After spending the past 18 months travelling the world, it’s time to get to know my home country a bit better. From the wild North Yorkshire moors to the rolling Sussex Downs, I searched far and wide for the hotels that capture what’s best about this green and pleasant land. Here are my top three hotels for a quintessentially English break.
Swinton Park Hotel, Yorkshire
Deep in the North Yorkshire dales, set in 250 acres of forested parkland bordering the moors, is the Swinton Park Estate. As you drive through wrought-iron gates and catch a first glimpse of this striking ancestral home, complete with ivy-clad turrets and Gothic battlements, it’s easy to imagine you’ve stepped back in time. The building work for this manor house began in the 1600s, and since its opening as a luxury hotel in 2001, Swinton Park been busy carving out a name for itself as Yorkshire’s top country hotel.
As you’d expect from the magnificent entrance tower and castle-like exterior, the inside of Swinton Park retains all the classic style of an aristocratic English country house. The decor is very old school — think oak-panelled corridors hung with gilt-framed portraits and polished wood floors with dark rugs — and almost every corner of the hotel evokes Swinton’s rich history, from the eyes that follow you from the paintings to the former chapel that’s now a bar.
There’s a dramatic dining room with a grand coffered ceiling, and adjoining it is a magnificent drawing room in peacock blue. Upstairs there are 32 bedrooms with heavy brocade upholstery on the chairs and sofas, luxuriously comfortable four-poster beds, and vast windows that look out onto the estate, where deer graze mere feet away. Though the interior of the hotel is showy, it always feels authentic: there are no gimmicks or trendy pretensions here — it’s just a grand, old English stately home.
The Dorchester, London
If you’re looking for traditional English luxury in London, you can’t get more iconic than The Dorchester, which has established itself as one of the most revered hotels in the world since opening in 1931. Located in prime position on Park Lane (usually with a fleet of supercars parked in front), this classic hotel oozes old school glamour. As soon as you step past the top-hatted doormen, glide through the revolving doors and emerge into the lobby, the pedigree of this hotel will awe even the most discerning traveller.
The lobby lounge – known as ‘the drawing room of Mayfair’ – positively glows in peach-gold ambiance, and this grand, marble floored promenade is bordered by palm trees and pillars, with floral displays every way you turn. Afternoon tea at the Dorchester is almost an English institution, and in amongst the intimate spaces of the lobby you’ll find guests nibbling on pastries and scones, and sipping tea from bone china cups.
The Dorchester is famous for its spa, which offers a plethora of treatments from British brands like Aromatherapy Associates, and the dining options are just as indulgent. You can eat at the three Michelin starred Alain Ducasse at The Dorchester restaurant, The Grill, The Promenade or China Tang, and then end with a nightcap in The Bar. One of the world’s great hotels, The Dorchester merges old-style glamour with modern comforts to provide a very English experience.
The Spread Eagle, Midhurst, West Sussex
You can’t get more English than Elizabeth I and William Shakespeare, and our final hotel has had the honour of hosting both these historic figures. Dating back to 1430, The Spread Eagle is a period property at its finest – all oak panelled rooms, exposed beams, lattice windows, low doorways and inglenook fireplaces. History permeates nearly every inch of the hotel; the uneven wooden floors creak as you tread, and there’s a room entirely walled in Jacobean panelling with a secret passage once used by smugglers.
The Spread Eagle is the type of property you need to walk through very slowly in order to appreciate its antique charm; keep an eye out for the suits of armour on display and the old cuckoo and grandfather clocks. The history of the hotel is fascinating, so be sure to ask the staff for some stories – aside from Queen Elizabeth I and Shakespeare, King Edward VII, HG Wells and Guy Fawkes all stayed here, and like any old property worth its salt, there have even been whispers of ghostly presences over the years...
The cosy restaurant serves traditional English food, and after dinner you can head into the beautiful lounge bar for a glass of wine or a nightcap. The hotel spa is another main draw, and the light interior design and Scandinavian-style vaulted ceiling give the space a contemporary feel that’s markedly different from the old building. There’s a sauna and steam room by the pool, but the indulgent treatments are where the spa really excels.
Selene Nelson is a U.K.-based journalist who is travelling the world and reporting on her experiences.