In the space of just over twenty years, a remarkable resurgence in the quality and quantity of luxury British hotels has transformed the fortunes of our seaside resorts and rural destinations. Pioneers like millionaire industrialist Jim Ratcliffe, Robin Hutson (of Hotel du Vin and The Pig fame) and Olga Polizzi have given the industry a much-needed boost with their talent for delivering understated, relaxed luxury. In fact, their hotels have redefined the very meaning of luxury, combining world-class service, food and amenities but doing away with the stiff formality that once plagued upmarket venues. And for the cash rich but time poor, the advantages of a weekend break in the UK holds a particularly strong allure compared to a potentially nightmarish airport experience. Here are our top four choices for a glamorous weekend break close to home.
CRAZY BEAR, BEACONSFIELD
Located in a converted 15th century coach house, owner Jason Hunt spent over four years turning the venue into a den of hedonism. A mere 40 minutes’ drive away from central London, Crazy Bear is perfectly positioned to appeal to the well-heeled, London elite crowd and has become a firm favourite for weekending couples. It is brilliantly over the top: design features include huge gilded mirrors, padded black leather floors and antique chandeliers – if you're looking for the wow factor, you’ve come to the right place.
Each of the 19 bedrooms is individually furnished and designed; expect huge statement beds, tasseled drape curtains, gold-leafed ceilings and copper baths that fill from the ceiling. The bar is a similar haven of lavish design, from the enticing black leather sofas to the chandelier lighting. Dinner can be enjoyed in one of two restaurants, serving English or Thai cuisine.
It would be so easy for the Crazy Bear to cash in on the surface sheen and pizzazz, but if you dig deeper you'll discover an expertly designed and well run hotel.
75 Wycombe End, Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire, HP9 1LX, 01494 673086, crazybeargroup.co.uk
BURGH ISLAND, DEVON
Founded in 1929 and used as a RAF recovery facility during the Second World War, Burgh Island Hotel was lovingly restored in 2006 to its art deco magnificence. It now attracts a discerning clientele looking for a modern twist on traditional luxury. A long list of notable luminaries have fallen in love with its location over the years, including Winston Churchill, The Beatles, and Noel Coward. In fact, if Burgh were up for sale it would command a fortune for its setting alone: perched on a tiny, tidal island surrounded by sandy beaches.
An atmosphere of timeless elegance abounds – the 1930s billiards room and swimming lagoon lend Burgh the air of a place you could well imagine in an Agatha Christie novel. All 25 rooms are identified by name, so you can take your pick from Amy Johnston, Noel Coward or the Cunard room. In keeping with the 1930s “time-warp” style of the hotel, television is forbidden. Instead, dress to kill for one of Burgh’s strictly black-tie dinner events, then nip into the bar for an after-dinner cocktail. The food is yet another highlight, locallysourced and impeccably presented; a seafood lover’s paradise.
Smaller rooms start at £400, not including breakfast and dinner.
Burgh Island hotel, Burgh Island, South Devon, TQ7 4BG, 01548 810514, burghisland.com
LIME WOOD, HAMPSHIRE
Lime Wood is one of the key venues that have redefined UK luxury hotels. Based in the New Forest in Hampshire, with over 140 square miles of ancient heath and woodland where deer still roam, the house is easily accessible from London (just over two hours by car), but far enough away from civilisation to provide an unparalleled haven of rest and relaxation.
The hotel has quite a history: originally a Regency manor house built on the site of a hunting lodge, it subsequently became a prep school for royalty and members of the aristocracy. Its former, rather stuffy incarnation, The Parkhill, was purchased by visionary hotelier Jim Ratcliffe in 1999 and, with his business partners, he has spent over £60m – and five years – renovating the house. The ultimate crowning glory of this slick yet unpretentious hotel is the Herb House Spa, which boasts luxury facilities such as an indoor heated pool, a thermal pool, an outdoor jacuzzi, saunas, steam rooms, relaxation rooms and a well-equipped gym.
Gastronomic duties are handled by Hartnett Holder & Co. Celebrity chef Angela Hartnett has joined forces with resident chef Luke Holder to create mouthwatering, Italian-inspired dishes in portions more generous than we’ve come to expect from nouvelle cuisine. The wine list is suitably grand and extensive, with several vintages of legendary bottles like Petrus and DRC available at a handsome price. Smaller double rooms start at around £315.
Lime Wood, Beaulieu Road, Lyndhurst, Hampshire, S043 7FZ, 02380 287 177, limewoodhotel.co.uk
THE SCARLET HOTEL, CORNWALL
There are quite a few pretenders to the crown of the UK’s most luxurious seaside hotel, but The Scarlet stands head and shoulders above the rest. It’s a hotel with heart and soul, run according to the strictest eco-friendly standards – innovations include a biomass boiler, solar panels and heat recapture technology. In essence it’s about guilt- free luxury, with the added bonus that no under 18s are admitted. An imaginative architectural design has been put to spectacular use, with tall glass walls offering superlative views over the Cornish coast.
Communal spaces with brightly patterned sofas complement 37 spacious, high-spec and airy rooms, most of which have floor-to-ceiling glass walls that slide back to access an outdoor terrace. It’s all thoroughly modern: don’t expect to find a reception desk, simply ask any member of staff, at any time, for whatever you may need.
Relaxation is the name of the game. Lie back in its superb Ayurvedic spa and multiple log-fired hot tubs, not to mention a large outdoor seawater swimming pool. And, of course, there are utterly divine views of the sun setting over the sea. Remarkably, all of this comes at the reasonable price of £275 for a standard double.
The Scarlet Hotel, Redragon Road, Mawgan Porth, Cornwall, TR8 4DQ , 01637 861 800, scarlethotel.co.uk