Escape to an English country house hotel

Suddenly, a lengthy private drive, oodles of acres, a croquet lawn, pastures where deer frolic and spacious dining halls are must-have features for the holidays of 2020. Paradise has been redefined as lordly, wood-panelled, high-ceilinged and far from the madding crowd.

The country setting of Middlethorpe Hall Hotel and SpaThe English country house hotel is back. Usually after some painting and renovations during lockdown. If you feel uneasy about sharing a seething beach or crowded pavements then the country house may be your perfect option. After all, the aristocratic country set have been fans of social distancing for at least a millennium.

What goes around, comes around. Middlethorpe Hall, strategically located two miles from the busy and narrow streets of York’s Shambles, was built in 1699 when the Great Plague of 1665 – 1666 was still a living memory. Over three centuries on, reassuringly surrounded by emerald lawns, park land and tall walls, Middlethorpe Hall Hotel and Spa, with its airy 20 acres, provides a peaceful haven from another pandemic.

Country hotels have reacted quickly to our desire for safety. Rookery Hall Hotel and Spa, in Nantwich, Cheshire, certainly far from those madding crowds, telephones guests in advance to book a check-in time so that reception does not become crowded. Guests are also temperature checked on arrival. Frequent hand-sanitising points are dotted around the main hotel’s one-way system. Bookings for breakfast, lunch and dinner are mandatory.

The safe haven of Rookery Hall Hotel and Spa, NantwichBack on the outskirts of York, Middlethorpe Hall Hotel and Spa, a Historic House Hotel owned by the National Trust but only open to guests, is an art galley, a hotel, a museum, a spa and a country estate. Park the car and step into over three centuries of history. Why queue to trail through the one-way system of a stately home when you can sit amongst the family portraits in the Drawing Room sipping coffee? View a Hogarth-style satirical cartoon in your own bathroom, browse a book in the library? Though, sometimes, as at Rookery Hall Hotel, the history is more recent: a wall-mounted photograph celebrates that Posh and Becks announced their engagement there at the tail-end of the 20th century.

For the long months when restaurants were closed, many of us, bored by our own cooking, longed for a meal out. Finally, haircut and encouraged by Rishi Sunak’s generous offer to contribute to the bill on Monday to Wednesday nights, we tentatively look for a safe eatery. Spacious restaurants in country houses have always tended to have more distance between tables than those in cramped urban premises. The luxury of a restaurant meal in Middlethorpe Hall’s restaurantGiven sufficient notice, Middlethorpe’s chef, Ashley Binder will even produce a style of cuisine of your choice, the meal that you have been craving for during lockdown.

For Middlethorpe Hall Hotel, restaurant safety is the major concern, diners must submit a health declaration, stating that they are free of Covid-19 symptoms, 24 hours before their arrival. In an AA two rosette restaurant, hygiene protocols are adhered to with stratospherically high standards.

For most of us, swimming has been off the agenda for many months. Wherever you swim, at your local pool or at a hotel, you will have to book a slot. But walking from your room, in your fluffy white robe, is a more relaxing experience than having to return home from your local pool still wearing a dripping costume. For most of us a warm hotel pool – and Middlethorpe Hall Hotel and Spa currently limits the number of pool users to just four – is infinitely preferable to side-stepping the masses on Bournemouth’s shoreline.

An inviting pool at Rookery Hall’s SpaThroughout lockdown, many found comfort in their gardens. English country hotels employ dedicated gardeners to make the most of their estate: rose gardens in spring, summer sweat peas, tiered autumnal pears. Quiet corners in walled gardens and wooden seats with vistas across the lawns are idyllic escapes from pandemic worries.

Through the centuries the English country house has always been a sanctuary from the turbulent events occurring beyond the walls. At another Historic House Hotel in Buckinghamshire, the stately Hartwell House Hotel, Restaurant and Spa, three European kings simultaneously sought solace early in the 19th century. Louis XVlll of France and the future Charles X of France, as well as Gustavus, the deposed Swedish King, walked pensively around the lake and past towering specimen trees.

Plenty of acres for walking at Hartwell House HotelFor travellers reluctant to take their chances in crowded hotspots where face coverings are not always worn and where the R number may be creeping upwards, the quintessential English country house, as it has been for centuries, is a blissful retreat.

Country house hotels

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Michael Edwards

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