The best places in Britain to indulge your fantasies of being part of the landed gentry

The Samling, Cumbria

The Samling, Cumbria

Set in a 67-acre estate on the wooded hillside above Lake Windermere, The Samling is an elegant white retreat dating back to the late 18th century. There's no stiff reception or hotel bar and no chintz - just a warm welcome, crackling log fires and outdoor hot tub. The 11 rooms are all individually designed and split between the main house and cottages in the grounds. Most have panoramic views of the lake - and are named after the local dialect counting of sheep - Yan, tyan, tethera, methera, pym, hovera, lethera. (Tyan was the room once chosen by Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman). One of the cottages has a bath supposed to have belonged to Winston Churchill.

The Samling (01539 431922; www.thesamling.com). Double rooms cost from £350 including breakfast

Whatley Manor, Wiltshire

A traditional English country garden - flower-beds brimming with lavender and shrubs, perfectly manicured lawns and a fragrant rose garden - surrounds Whatley Manor, a 1920s manor house near Malmesbury in Wiltshire. Inside, however, tradition has been turned on its head. The owner, Christian Landolt, has introduced eclectic art and sculpture and sleek Italian furniture, while the walls are adorned with handmade French wallpaper. There is also a 40-seater private cinema and a state-of-the-art spa, the Aquarias, which, with its columns and mosaics, resembles a luxurious Roman bathhouse.

Whatley Manor, Easton Grey, Malmesbury, Wiltshire (01666 822888; www.whatleymanor.com). Doubles from £275, including full English breakfast. Suites from £650

Cowley Manor, Gloucestershire

Inside this grand 19th-century Italianate house in beautiful formal gardens is a world of quirky, modish neo-Seventies style. Despite the wellies at the front door, the hotel reeks of design: a jumble of funky, custom-made furniture in the lounge, papier-mâché hunting trophies in the bar, a leather-panelled pool room and a luxurious spa buried in the garden. The 30 bedrooms come in five sizes: good, better, great, exceptional and best. All are equipped with a hangover cure kit in the mini-bar and offer lavender-scented hot-water bottles on request.

Cowley Manor, Cowley, Gloucestershire (01242 870900; www.cowleymanor.com). Double rooms cost from £220 (good) to £445 (exceptional) with continental breakfast

The Grove, Hertfordshire

The Grove is a rambling pile set in 300 acres of Hertfordshire parkland. Built in the 18th century, the Grade II* listed building was originally home to the Earls of Clarendon, but re-opened as a 227-room hotel last year. Every attempt has been made to introduce a sense of urban sophistication and interiors are a decidedly chintz-free zone with muted colour schemes, velvet throws and specially commissioned furniture. The hotel's countless facilities include a spa offering E'spa treatments, two swimming pools and an 18-hole golf course. But despite all this glamour, it remains child-friendly - now even more so, as this month sees the opening of Anouska's, an Ofsted-inspected day nursery with lots of activities for kids aged between three and 10.

The Grove, Chandler's Cross, Hertfordshire (01923 807 807; www.thegrove.co.uk). Double rooms start from £240 per room per night with breakfast

Nant Ddu Lodge, Powys

The Heads of the Valleys road through South Wales forms a man-made frontier between the wild landscapes of the Brecon Beacons National Park and the vales that were once among the most intensely industrialised locations in the world. Nant Ddu is on the "right" side of the line, aesthetically speaking, but this fine old country house is close enough to the Valleys for guests to explore their fascinating industrial archaeology. That assumes they can drag themselves away from the £750,000 spa - something you would not expect to find in a 28-room rural hotel. At the centre of the spa is a large, alluring pool. The guest rooms are in tip-top condition, while the restaurant offers imaginative dishes from fresh local ingredients.

Nant Ddu Lodge, Cwm Taf, near Merthyr Tydfil, Powys CF48 2HY (01685) 379111; www.nant-ddu-lodge.co.uk); doubles £79.50. A "winter special" at the lodge offers indulgent stays with dinner, breakfast and treatments for under £100 per person per night

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