Romance can be expensive, particularly on the British staycation scene where the suite alone can set you back a week’s wages – that’s before you’ve winced at the dinner or spa menu prices.
Oh-go-on-then midnight cocktails and lavish truffled-something lunches lose their romantic appeal at check out, when the bill arrives.
All in all, a long weekend staycation sum is not miles away from a bootstrapped trip to Greece, and you probably had to endure some dastardly motorway expedition to get there.
Luckily, there are a handful of staycations that have worked laboriously to keep prices down and interiors, food, and character up. They’re a rare, often elusive breed so we’ve done the hard work and tracked a few of them down.
The Gallivant, East Sussex
Edging onto the dune-backed Camber Sands, this beach house-style hideout has received a heavy dose of the Hamptons, along with sun-soaked Mediterranean touches. Some rooms spill onto the dunes, a heart-of-it-all library is lined with feet-up sofas and frosted crittal windows slice these communal spaces without losing any of that brilliant coastal light. Here’s a hotel for young couples who’d rather spend mornings holding downward dogs on the beach than hungover over a fry up, and for whom English wine tastings and herbal tea turndowns are a real clincher for a beach staycation. Rooms span cosy, cabin-style lairs to spacious digs with ‘sand gardens’. Despite all this, the main event is the food, with seasonally led and locally sourced menus (the chefs know the fishermen and local farmers well). Having shedded layers of sand in the bath, couples can slurp Maldon Rock oysters with Gusbourne sparkling wine, before digging into Kentish blue cheese beignets with tablehurst Farm carrot puree or Indian spice cured Chalk Stream trout sharing plates. ‘Drinks in the Dunes’ is always a hit with the romantics, where Gallivant mead hot toddies or Sig’s Margs are pre-shaken, packed in a beach bag with glasses, ice and blankets and then sipped from the dunes, under the stars.
Doubles from £165 per night;thegallivant.co.uk
No 15 By GuestHouse Bath
In plum position along Bath’s sweeping Great Pulteney Street, No 15 is the townhouse those visiting Bath (for its Georgian good looks) long for, just with lashings of modern art and a pocket-sized subterranean spa. Original wonky floorboards add character to this warren of corridors and nooks that spills into cosy bars, dining rooms and boudoir-style bedrooms. Guests help themselves to boiled sweets, tubs of ice cream and sparkling apple juice in the pantry. Couples will love hiding away in the bijou attic rooms, gazing down over Great Pulteney Street’s comings-and-goings from their immensely comfortable bed. While there are nearby Dickensian flavour pubs to swing into, GuestHouse’s Somerset-led menus are reason enough to stay – try the Bath chaps with parsnip piccalilli, or the Stokes Marsh farm steak with truffle dauphinoise, then head upstairs to the snakeskin-walled bar for smoky whisky cocktails amid a warm amber glow.
Doubles from £185 per night; guesthousehotels.co.uk
Harbour Beach Club, Salcombe
Peering over a perfect, buttery slither of Devonian beach (South Sands), Harbour Beach Club & Hotel is where to head for a pebble-free take on the British seaside, with spanking fresh seafood. Reams of glass pull views from all rooms and restaurants right across the estuary to Salcombe and its fleet of yachts. Inside, it’s all rattan, woven and ever-so-earthy – Salcombe’s spin on the Hamptons – while on the terrace and beach, a scatter of modish outdoor furniture (daybeds, sunloungers, swinging chairs) paints a louche Mediterranean picture unfamiliar to the British coastline. Grilled lobster, trawlerman’s rolls and seafood linguini are washed down with Salcombe gin cocktails and those sin-cleansing morning yoga sessions are on the house.
Doubles from £195 per night; harbourhotels.co.uk
The Bradley Hare, Wiltshire
Reimagined for all cosmopolitan idylls of the countryside, this 19th-century coach house sits on the Duke of Somerset’s bucolic estate, on the Wiltshire-Somerset border. Co-owner and ex-Soho House design director James Thurstan has whipped its historic walls into stylish shape with natural fabrics and earthy hues. Couples can curl up in velvet sofas, and hide away in this cohesively calm picture of jute rugs, linen curtains and hand-made pottery. Downstairs, classic country shades set a cosy bass note, along with crackling fires and dark, gnarled tables and chairs. The Dickensian scene is dialled up with a sprinkling of modern art, consciously placed olive sprigs and lamp shades you’d expect in an elegant country home. Menus embody all the familiar gastro pub philosophies of good eating in our farm-to-fork age. Tuck into a brioche beef burger with bone marrow mayo and swiss cheese, or a ricotta gnudi with jerusalem artichokes – well deserved after those romantic afternoon walks along dandelion-strewn lanes and across an endless patchwork of green.
Doubles from £135 per night; thebradleyhare.co.uk
The Mitre, Hampton Court
The joy of the Mitre resides not just in Nicola Harding’s playful wicker-clad spaces with a Tiki edge, nor simply in its best-of-British menu with innovative twists and turns, but in its proximity to London. An easy train chug to Hampton Court Station or car dash to the Mitre buys more time for winter warmers or, come summer, Whispering Angel rosé on the deck overlooking the Thames, with English riviera boating directly below it. Architecturally, the Mitre is a minestrone of styles, somehow meshed coherently together with the river’s edge and views a focal point. Rooms blend English eccentricity and bright pops of colour with a modern restraint: busy wallpaper, bright wood panelling and thick velvet curtains are all brought to heel with the odd modish table and a few lonely chairs. Couples can soak in the roll top baths with river views of boats and swans, or gorge on venison tartare and Suffolk pork with duck fat chips at the 1665 brasserie. The more casual Coppernose Bar is also set in the white rotunda, suspended over the river, where menus are all posh fish and chips and club sandwiches, and breakfasts fit for a Medieval King are taken over the twinkling morning water. An insider tip – The Mitre runs special Valentine’s deals with dinner included (and not only on the day itself).
Doubles from £150 per night; mitrehamptoncourt.com
A little west from Lyme Regis into Devon, old parsonage, Glebe House is a whitewashed spec amongst undulating pastures green stippled in oak trees and cows. Husband and wife team Hugo and Olivia Guest are quite a pair – Hugo bringing his culinary prowess from years at top London restaurants and Olive, using her artist’s eye (and art) to create a stylish (though not too zeitgeisty) spin on a creative’s rural bolthole. Charleston House inspiration is easily detected amid the eccentric prints, velvets and floral headboards, as is Hugo’s cheffing pedigree as seasonal plates of wild mushroom tagliatelle or hogget with beans hit a hard-to-reach spot. For foodie couples with farm-to-fork convictions, Glebe House is trek west worth making, with Glebe House dinner running Thursday to Saturdays at only £55 per head for four courses and ‘delicious extras,’ and an Italian-inspired Saturday lunch and Sunday lunch worth hanging around for.
Doubles from £139 per night; glebehousedevon.co.uk
Aller Dorset, West Dorset
West Dorset’s rural Lower Antsy seems an unlikely spot for kitsch bath tiles and Wes Anderson quirk, but Aller Dorset has it in droves – who following the success of its lakeside, hot ticket huts Littledown and Links, has added even-more-maximalist Kittlyands and Zoolands to the Shepherd’s flock. Understated, dark-wooded exteriors belie a whimsical scene of floral headboards, lacquered bubble-gum-blue mirrors and and woven lampshades inside – a playful meshing of country luxe and cabin fever. Evenings here are really quite special, with geese honking the sun down, steak suppers (which can be ordered through owner Cat) sizzling on the firepit grill and a sudden ‘phwoar’ ceiling of stars that creeps in undetected during several glasses of (local) Langham’s sparkling wine. These, or Dorset Conker gin and tonics, can be nursed in the outdoor baths framed by Instagrammable tiles and fairy lights.
Shepherd’s huts from £185 per night; allerdorset.com
Lord Crewe Arms, Northumberland
In the very northern stretches of England, where city egos dissipate with the fog and the melancholic landscape pulls those who’ve yet to witness it into some poetic stupor, the time warp village of Blanchland dons its consistent oxblood doors. Dominated by an Abbot’s lodging of a Mediaeval priory and its scatter of surrounding cottages, a large chunk of the village has been swept up by The Calcot Collection (known for their plush Cotswold spa hotel and the more playful Painswick). It’s easy to see what they saw in the place – the main building’s 13th century spirit remains perfectly intact and its 26 tartan-strewn rooms and cottages are still used for shooting parties and serious dog walkers. Couples after a proper slice of country living (not the Soho House ilk), will relish the long, leaf-kicking walks along the river Derwent and deep into Northumberland’s rolling countryside, with a crackling log fire and velvety Merlots welcoming them home. Lunch and supper takes place in a monastic setting worthy of a film set, where Mediaeval walls bear knights’ armour and board games typically precede plates of roasted monkfish with Shetland Mussels or wild mushroom ragu with kitchen garden vegetables. Evenings can then swing into the moody Crypt for Sloe-gronis and Percy Stormers, and breakfasts overlooking the hydrangea flanked walled gardens are a rambler’s feast: eggs-done-anyway, bircher muesli and that northern farmhouse toast you simply can’t find in the South.
Doubles from £189 per night; lordcrewearmsblanchland.co.uk
The Hoxton, Shepherd’s Bush
The Hoxton has taken its unpretentious cool west, and then a little further west, to Shepherd’s Bush, much to the delight of ex-Notting Hillites, exiled by soaring prices, but also to the reams of twenty, thirty-somethings living in this patch of London with limited weeknight options. Located on the north end of Shepherd’s Bush green, 237 rooms bear the Hoxton hallmark (a little retro, a little kitsch, always cool) – the ultimate city hideaway for couples wanting a break without the shlep. Thai-Americana restaurant Chet heaves with a trendy set, sharing kaleidoscopic platters of roti and curry sauce, coconut and lemongrass fish and larb fritters. Cocktails hover at a civilised price – £12 for a Holy Chet (Martini Ambrato and Ostara Hedgerow white vermouth) – and the wine list oscillates between classics and more experimental, with a glass of Litmus Wines’ Orange Bacchus from Kent. Those looking for a post dinner crash pad (and aren’t too fussed about natural light), the lower ground floor offers a series of completely soundproof rooms at a set rate of £100 per night.
Doubles from: £174 per night, Ground floor rooms from £100 per night; thehoxton.com
The Rectory Hotel, The Cotswolds
Located on the soft fringes of the Cotswolds, The Rectory’s old stone bones have been rattled into 2023 by former music industry executive Alex Payne. That’s not to say this Georgian marvel has been tinkered with to disrespectful levels, quite the opposite. But Farrow & Ball shaded rooms, country-chic seagrass carpets and beautifully moulded stone fireplaces have been dialled up the elegant wood-panelled character a little with soft contemporary art and the odd Scandi lamp. The Rectory prides itself on ‘proper cocktails,’ with Hemingway Daiquiris and Clover Club white Russians (with gin) sipped on enormous red velvet sofas that engulf guests for hours on end. This is a bar that speaks to the scotch-drinking antiques and the Shoreditch hipsters in the same breath – as does the food, where plates such as roasted partridge with chestnut spätzle, and barbecued rib with potato galette honour British cooking and produce through an elevated, creative set of lenses. The 15 rooms are pure countryside romance without the botanical overkill. Thick, heavy curtains frame gorgeous Georgian windows (some with cushioned nooks), wall moulding is prolific, cashmere rugs are flung over the ends of beds and bath bathrooms don those claw-footed baths – the sort that pair wonderfully with scotch and cognac found in the honesty bar at the end of the corridor.
Doubles from £190 per night; therectoryhotel.com
The Railway Carriage, Melrose, Scottish Borders
There’s little romance in kennel fees, so couples with dogs will be pleased to learn that this reimagined shell of a railway carriage is canine-friendly. And rightly so, with miles of cinematic walking trails from its doorstep, along with Sir Walter Scott’s home at Abbotsford and Melrose Abbey’s eerie ruins just moments away. Outdoorsy jaunts are well rewarded back at the carriage, whose industrial, minimalist interiors strike a Scandi note; where buffed concrete walls and blonde woods are warmed by a log-burning stove and woven rugs. The subdued style is an apt frame for the bucolic valley views, where sheeps graze and the weather shifts to dramatic effect. On sunny days, an al fresco shower is a playful touch, making the most of the cabin’s seclusion, while an outdoor wood-fired hot tub is a come rain-or-shine must for this snug-but-spacious Scandi-Scot bolthole.
From £190 per nigh; crabtreeandcrabtree.com
Fforest Farm, Pembrokeshire
Three miles from the harbour town of Cardigan, this 200-acre farm has blended the spirit of a Welsh rural farmhouse with the smooth, blonde woods and minimalist lines of a Belgian forest dwelling. Erring on glamping, a series of pods and seemingly makeshift wooden cabins are cleverly designed in rustic strokes to bring the outdoors in, with all the comforts campers dream of when things get a little too pared down (thick duvets, well-equipped kitchens, bathrooms). Those less inclined to be at one with nature can hole up in the main farmhouse in its lodge-style pared down rooms and reimagined crog lofts. With its own pocket-sized stone pub, Y Bwthun serving up local brews, home-spun breakfasts of just-baked bread and jams, and Thursday evening barbecues of whatever the seasons have offered up, Fforest Farm sings to the foodies. They’ll be wise to book a table at Fforest’s Cardigan outpost: Pizzatipi for delectable woodfired pizza, or beach shack-style The Boy Ashore at Aberporth beach (opens from May) for grilled fisherman’s catch and burgers with a sea breeze.
Doubles from £150 per night; coldatnight.co.uk