It is so easy these days to plonk yourself safely into a self-catering house that is straight out of a self-catering manual: black leather furniture, steel fittings, wooden floors, Ikea plates and mugs – and probably furniture too – and as much risk of startling you as there is in church. Here, however, are surprises and some tempting choices. Wooden walls, or massive glass walls, recycled spiral staircases, a duckboard walk across the marshes, craftwork from India – you have much to look forward to.
Some hosts give you organic welcome hampers, others a G&T, and some will just leave you alone if that is what you want. Choose between the wildness of the Isle of Skye, the domesticated beauty of the Sussex Downs, a basement in the heart of London, a mill, an eco-extension to a cottage – the list is tantalising. Self-catering really has come of age; these gorgeous places show it, with panache and character.
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By a windmill, on a bend in the river in the Norfolk Broads, is this old-meets-new mill-keeper's cottage. Its cottage-style planting conceals you from passing boats. The ground floor has a high vaulted ceiling and is light-filled with great river views. There's a two-way open fireplace and suspended stairway leading to stylish bedrooms. A boardwalk bears you over the marsh: be in Norwich in half an hour, on the beach in quarter – and you've got your own mooring.
Sleeps nine. From £1,600 per week (07711 005397; hunsettmill.co.uk).
On the South Downs Way, in the grounds of the deeply atmospheric Cobbe Place are three charming flint barns. Each of the three spaces, decorated in whites and warm greys, is filled with lightness and calm, and furniture and objects lovingly chosen. All hug a big south-facing courtyard with a fairylight-strewn pergola, an outdoor fireplace and a table for 10. In colder months, hosts Bryony and Emma are happy for guests to relax in their beautiful drawing room, amid books, games, papers and a great log fire. Their generosity extends to "boutique breakfasts" included in the price – scrumptious, original, organic – while Glyndebourne-goers can ask for a car a picnic and a porter!
From £610 per week for Sailors House, which sleeps two (01273 858 893; cobbeplace.com).
It was in this 1750s Georgian manor that George Eliot penned Adam Bede; now it's a delightful country getaway with pecking chickens, the odd sheep, and horses peeking over stable doors. The front wing is yours, with a sun terrace and garden fringed by roses. Inside, it's lovely to warm your toes by the log burner in a properly traditional drawing room with wingback chairs and horsey ornaments. High-ceilinged bedrooms are just as gracious. There is no noise bar country noises, no people bar Kim and her family in the east wing. She'll greet you with cream tea or G&T.
Sleeps six. From £560 per week (01335 350476; mappletonmanor.co.uk).
A former post office, Mungo's Den now shines brightly in its blue exterior. Everything was rebuilt with the environment in mind: materials were reclaimed, and the glorious mix of furniture was recycled or, in the case of the spiral staircase, rescued from a garden and lovingly repaired. Vintage fabrics, a Bakelite phone and a log-burner add quirk and warmth, while the flat-screen TV and iPod dock bring it all up to date. The kitchen continues the recycled theme with a mix of crockery and Victorian cupboard doors. Downstairs, the bunk room is a riot of colour, the mezzanine has a super king-sized bed.
Sleeps four. From £525 per week (07742 193901; mungosden.co.uk).
If you feel like trendy is passing you by or want a weekend harking back to your London heyday, then 5 Wilmington Square is the perfect place to start. Clerkenwell has enough grit among the gentrification to replace chi-chi with urban cool. Inside find a pine-panelled living room with a huge stone hearth, a wood-burner and sheepskin rugs. The retro glass pendants were snapped up from a village hall and look just right, along with the Ercol dining table and travel trunks. The architect owners live and work in the rest of the house, happy to point you towards restaurants, cycling routes, walks and quirky sights. Exmouth Market is a block away.
Sleeps four. From £850 per week (020 7837 6255; wilmingtonsquare.co.uk).
Light floods in, waves crash on the rocks and the views dazzle from a large glass balcony over St Ives bay, where dolphins, seals and boats play. The designer lighthouse stands slim and tall on Crab Rock, off a pedestrian street of Cornish cottages, a flip-flop from the beaches and town centre. Enter four storeys of light-bathed tranquillity and quirky retro-1950s design. There's an authentic American dinner set and Smeg fridge in the little kitchen and a proper balcony – the views are seriously beautiful, soaring over the sea to the harbour, town and bays.
Sleeps four. From £488 per week (07889 162 360; thelighthouse-stives.co.uk).
Imagine opening the doors of a wood-cosy cabin to lakeside decking and Suffolk's big skies. Owners Andrew and Sarah have created a lake from scratch, then added four beautiful retreats, with chill-out decks for barbecues and hot tubs for stars. Inside: toasty oak floors, hand-made mattresses on emperor size beds, sparkling floor lights for romantic bathrooms and lots of lovely space. The attention to detail is amazing, from the board games, binoculars and wildlife books to the designer kitchens. After a day's wandering, it's bliss to come home to the warmth of the wood-burner, the scent of the pine, the hoot of the owl and the lake that laps you to sleep.
Sleeps four. From £700 per week (01473 652149; suffolkescape.co.uk).
Llwyncor is a peach of a house for groups wanting to nest in a wilderness. It's not irretrievably off the beaten track, but the majestic prospect of the Brecon Beacons suggests so. The abundant delights include fishing, ruined castles, and walks of all sizes. The Victorian house is a very elegant mixture of new and old and has a great sense of space; certainly it's a house made for hide and seek. Through the porch, the light pillared ground floor is largely open-plan with a big open fireplace and sweeping wooden floors. Bedrooms with beautiful beams are higgledy-piggledy over three floors.
Sleeps 10. From £900 per week (01874 638 031; breconaccommodation.co.uk).
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