Life is often a series of circles. Sometimes you do not realise at what point you joined them and indeed where they might take you.
About a year ago my wife and I ventured north to the Lake District. The purpose of our visit was to meet the parents of our daughter’s boyfriend. As we do not live in that part of the world and our daughter had explained that the Lakes are spectacularly beautiful we thought we would stay in the Sharrow Bay Hotel on Lake Ullswater on the first night before completing the social part of our visit.
The Lakes are, as our daughter described them, and the Sharrow Bay is a particularly fine place to base yourself. Sitting in the hotel lounge and enjoying a glass of wine in front of a roaring log fire seemed to be the perfect way to relax after a long drive. A couple wandered into the lounge and asked if everything was to our liking and had we travelled far. We explained that we had motored up from the West Country and that the hotel was lovely, so much so that we were thinking of writing about it in the magazine. It turned out that the gentleman concerned was the owner of the hotel and he further explained that he was building a small portfolio of properties. After a few minutes he asked whether we would be interested in doing a review of another of his hotels in the West Country, Ston Easton Park. We had both heard of it, but rather embarrassingly neither of us could quite point it out on a map! Some months later as we prepared to take up this kind invitation we were astonished to find it was only fifteen miles from our house, why had we never been here before?
You enter the hotel’s grounds through a magnificent set of gates and and drive through equally magnificent parkland. The parkland surrounding the house was designed by the famous 18th Century landscape architect, Humphry Repton. Repton first visited the house in November 1792 and by March 1793, he had produced his ‘Red Book’ giving his recommendations for the landscape of the park.
As the hotel comes into view you are struck by its beauty and perfect proportions. The original house appears to date back to Tudor times however the structures as they can be seen today, were built around 1739 and towards the end of the 18th Century, the East and West Wings were added. The Hippisley family made Ston Easton Park their home from 1544 and continued to live here until 1956. After the Hippisley family relinquished the property, it changed hands a number of times before it eventually fell into disrepair and narrowly avoided a demolition order.
Thankfully, under the ownership of the Rees- Mogg family, the house had extensive work done returning it back to its former glory. The house was first opened as a hotel in 1982 by Mr and Mrs Smedley and today, as mentioned earlier, it is part of a small private collection of hotels, including Sharrow Bay and The Forbury in Reading.
Fortunately all the renovation work has been done in such a way as to maintain the character of the building. The hotel has only nineteen bedrooms, so you will never be part of a crowd and the level of service reflects this. The luxurious rooms at Ston Easton Park are so much more than just somewhere to rest your head – the antique furnishings and works of art combine perfectly with the bold Ston Easton Park and lavish fabrics, and contemporary touches have been carefully interjected into these historic rooms whilst ensuring that the decor remain true to the building’s grand past. The bathrooms are equally as impressive and every room has complimentary WiFi access, LCD TVs and DVD players. In addition to the 19 rooms is The Gardener’s Cottage, a three bedroom hideaway in the beautiful gardens on the banks of the River Norr, offering an idyllic private retreat.
In addition to spending a sublimely comfortable night we were also in for a culinary treat. Under the guidance of head chef Daniel Moon the restaurant is gaining in reputation as one of the finest places to dine in the Bath area and it can only be a matter of time before this establishment gains its first Michelin star. Daniel creates exciting dishes combining modern British cuisine with experimental and imaginative new ideas. He also works closely with local suppliers and the hotel garden team to source only the very best local produce including almost 60% of the fresh produce which comes straight from the hotel’s own kitchen garden. From the first mouthful of the bacon and shallot brioche the meal was a tour de force. We thoroughly enjoyed Daniel’s ‘Five Course Tasting Menu’ which was exceptional.
We can give you a ‘taster’ but you really have to go there to experience the outstanding skills that he brings to your table. Exquisite – probably one of the finest dining experiences we have ever had. Even as we were enjoying our food Daniel was in the dining room discussing the requirements of a young couple about to celebrate their wedding at the hotel, and it seemed to us that this willingness to both communicate and please was fundamental to this restaurant’s burgeoning reputation.
The restaurant is also open for lunch and a rather delicious afternoon tea. If you feel you would like to learn some of Daniel’s culinary secrets there are a series of cooking demonstrations throughout the year, though be aware they are incredibly popular so book up well in advance.
The hotel also has an events team to help you organise weddings or other personal celebrations. The backdrop of the hotel’s fabulous buildings and gardens can provide wonderful photographic opportunities.
No stay at Ston Easton Park could be as enjoyable without the wonderful team who work tirelessly to ensure that everything is as it should be. They are blend of professional courtesy and approachable friendliness. The smooth running of the hotel is ultimately the responsibility of Oscar the house spaniel. He is there to welcome you and even if you have had a long journey or just a tough day he will help put a smile on your face. If you bring your own dog he will ensure that they soon learn it is their break too!
If you are considering going away this Christmas, Ston Easton Park should be on your list. Peter Thomson To find out more about this fabulous venue please visit www.stoneaston.co.uk. or telephone 01761 241631. Ston Easton, Bath, Somerset BA3 4DF.
It is always a pleasure to stay in Wales and our home for two nights was to be the renowned Llangoed Hall Hotel, nestling at the foot of the Black Mountains and just a short walk from the beautiful River Wye.
Llangoed Hall was believed to have been the legendary White Palace, home of the first Welsh parliament. A mansion existed from 1632. It was also in the possession of the MacNamara family having been won in a card game and it stayed with them for two generations until 1847. In 1912 Clough Williams Ellis re-designed the mansion as a country house. Llangoed was his first major commission and predates Portmeirion, his renowned Italianate village in North Wales, by over a decade. Sir Bernard Ashley (of Laura Ashley fame), bought Llangoed Hall in 1987 and opened it as a hotel in 1990. This was a triumph of patronage over corporatism as this is no ordinary hotel.
It is surrounded by 17 acres of beautiful landscaped gardens. The hotel’s grounds are the perfect backdrop for any special celebration and the working kitchen garden is the supplier of some wonderful ingredients for the dining table.
Within the walls at Llangoed Hall are some outstanding paintings, drawings and works of art. They form part of Sir Bernard Ashley’s personal collection of sketches by artists such as James McNeil Whistler, Herman Dudley Murphy and Augustus John. Many of the works of art are in demand from museum curators but guests at Llangoed Hall get to enjoy them as part of a wonderful country house experience.
In all there are 23 bedrooms all decorated in an individual style and filled with intriguing antiques and original works of art. A complimentary decanter of sherry is there in your room on arrival as if to welcome you into your new world. There is also a selection of fresh fruit, bottled waters and wireless broadband. Your relaxing country surroundings might tempt you not to use it, but it is useful when planning any activities. There are no tea and coffee making facilities as the staff at Llangoed Hall will bring you your early morning beverage along with your newspaper to usher you gently into the new day. This could equally apply to any other refreshment at another time of day as the superb members of staff are intent on creating a home from home experience.
The rooms are available in four different categories and the tariffs are priced in terms of the size of the room and the view. All represent value for money and I know of many hotel rooms more expensive than the Master Suite that do not bear comparison.
Dining at Llangoed Hall is also a wonderful experience. Head Chef Nick Brodie has been very clear in his aim for the restaurant, ’to make Llangoed Hall a destination for truly outstanding cuisine’. He and his team ensure that organic produce taken from the kitchen garden is fresh and truly seasonal. To this he has added his own smokehouse and the chefs all spend time tending the garden, a time they all enjoy. It is this devotion to the quality of their ingredients and our own dining experience that suggests it will not be long before some international culinary recommendation will be forthcoming!
In 2012 Llangoed Hall hotel came under new ownership and has continued to thrive. Calum C Milne, Managing Director, has worked with Sir Bernard Ashley, the initial owner, and is delighted to have overseen the transformation of the hotel. As Calum puts it ‘over the many years I have known Llangoed Hall it has become a second home. Llangoed Hall has a great past, present and future and the story is yet to be completed’.
Calum is assisted by Karen Hurley, the Events Manager. She has a wealth of experience and runs Llangoed Hall’s very busy events office. She will ensure that your wedding, conference, group function or any special occasion will be both a memorable and enjoyable experience.
Brian Irving, the seemingly omnipresent Operations Manager ensures that that your Llangoed Hall stay will be an effortlessly (at least on your part!) enjoyable experience. The hotel has won many awards including the Sunday Times Country House Hotel of the Year 2014-2015. It is also a wonderful base from which to explore the delights of the Wye Valley and the Brecon Beacons National Park. As you arrive back after a day of exploring there will be a member of staff at the hotel entrance waiting to welcome you home, how ‘Downtonesque’.
Llyswen, Brecon, Powys LD3 0YP
Hipping Hall Hotel sits on a curious place at the meeting point of three counties. To the north is Cumbria, the county of the great lakes and meres, of Wordsworth and the Sublimity of nature. To the west is Lancashire, the historic red rose county and its jewel in the crown city of Lancaster not far away. And to the east are the Romantic and windswept Yorkshire moors, largely unchanged from their immortalisation in Wuthering Heights.
The Hotel itself is a charming country house set within leafy gardens. In keeping with the historic buildings of nearby Kirkby Lonsdale, the hotel has some wonderful features, from clean and sumptuous rooms to exposed beams and brickwork. Hipping Hall takes its name from the Hipping, or stepping, Stones that crossed Broken Beck, the little stream that runs past the hotel’s wash house. The stones allowed travellers across the road that has for a long time been an important passing, uniting the west coast of the north with Yorkshire’s most prominent cities. The dining hall still maintains stunning fifteenth century beams which are complemented by wonderful tapestries along the exposed stone walls. This room houses the wonderful restaurant where we would enjoy our evening meal.
If you weren’t charmed enough by the wonderful setting, the restraint itself is not to be missed. Locals know that this is a gastronomic hotspot that is surely knocking on the door of a Michelin Star, and visitors from further afield should certainly make the time to visit. The a la carte menu is full of fabulously crafted dishes but it is the seasonal tasting menu that really shines. At a very reasonable £65 for nine courses, diners can experience British food through an ultra modern lens. Knowing that the quality of the produce speaks for itself, young and innovative head chef Oli Martin is subtle in his approach, elevating each flavour without ever overpowering the base ingredients.
Our tasting menu was nine dishes, each beautifully plated and singing either seasonality. Standout dishes were the earth beetroot with creamy, tangy goat curd and an exquisite piece of guinea fowl served with a sourdough sauce. The wine pairings were also so well balanced – my favourite being a superb Veneto region Chianti which worked wonderfully with a dish is succulent, sweet lamb served with its own rich salty jus. With a great balance between boldness and innovation compared with a real respect for British cooking and the quality of ingredients, the restaurant is sure to keep growing and improving under the leadership of its new chef.
The hotel prides itself on a cosy homeliness, aiming to welcome every visitor like a houseguest. The ten rooms do not display their numbers on the door, keeping this notion of being entertained by a host running throughout. But make no mistake, this is certainly a luxury establishment. Our room, Four, had a beautiful garden view, a decadent pile carpet and lovely bathroom, not to mention a sumptuously comfortable bed, which we fell into after our glorious meal.
Upon awaking my partner and I both felt rather full from the night before, but knowing that breakfast is the most important meal of the day we decided on two very sensible and healthy choices – eggs royale and a full Lakeland breakfast! My secret judging technique of all hotels I visit is to see how well they can poach an egg, and my goodness can Hipping Hall do it to perfection. A wonderful runny egg with silky Hollandaise and salty salmon was all I needed to send me away from this fabulous hotel with a very contented smile and a yearning to return as soon as possible.
Cowan Bridge, Kirkby Lonsdale LA6 2JJ