Rooms with a glowing review: Britain's B&Bs are best in the world
TripAdvisor's poll of visitors' comments shows UK has six of the top 10 places to stay
Following stints with Reuters and the Press Association, Martin Hickman joined The Independent as a news editor in 2001. He became the Consumer Affairs Correspondent in September 2005 and has run the paper's trenchant campaigns on packaging, bank charges and factory-farmed chicken. He writes on subjects as diverse as food, finance, energy and fashion. With Tom Watson, he is author of a new book on the phone hacking scandal, Dial M for Murdoch - News Corporation and the Corruption of Britain.
Wednesday 18 January 2012
Britain's bed and breakfasts have a reputation for querulous hosts, poky and tired rooms and nylon sheets, but – please sit down – they are the best in the world, according to TripAdvisor.
Six of the top 10 bed and breakfasts across the globe are in England and two in Scotland, with the only serious foreign competition coming from two challengers in Tuscany and Peru, the guest-review website announced, saying "the UK's B&Bs have cause to celebrate".
It used an algorithm to assess the star ratings left by guests and the quantity and recency of reviews for 23,322 B&Bs in Britain and a number from around the world, which, strangely, it could not quantify.
In any case, The Twenty One, a seven-bedroom Georgian guesthouse in Kemp Town, Brighton, came first; 97 per cent of its 866 guests who reviewed it rated it excellent, for a stay invariably described as "fantastic", "wonderful" or "perfect".
Second was last year's winner, the Old Manse at Invermoriston, a detached house with cascading waterfall and mountain views near Loch Ness in the Scottish Highlands.
Third was the Riverside Hotel in Ambleside in the Lake District (a B&B despite its name), which has a room with a four-poster bed and spa bath and another with a "wet room" with under-floor heating; fourth was Casa Portagioia, a country retreat with a heated pool in Tuscany.
Andy Cole and Matt Fletcher, who own The Twenty One, said they were "absolutely amazed and stunned" by their success. They put it down to keen customer service, which includes writing cards for guests celebrating special occasions. Each of their seven ensuite rooms – which cost between £55 and £149 a night – is stocked with a digital TV, radio, DVDs, bathrobes, slippers and toiletry set. Unlike some B&B owners who accuse TripAdvisor of tolerating malicious and unfounded attacks, Mr Cole and Mr Fletcher like the feedback and scan competitors' reviews for tips.
Visitors rave about the spotlessness of the rooms, the complimentary trays of tea and muffins, the hearty breakfasts and, most of all, their hosts' hospitality. "You do get a few awkward guests and we have to go the extra mile," Mr Cole said.
Two years after taking over the "rundown" and "tired" B&B five years ago, he married his business partner in a civil ceremony. "Absolutely none" of their guests are fazed that they are gay.
Mr Cole said: "They know what Brighton is all about. We actually get older guests and you talk to them at breakfast and you say, 'what did you do last night?' And they say, 'we saw a fabulous drag act at one of the gay bars'."
Best and worst: Simon Calder's choices
Plenty of British people have a problem with the ancient concept of "My home is your home" - on both sides of the host-guest relationship. A reluctance to share space with strangers helps to explain the success of budget hotel chains, where human interaction is minimal. Yet the B&B tradition is evidently thriving in the nation that brought the ampersanded acronym to the world. These are three of the best I have stayed in recently:
1. The Inn Guest House, St Mary's, Orkney
Built nearly two centuries ago for farmers waiting overnight for boats to the South Isles, now a chic and friendly venue for those escaping the mainland. The breakfast room has vast picture windows with views across Scapa Flow.
2. The Wellness Home, London W4
With many hotels in the capital typically trebling their rates during the Olympics, this metropolitan B&B may be worth a try this year. The handsome Victorian house provides those two modern essentials: organic breakfasts and free Wi-Fi.
3. Pinetrees B&B, Beccles, Suffolk
This modern house overlooks a timeless East Anglian landscape, rich in birdlife. From the start, the hosts sought to cater for hikers and cyclists, with hearty breakfasts. Sadly, Sue and Graham have decided to close it.
And the worst, from the land that brought the world Fawlty Towers:
1. Falmouth, Cornwall
With the landlady's own pay-per-view concept, of a meter attached to the TV that required 50p coins to fire it up and sustain it.
2. Cushendall, County Antrim
Where a specially negotiated and promised early breakfast never materialised, promptly losing half the B&B proposition.
3. Middlesbrough, Tyne & Wear
The National Cycle Network offers riders some wonderful stopovers, but Middlesbrough is not one of them. The carpet was held together by stale beer, the service surly and the breakfast inedible. Just like home, then.
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