Staying in grand country house hotels is all very well, but you might find the real treat hiding in the grounds. At Weston Park, a 17th- century estate swathed in the landscaping of Capability Brown, a summer house began welcoming guests for self- catering stays earlier this month.
The term "summer house" doesn't exactly do the Temple of Diana justice, however: as the name suggests, this is an opulent creation. It was added to the estate in the 1770s by the owner, Sir Henry Bridgeman, so that he and his wife might have somewhere fabulous to entertain guests – and show off Brown's trendy landscaped grounds.
Tucked next to a wood, with views over the rolling lawns and down to the main house, the Temple of Diana occupies an extremely pleasant spot. And, to make the most of it, the front of the building is a kind of vast conservatory, with 30ft-high glass doors all round, under a prettily stuccoed ceiling. Formerly the orangery, where exotic plants were accompanied by a menagerie of birds, it now makes a delightful place from which to admire the view over breakfast or on a lazy afternoon.
The Temple was the creation of architect James Paine, who must have had a lot of fun with it, for the inventive, quirky design continues indoors. It's all curves: circular and octagonal domed rooms are connected by two long, thin spiral staircases of blush sandstone; delightfully, even the doors are curved so they shut snugly. One room, which was used to wow guests further over afternoon tea, features original pastoral paintings by Swiss artist Giovanni Battista Innocenzo Colombo, showing scenes from the life of Diana, goddess of hunting.
The Temple sleeps six; three bedrooms come off a spiral staircase, with views out to Brown's "pleasure grounds": the elegantly constructed Temple Wood and pond. Accessible or child friendly it is not, although teetering up the staircase to the top room – with the best view and the only full en suite – does make you feel like you're in a fairy tale.
Formerly a private residence, the building has been fully restored and renovated to modern standards, while keeping the romantically aristocratic feel. The rooms are painted in vanilla and pistachio or forget-me-not blue, with white linen and thick curtains to keep drafts out. Furniture is appropriately antique, drawn from Weston Park's own collection, including William and Mary tables and drawers and painted regency chairs. Wooden floorboards or chilly stone floors are protected by hardy jute rugs; do pack slippers.
There's a shower on the top floor and an en-suite loo for the smaller room on the second floor, while guests in the large ground-floor bedroom descend another level to a large, bright bathroom which also has a big bath tub; Penhaligon toiletries are provided. This basement used to be a dairy, and is cool even in summer – thankfully, the bathroom has underfloor heating.
Out and about
Out and about
Weston Park is a tourist attraction in its own right – and at the Temple of Diana you're slap bang in the middle of it. One way to enjoy this is to watch day-trippers spot the Temple and mosey over before turning away at the little "private" sign, leaving you sitting in the orangery feeling obnoxiously smug.
Better would be to get out and enjoy the grounds: perambulate around the ponds, through the woods and into the pretty gardens; visit the little art gallery and the main house (closed Saturdays for weddings), or give in to your inner child and chuff around the park on the miniature steam train and chase through the maze. It's set in 1,000 acres, so more serious leg-stretches can also be embarked on.
The food and drink
With a beautifully kitted-out kitchen in the vaulted basement, and a swish octagonal dining room to eat in, cooking is to be encouraged. A welcome hamper is provided, with breakfast basics like milk, local eggs, bread and butter, as well as naughtier treats including artisan cheese, shortbreads and wine. These all hail from Weston Park's on-site deli; pop in to top up, as the cheese and charcuterie counters are full of temptation – but it's worth stocking up on cooking basics and fresh veg at a supermarket before arriving. The nearest is Waitrose in Newport, six miles away.
There's a relaxed restaurant, the Granary Grill, in the grounds too; booking is advisable. It makes a very handy Sunday lunch option after checking out, and the food – roasts with whopping Yorkshires plus fresh fish and a veggie option – is very good value, with a set menu of two courses for £14, or three for £19.
The Temple of Diana, Weston Park, Weston-under-Lizard, Shropshire TF11 8LE. From £1,000 for three nights (minimum stay) through Rural Retreats (01386 897289; ruralretreats.co.uk). Sleeps six; dogs not allowed.
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