Head out of London to the new generation of old hotels

Timothy Barber
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GRAND old mansions, it’s obvious to say, make terrific hotels. History, character, beauty, location – they’ve got ‘em, and tourists want ‘em. However, the formula has become more than a little staid in a few places, and a bit of shaking up is always welcome.

It was the opening of Hampshire’s Lime Wood a year and a half ago that announced a new form of English out-of-town luxury, one in which informality and easy-going charm go hand in hand with the sybaritic pleasures of the most sumptuous hotel.

A flurry of further openings and refurbishments are showing that rambling old houses can still represent the cutting edge of comfort.

1. Goodwood Hotel, Sussex
THE summer season at the Goodwood Estate seems to get bigger and more fashionable with each passing year, so no surprise that the estate’s hotel – expanded from a former coaching inn, and now owned and managed by the estate itself – has become a suitably stylish place to stay. After refurbishing a slew of its 91 rooms last year, another 25 rooms and suites have had a thorough revamping this year, ensuring the Goodwood Hotel is a whole lot more than mere digs for motoring and horse racing fans attending the big summer events.

Nevertheless, those activities – plus golf and aviation (as well as the famous motor circuit and horse track, the estate includes two golf courses and an aerodrome) – contribute substantially to the charm and character of the place. The interiors have all the wit and charm you’d expect of somewhere dedicated to the thoroughly old-fashioned and decadent pleasures of British sporting life, and as a guest you get temporary membership of the respective clubs for each sporting activity. That includes use of the plush Waterbeach health club and the Kennels, the impeccably-appointed clubhouse for the various clubs.

The newly refurbished Signature Rooms start from £135 per room per night including a Full English breakfast. www.goodwood.com/hotel

2. Lime Wood, Hampshire
SPECTACULAR in its sense of luxury but somehow unassuming with it, Lime Wood is just a dreamy place to escape to. The renovated Regency house sits on the crest of a hill in the New Forest National Park, hidden away at the end of a winding drive and surrounded by a scattering of out-buildings housing several of its 33 gorgeous-barely-does-justice rooms.

With the emphasis all on pure relaxation – a warren of fabulous sitting rooms mean you can turn the act of lounging into a high art form – a world-class spa was essential here, and in December, a year after the hotel’s launch, it got one. The Herb House (as the spa is called) is the sort of thing you’d expect to find in the Maldives rather than Hampshire, jam-packed with treatment rooms, pools, a caldarium, a mud house, sun decks and even meditation areas.

Throw in a couple of first-rate restaurants, suave David Collins interiors and the kind of attention to detail that you really only notice when it’s missing, and you’ve got a place that takes rural comfort to a new level.
Rooms from £245 per night.

3. The Cornwall Hotel Spa & Estate, Cornwall
THE Cornwall takes up 43-acres at the foot of a pretty, forest-covered hillside five miles from the Eden Project. At its heart is a white-stuccoed Victorian manor house that lay derelict for decades. Rather than merely renovating the house, the developers have shown considerable vision in turning the property into a multi-purpose hotel estate offering different levels of accommodation.

The manor house contains nine charming and rather sumptuous rooms and suites, while secreted in the trees behind is a newly-built, sympathetically-designed complex of 56 rooms (extra points scored for the south-facing balconies).

Beyond this is a series of self-catering “woodland homes” – eco-friendly lodges with two to three bedrooms, making the Cornwall a very strong family option (these lodges are also for sale as holiday homes that the hotel can lease out on the owners’ behalf).

The focal point of the tremendous spa is a glorious, curving infinity pool that opens onto the lawns in the summer months.
Hotel rates from £109 per room including breakfast. www.thecornwall.com

4. Montpelier Chapter, Cheltenham
FROM the front, the Montpellier Chapter looks like one more genteel Regency mansion conversion. Once you go inside, however, it gets more interesting. Architect Ken Shuttleworth – who had a major hand in the design of the Gherkin – has added a crescent-shaped modern wing and colour-filled courtyard onto the back, giving you the option of staying in the cosy house proper or in more modern, cutting-edge surroundings. I’d recommend the light and airy rooms in the modern wing that feel larger than they are (and they’re not small) thanks to some ingenious space usage. There’s a lively restaurant with it’s own in-door barbecue, and a highly-agreeable library area to retire to later.

It’s a good place to stay for the Cheltenham Jazz Festival later this month too – Jamie Cullum fans should snap up a two-night package which includes top-tier tickets for his sold-out concert on Sunday 1 May.
Jamie Cullum package from £295.
Normal rooms from £125 per night. www.themontpellierchapterhotel.com

5. The Greenway, Cotswolds
THE Greenway is the essence of rural enchantment: an ivy-covered Elizabethan mansion, all pointy gables and Tudor chimneys, with the Cotswold hills folding away behind. A multi-million pound renovation has brought the old place bang up to date, the final element of which launched this weekend – the conversion of the stable block into six smart bedrooms (adding to the 11 in the main house), and a lavish new spa – you can mix exploring some of the finest countryside in the UK with a serious bout of pampering.
Rooms from £195, www.thegreenway.co.uk

6. Coworth Park, Ascot
YOU wouldn’t expect the Dorchester Group to do anything by halves, and it certainly hasn’t at Coworth Park, its first countryside outpost. Already heavily patronised by celebs and the jet set since it opened last year, it’s a place with history (the house dates back to the 18th century), 240 acres of gorgeous parkland, and eco-cred – the hotel grows its own carbon-neutral fuel and runs a green-friendly underground spa.

The Ascot location means it’s only 45 minutes from London, with Wentworth golf club just around the corner, and it has its own equestrian centre – including polo facilities – and kids’ club. For interiors, think airy modern luxury with the odd quirk – free-standing copper baths, four-poster beds resembling tree branches and the like – and an abounding air of five star luxuriance.
Rooms from £295, www.coworthpark.com