No one would want to go back to the dark days before the country hotel had a makeover. It was a twilight world of frilly valances, Nescafé sachets by the bed, and spooky china doll collections in your room. However, plenty of establishments are so keen to demonstrate that they are now chic, metropolitan and not chintzy, that they have lost sight of the fact that hip doesn't necessarily equal relaxing.
Not so the Feversham Arms. The hotel has just scooped the award for AA Hotel of the Year in England and recently became part of the Small Luxury Hotels of the World collection. The emphasis is on a welcoming, home-from-home atmosphere. It offers unpretentious and cosy décor, a well-equipped spa, good food, excellent service and the jewel in the crown: a heated swimming pool.
The hotel consists of a series of small stone cottages that have been knocked together and tastefully extended, ringed around a courtyard with a paved garden. The swimming pool sits gleaming at its centre.
Add a pool to a weekend break and suddenly it becomes a bona fide holiday, especially when it's bordered by a fragrant patio-style garden filled with lavender and verbena, designed by Matthew Wilson, a Royal Horticultural Society gardener.
Combine it all with a G&T sipped while dangling your feet in the adjacent hot tub, and who needs the Mediterranean?
As winter approaches, the Feversham Arms is a fine place to hibernate. Many rooms have open fires or stoves so you can warm up after a winter walk, and there is also a library and living room.
The breakfast in bed is a satisfyingly lazy affair (unlike my experience at many hotels, where it arrives with stone-cold tea) and it turned up bang on time.
Dinner is good too: it's fancy enough to be interesting, but not fussy. The emphasis is on local produce, and there's a £45 tasting menu. Another way to indulge yourself is the Verbena Spa, which features a saunarium, aromatherapy room (a slightly cooler sauna with aromatherapy essences), salt vapour steam room, and treatments with products by Elemis (a fashion insider's favourite).
The most exacting of minibreakers looking for stately-house grandeur or cutting-edge design may find the Feversham Arms a bit low key. However, for a weekend of walking and wallowing in the hot tub it deserves its latest accolade – especially if the number of regulars who return is anything to go by.
The Feversham Arms is situated a 30-minute drive from York in Helmsley. This pretty North Yorkshire market town boasts a cluster of honey-coloured houses, a church, a market square and a plethora of cafés serving cream teas.
When viewed from the front, the hotel appears small, but in fact it extends a long way back. There is also an underground car park to keep the high street from becoming cluttered with the expensive vehicles favoured by most of its guests.
You need only step out of the hotel to find numerous different walks across the sheep-scattered James Herriot country of the North York Moors. Guide books are provided in each room to inspire and inform expeditions.
The beaches of Whitby, Staithes and Scarborough are also within half an hour by road, and historic sites such as Castle Howard, Rievaulx Abbey and Duncombe Park are within easy reach.
There were two details in the rooms that suggests the proprietors have a bit too much of a soft centre; the cringe-inducing toy cow that you put in front of the door instead of a "do not disturb sign" and the too-soft beds. We were told that they were chosen specially by the owner for their comfort, but found them disappointingly soft and saggy – the only major grumble.
The hotel has 33 rooms divided into six types. The "petite doubles" are fairly small, and some are rather worn, while the large "spa suites" have a spacious bathroom, living room and balcony overlooking the pool.
The general theme of the décor is wholesome country chic, with lots of lamps and cushions, fabrics in tweeds and checks, mossy greens and warm russets, patterned wallpaper or warm cream walls.
All rooms have Bang & Olufsen TVs, L'Occitane toiletries, fluffy robes and towels, and Egyptian cotton sheets. Complimentary Wi-Fi access extends throughout the hotel.
Feversham Arms Hotel & Verbena Spa
Helmsley, North Yorkshire, Y062 5AG (01439 770766; fevershamarmshotel.com)
Doubles from £150, including breakfast.Reuse content