Forget long-haul flights and leave your passports behind – Sian Griffiths takes a whistle-stop tour of the best hotels for foodies on home soil…
Thought you’d have to head to Provence or Tuscany for a gourmet getaway? Think again. If you’re hoping to grab a gastronomic break this year (oh, and Valentine’s Day is fast approaching, too) then why not stay a little closer to home, where there is a plethora of gourmet hotels to satisfy your culinary curiosity.
Offering everything from cookery classes and foraging sessions to vineyards and Michelin-starred dining, these hotels promise so much more than just a cosy bed and a simple breakfast in the morning. If, like me, food is a key factor in deciding where to spend your precious time away, then take a gander at our guide to the ultimate places to stay for food lovers…
The one for the wine connoisseur
Have you ever dreamed of a break at a working vineyard? Well, you’re in luck. For a spot of laid-back luxury in the heart of the Glamorganshire countryside (but just 20 minutes’ drive from Cardiff), make your way to the Llanerch Vineyard Hotel – a genuine rural retreat. Promising a contemporary restaurant, bistro and bouqtiue hotel rooms, as well as vineyard tours and cookery classes at Angela Gray’s Cookery School, you won’t need to leave the environs of the hotel. It’s worth visiting for their signature Cariad Welsh wines alone – the estate dry white and medium dry wine and both are available to buy in the bistro café and shop.
The one with a Michelin star
In recent years, Birmingham has risen to become a genuine tourist destination and its status as a food hub is ever-increasing, too. Amongst the city’s finest restaurants is the Michelin-starred Simpsons in one of the city’s most desirable quarters. Luckily for you, it also has rooms – four individually designed ones to be precise – all of which are en-suite, highly luxurious and inclusive of a Continental breakfast of exceptional quality. You won’t want to go to bed on an empty stomach, though, so don’t resist the allure of the full tasting menu with wine. Budding cooks must make the most of the cookery school, with full-day classes run by head chef Matt Cheal.
The one with two Michelin stars
Masterminded by Raymond Blanc and his wife Jenny, Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons is so much more than just a hotel restaurant – this is a destination. This splendid manor house, which dates from the 15th Century, was opened as a hotel in 1984, and the combination of culinary excellence (25 Michelin-starred chefs have trained here) and incredible surroundings (it’s set amidst 30 acres) surely must make this the ultimate countryside escape. Gary Jones’ dinner menu is not to be missed – his imaginative fare presents modern French cuisine at its finest (£150 per person) and includes such superb plats principaux as roasted fillet of Aberdeen Angus beef with braised Jacob’s ladder, watercress and red wine essence and choucroute, wild mushrooms and truffle. In addition to 32 individually designed rooms and suites – which are lavish to say the least – there’s also Japanese gardens, a two-acre vegetable garden, lavender walks, a mushroom valley and croquet lawn, plus The Raymond Blanc Cookery School. A day out in nearby Oxford is surely on the cards, too. What more could you possibly want?
The one in the back and beyond
Also boasting a Michelin star, Shirley and Eddie Spear’s acclaimed restaurant with rooms lures food lovers from far and wide to the magnificent Isle of Skye. Housed inside an old crofters’ cottage, with bare stone walls, candle-lit rooms and low ceiling beams, this place is undeniably special. Chef-director Michael Smith works closely sources his ingredients from a network of island producers and the kitchen celebrates eating locally. The offering focuses on seafood – the oysters are as fresh as you like and the Dunvegan langoustines are heavenly – while Mull lamb and wild Skye game also grace the menu. You won’t have to go far to find a place to rest your head: the five-star House Over-By is just next door and boasts lovely spacious bedrooms overlooking Loch Dunvegan – expect Scottish mineral water, Three Chimneys shortbread and handmade chocolates on arrival and a wonderful breakfast in the Morning Room looking out over the scenery.
The one by the coast
If you’re looking to escape the stresses of daily life and make a return to nature, then bear the Fat Hen in mind. Located in gorgeous Gwenmenhir in Cornwall, this wild cookery school encourages guests to make the most of the outdoors with foraging courses around Land’s End – led by a professional ecologist Caroline Davey, you’ll pass through field, forest and shore in your quest for ingredients. Afterwards, head to the bespoke cookery school to rustle up an elaborate feast with the fruits of your hard work and enjoy it by fire and candlelight. If you’re happy to muck in with other groups, the Old Wash House holiday cottage is the perfect place to stay (available for two to 12 people; see website for further details). Forage. Cook. Feast. Sleep. Sounds like a plan to me.
The one in a Georgian house
The Great House in the medieval town of Lavenham, Suffolk, is a haven of fine food, excellent wine and gorgeous hotel rooms. Owners Régis and Martine Crépy have run this Georgian house for many years as a restaurant-with-rooms and the English charm and award-winning French cuisine are a match made in heaven. Unlatch the heavy door and step into a beautiful two-room restaurant and bar area with exposed beams, a huge fireplace, French-grey walls and crisp white tablecloths, while the steep stairs will lead to five lovely rooms – the Four Poster Room, Grand Room, Tudor Room, Loft Room and Attic Room. You simply can’t stay here without sampling the food, though. The daily changing à la carte menu has been known to feature the likes of prime Scottish beef carpaccio with peppery rocket leaves to start, followed by belly of Suffolk pork confit with honey and pepper sauce and passion fruit and milk chocolate creme brulée to finish – divine. It’s no wonder The Great House was awarded the Editor’s Choice Award for Gourmet Hotels by The Good Hotel Guide in 2015.
The one in a castle
Revel in foodie luxury at this handsome estate in the Yorkshire Dales. Food-and-drink-filled gourmet weekend packages are available at this magnificent castle hotel (one or two nights; see website for details of dates and availability), which is set amidst 200 acres of beautiful countryside. Each evening commences with a tutored tasting, followed by pre-dinner drinks and a four-course gourmet menu (served in the magnificent double-height dining room no less) with complementary wines. What’s more, the cooking showcases the fine seasonal ingredients that are produced on the estate itself – it doesn’t get fresher than that. While this place might seem a world away from the capital, the journey from King’s Cross to Thirsk takes merely two hours and Swinton Park lies just a scenic 20-minute drive from there.