When Hollywood rolled into the Shropshire Hills to film Ian McEwan's novel Atonement, the cream of the cast (which numbered among them Keira Knightley, James McAvoy, Romola Garai and Vanessa Redgrave) got lucky. They, along with director Joe Wright, could relax after a hard day in front of the camera at Old Downton Lodge. The lodge is set deep in the private Downton Estate, a verdant swathe of countryside that stretches out from Ludlow towards the Welsh border. It is a laid-back yet luxurious bolt hole that happens to serve some of the best food in Britain.

Old Downton Lodge has been a hotel for nearly a decade but only in the past year has it fallen into the caring hands of Martyn and Jayne Emsen - the husband and wife team behind the nationally acclaimed "Jolly Frog" restaurant in nearby Leintwardine. Martyn being the chef and Jayne front of house, they have brought both the exceptional food and hospitable service with them.

And what a location they have found. Complete with castle, a gorge and enough pheasant to make this prime shoot area, Downton must have been an easy choice of location for the film-makers in search of a bucolic English backdrop - and it makes for a dreamy setting for Old Downton Lodge.

The hotel and restaurant are housed in a collection of buildings set around a decoratively planted garden. Come down from your spacious and comfortable room, past the vegetable plot, and find a breakfast of home-grown and locally sourced delights in the medieval hay barn, with light streaming in through triangular piercings in the thick walls.

Well, if it's good enough for Hollywood stars...


Old Downton Lodge, Downton on the Rock, near Ludlow, Shropshire SY8 2HU (0845 838 6334; www.olddowntonlodge.co.uk). Nearest train station: Ludlow - from where it is about eight miles by taxi and should cost around £10.


There are nine double rooms, each entered by its own door off the central garden, as well as a "honeymoon" suite, complete with four-poster, in the main house. The rooms are understated but stylish, with spacious en suites with either a capacious tub or walk-in shower. There are plentiful towels, candles and gentle lighting.

Keeping in touch: No television or internet access, but direct-dial phones in each room - just as well, this area of England must be one of the few remaining where mobile reception is, at best, patchy.

Freebies: plentiful Molton Brown products, a bottle of local mineral water, and tea- and coffee-making kit (which is presented attractively enough not to give the feeling of a B&B).


A double room comes in at £150 Friday and Saturday nights, £125 other nights, including a full Shropshire breakfast. The real deal, though, is bed, breakfast and no doubt soon-to-be-award-winning dinner which is £165 on peak nights - and includes two courses from the daily à la carte menu.

I'm not paying that: The Clive (Restaurant with Rooms), Bromfield, Ludlow (01584 856 565; www.theclive.co.uk), has doubles from £75, including breakfast.