, complemented by wonky staircases, nooks and wood-beamed ceilings. There's also a restaurant offering traditionally inspired dishes with a twist. Doubles start at £95, B&B.
As well as superior food and six stylish bedrooms, The Swan (01934 710337; theswanwedmore.com) in the pretty village of Wedmore, is right beside the Somerset Levels with Cheddar Gorge and The Mendip Hills also nearby. B&B doubles start at £85.
The Beckford Arms (01747 870385; thebeckfordarms.co.uk) is a stylish eight-room inn with delicious food that sits on the edge of the sprawling 10,000-acre Fonthill Estate in Wiltshire. It's close to a popular two-hour walk that wends its way through rolling parkland and past the estate's 18th-century Gothic folly. B&B doubles start at £95.
The Plough at Lupton (01539 567700; theploughatlupton.co.uk) is a recently renovated inn on the edge of the Lake District, that dates from the 1850s and now has five luxurious rooms. B&B doubles start at £115.
Tucked into a picturesque corner of Wales in between the stunning wilderness of the Brecon Beacons and The Black Mountains, The Felin Fach Griffin (01874 620111; felinfachgriffin.co.uk) was one of the first exponents of the updated inn when it opened in 2000 and its charm endures. B&B doubles start at £120.
The three rooms at the 300-year-old Cross Keys (01786 870293; kippencrosskeys.com) in the small Scottish village of Kippen, Stirlingshire are simple, stylish and comfortable. But you are more likely to be drawn to the crackling fire downstairs after a walk amid the magnificent scenery of the nearby Trossachs. B&B doubles start at £60.
"Slowly but surely we are seeing a surge in the transformation of traditional coaching inns. The Wheatsheaf Inn in the Cotswolds and The Olde Bell in Berkshire are two of the smartest newcomers to embrace this concept with every detail spot-on, from the food and service to the roll-top baths, fixtures and fittings." Lulu Townsend, managing director, Chic Retreats (020-3397 0085; chicretreats.com)