Horror story images of eight hour queues at Heathrow – a perfect storm of Corona restrictions, Brexit chaos and pent-up demand – are enough to put anyone off going abroad for their summer holidays. When you’re likely to spend longer standing in line at immigration than waiting to see the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, a mini break loses much of its spontaneous appeal.
So welcome to the era of the micro-break, where you don’t even have to leave London to enjoy a rejuvenating holiday. Hailing from North East London and working, of course, in the City, a trip along the District Line to Richmond now feels almost as exotic as a flight to Provence, but with a fraction of the hassle. Simply take an overnight bag to work on the Friday and you can be in the leafy tranquility of Richmond Park in just under an hour; watching the grey expanse of central London fall away to green and pleasant riverside has an equally restorative quality as watching the city disappear beneath you on a flight.
I was checking into the Bingham Riverhouse (the first time I’ve “checked in” to anywhere since 2019), a superb 15 bedroom boutique hotel, members’ club and restaurant located on the south bank of the Thames, across the road from Richmond Park.
It reminds me a little of the Groucho, with every vertical surface filled with contemporary art. The rooms aren’t numbered but rather named, many after famous poets – Baudelaire, Sappho, Attila – in a nod to the building’s history as a hub for artists and writers. It manages to feel both very modern and a little frozen in time, a stylish enclave that’s a welcome break from central London.
Perhaps the biggest draw after a year of too much home cooking is the restaurant, where chef Steven Edwards creates an excellent tasting menu (£75pp Thursday-Saturday). At eight courses plus a few extras, it is a genuine delight from start to finish, from the elegant simplicity of asparagus and pea soup to the complex tangle of textures and flavours in the rack of lamb with sweetbreads, to the indulgence of slow-cooked duck egg with wild garlic puree. There’s even the odd curve ball, such as coriander ice cream, which divided our table down the middle (I ate both portions).
After dinner you could retire to the cocktail lounge, where DJs play until the small hours, the terrace overlooking the river, or the garden (where I once interviewed the comedian Rob Brydon).
But there’s nothing quite like finishing a long, languorous meal and knowing that you only have a flight of stairs to climb before you can fall asleep. The rooms are small but perfectly formed, ideal for short breaks and finished with the hotel’s trademark combination of artistic references and vaguely Scandinavian design.
Come morning, you’re already on the river, where a brisk walk will help shake off the previous night’s indulgence. As this trip was a substitute for a foreign break, we got into the tourist spirit by hiring a boat to row gently down the Thames, only to discover that it’s not as easy as it looks. After a spell of haplessly drifting beyond the bridge we were told not to pass, oars splashing helplessly, we got the hang of things and worked up a sweat attempting to avoid oncoming boats and similarly inept rowers.
This stretch of Richmond is full of restaurants but we headed to City A.M. favourite Gaucho for a celebratory round of steaks.
Next stop was a short taxi ride to Hampton, where we checked into another parkside boutique hotel, The King’s Arms. While a simpler affair than the Bingham Riverside, it’s equally well located, with rooms overlooking Bushy Park to the front and the maze at Hampton Court to the rear.
You enter through the newly refurbished bar, giving it a buzzy, upbeat feel, while the rooms are smart and comfortable.
It is also home to a very good restaurant, The Six, which serves modern European dishes cooked by Jack Scoines. Highlights include pressed rabbit with langoustines, delicate goat’s cheese agnolotti, expertly cooked lamb rump and – the pick of the bunch – chicken with broccoli and girolles. It’s all thoroughly well prepared and, alongside a choice bottle of Pinot Noir, will fortify you for a stroll through Bushy Park, whose gates remain open until dusk.
The following morning you can live out your Hilary Mantel Tudor fantasies at Hampton Court Palace, luxuriate in one of the many traditional pubs or – as I did – head back into Bushy Park to spend an afternoon among the deer, meandering through its shaded paths and grassy meadows. If this is how we’ll be holidaying for the foreseeable future, I’m all in.
• Rooms at the Bingham Riverside cost from £140 per night, excluding breakfast. To book, call 020 8940 0902 or visit the website here.
• Rooms at the King’s Arms Hotel cost from £110 per night, including breakfast. To book, call 020 8016 6630 or visit the website here.