With it being the week of Valentine’s Day, love is in the air. From Highland castles reached by Rolls Royce, to Dartmoor thatched pavilions; here are some of the most seductive boltholes around the UK and Ireland for a surprise getaway with your loved one.
Thyme Hotel, Gloucestershire
Easily reachable from London but a world away, Thyme is as English and fragrant as the name evokes – as fresh as a jug of homemade lemonade. A collection of honey-hued cottages, a farmhouse and an idyllic country pub, The Swan, this estate is one you will never want to leave. The emphasis is on nature and every element, from the heated springwater pool to the Meadow Spa, sings a love song to its setting on the doorstep of the Leach Valley. Breakfast, with bacon from pigs reared on the estate, takes place against the medieval backdrop of Tithe Barn and dinners of seasonal home-farmed produce (the Partridge Pudding is a must) are served at The Swan under talented head chef, Charlie Hibbert. Evening cocktails, infused with herbs from the garden, are found in the Baa Bar before retiring with a Damson Vodka nightcap. Activities include a mini charcuterie course with a local curer followed by lunch.
Gidleigh Park, Devon
A Dartmoor treasure hidden deep in woodland on the bank of the River Teign, Gidleigh Park is a 24-room bolthole with the feeling of a private home. Pastel-hued panelled bedrooms are prettily decorated with fine antiques and the softest beds in the county. For a truly romantic retreat, take over The Pavilion, a thatched folly cottage perched on the tumbling river. Michelin starred food is overseen by chef Chris Simpson and foodies flock from around the country to enjoy seasonal dishes such as Salcombe Crab and Cornish Turbot. The service is renowned for its warmth and memorable touches (tea and shortbread served Downton Abbey-style in bed each morning). A place to savour and linger in.
Barnsley House, Gloucestershire
Thanks to the visionary planting of late owner, the famed designer Rosemary Verey, the gardens of Gloucestershire’s 17th-century Barnsley House are beautiful in any season. The manor has a colourful history – Henry VIII, that old romantic, bequeathed it to each of his six wives in turn! The quintessential Cotswolds spa hideaway is a rambling golden-stone house surrounded by towering yew hedges and grounds dotted with Grecian temples and secret corners for a clinch. A contemporary interior is a surprise and the suites are dreamily comfortable with enormous bathtubs and huge windows. Sneak into the private cinema for a screening with drinks. The Potager restaurant serves up game and seasonal deliciousness with an excellent wine cellar.
Fox Hall, West Sussex
A wild card entry but absolutely pure Lady Chatterley romance set on the edge of the Duke of Richmond’s rolling Goodwood Estate in West Sussex. This diminutive 18th century Palladian ‘hunting box’ feels like a magical discovery at first sight. Managed by The Landmark Trust, Fox Hall sports astonishing sumptuous interiors on a tiny scale. Gilded rooms, stone fireplaces and acres of woodland make for a pure country fantasy. Pub lunches are a must after wandering around the rolling meadows and quaint villages surrounding this hidden gem.
Inverlochy Castle, Fort William
Have a Highland fling at the lakeside idyll of Inverlochy Castle. An award-winning 19th century pile on the shores of a sparkling private loch. It is a gloriously dreamy set-up laced with period charm – even Queen Victoria remarked that she ‘never saw a lovelier or more romantic spot’. Set like a jewel in a ring of peaks (cloaked in snow at this time of year), courtiers to the majesty of Ben Nevis, Inverlochy Castle is the ultimate getaway. Arrive in nearby Fort William by steam train on the West Highland Line and the hotel’s Rolls Royce will collect you. Legendary chefs Albert & Michael Roux Jr oversee the kitchens and the food is lavish with a distinct Highland infusion. Sip whisky in the Billiards room, row on the Loch or simply share the magic of a roaring fire and a timeless moment together far away from the real world. An Ampersand favourite!
The Merrion Hotel, Dublin
An elegant Georgian townhouse in the heart of fashionable Dublin, The Merrion is seduction on a grand scale. Drifting up the plasterwork and chandelier staircase to your suite after nightcaps in the library? It doesn’t get any more romantic. The breakfasts are a thing of legend best served in your room under a silver dome followed by crisp morning walks across the lakes of nearby St Stephen’s Green and pints of Guinness in buzzing Temple Bar. A Dublin delight!
You don’t have to leave London to escape into a cocoon of luxurious retreat. Blakes, Anouska Hempel’s Kensington boutique hotel, is an artfully-designed warren of seductive chambers with all the romantic notes needed. We love the deep-red Cardinal Suite – replete with four-poster bed, botanical illustrations and sensuous textiles. Fittingly, for perhaps the sexiest hotel in the capital, Blakes offer a ‘Love Package’, choose between Naughty (massage oil, Kiki de Montparnasse intimacy kit and Karma Sutra book) or Nice (Love Letters of Great Men, Amelia Rope Chocolate Hearts and scatterings of rose petals). A scrumptious breakfast in bed is produced with champagne the following morning. Blakes is the embodiment of discretion and a decadent choice for a city escape.
James Jayasundera is Founder and Managing Director of Ampersand Travel. Ampersand Travel create bespoke and luxurious travel experiences to Asia, the British Isles and Southern Africa.