Sharrow Bay Country House Hotel

Where is it?

Where is it?

On the banks of Ullswater, with spectacular views across the Helvellyn range. Address: Pooley Bridge, Penrith, Cumbria, CA10 2LZ (tel: 017684 86301).

What's it like?

Reputed to have been the first country-house hotel in England, Sharrow was opened by the late Francis Coulson MBE in 1949. This internationally renowned Relais & Chateaux hotel provides an enchanting retreat. But it is not for those seeking sleek, modern style. Decorated with a profusion of ornate lamps, figurines, clocks, porcelain and paintings, it feels rather like the home of a wealthy and eccentric elderly relative.

Ambience?

Luxurious without being stuffy. The managing director, Nigel Lightburn, insists that his guests are there to relax, "kick off their shoes" and lounge on one of the sofas or benches hidden in secret corners of the garden.

Service?

Charming. Staff "cosset, spoil and comfort" you, it says in the brochure.

Rooms?

Ten in the main hotel, 18 in other buildings, including an Elizabethan farmhouse. Prices, which range from £105 to £200 per person, include breakfast and six-course dinner. The rooms all have an individual style, with pleasant touches such as welcoming drinks, fresh flowers, pots of sugared almonds and nibbles dotted about, soft towelling robes and a small pillow note that bids you to "sleep happily, gently, comfortably and soothingly".

Food and drink?

Sharrow's Michelin star is well deserved. The galette of dressed crab and scallops with roasted asparagus and crayfish sauce; noisette of venison with braised red cabbage, soft polenta, glazed apple and brandy and port sauce and old English Regency syllabub and shortbread hearts were all wonderful. The tome-like 32-page wine list offers bottles from £13 to £475. The good, cheaper wines reflect the lack of stuffiness characteristic of the entire hotel.

Awards?

Numerous. It features on the AA's list of Britain's Best Hotels, with three red stars and three rosettes for food. It has, at various times, been named Egon Ronay's Restaurant of the Year, Hotel of the Year, and Hosts of the Year, and has been awarded the RAC Blue Ribbon Award for Excellence.

Clientele

John and Norma Major, Lord Olivier, Sir Alec Guinness, King Hussein of Jordan and Barbra Streisand are among those to have sought refuge there.

Things to do

Sailing, fishing, walking, climbing and golf.

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