Three of the best UK retreats

by Lisa.Pollen

Whether you've got a special celebration coming up or just fancy a naughty weekend away, these gorgeous hideaways boast all the ingredients for a magical break in the British countryside

ASHDOWN PARK, EAST SUSSEX

Ashdown Park is a 19th-century mansion house straddling acres of flawlessly landscaped grounds complete with secret gardens, wild deer, lakes and woodland trails. It's set deep in the heart of the Ashdown Forest, which inspired the 100 Acre Wood in AA Milne's Winnie the Pooh. If you feel like getting active, in addition to walking and jogging trails there's an 18-hole golf course (regarded as one of the best in an area that's pretty stuffed with them) and tennis courts. But if you're in the mood for relaxation and pampering, Ashdown Park ticks plenty of boxes in that department too.

The excellent spa complex has seven tasteful treatment rooms, where therapies by French brand Matis are professionally performed, plus a large indoor swimming pool and Jacuzzi. When I arrived for my facial, late and flustered after getting stuck in traffic, the spa staff couldn't have been more accommodating. Within minutes, I'd collapsed onto a fleece-covered bed and my softly-spoken therapist's healing hands banished all thoughts of the evil M25.

The hotel's Anderida restaurant is rather grand, candlelit at night and boasts easy-on-the-eye views over the manicured grounds. In summer 2009, head chef Roger Gadsden took the reins and we were impressed with his experimental and adventurous cooking style. A regular diner whispered to me that the food has improved dramatically since his arrival.

Rooms have breathtaking views, some with sitting rooms, spa baths and four-poster beds. Doubles cost from around £190.

Explore

Worth visiting nearby are the Bluebell Railway, with its collection of steam locomotives, Glyndebourne (for opera lovers) and the gardens at Wakehurst Place, a 25-minute car journey away. A 40-minute drive takes you to Bateman's, an interesting Jacobean house that was once home to Rudyard Kipling. Also about 40 minutes away is lively Brighton and The Lanes, every shopaholic's dream.

 

SUMMER LODGE, DORSET

Set in the pretty Dorset village of Evershot, Summer Lodge exudes elegance and class. Think Pimm's on the terrace and croquet on the lawn on a long, lazy summer evening. The interior has been thoughtfully designed, with antiques and elaborate paintings adorning the walls, and rooms are traditionally styled with exquisite linens, fine furnishings and four-poster beds. But contemporary touches are evident too, in the plasma TVs and gleaming, fit-for-a-princess bathrooms.

Service is impeccable, with fruit baskets forever being filled and home-baked shortbread provided in bedrooms. Hot baths are often drawn for guests and even pampered pets are well looked after, too.

The spa is a welcome addition but the biggest draw is the award-winning restaurant. Head chef Steven Titman cleverly prepares a wealth of local produce and has won countless accolades, while sommelier Eric Zwiebel is similarly lauded. Begin an evening with a glass of champagne or a cocktail in the clubby, wood-panelled bar, before moving to the dining room for a feast to remember. Delights include Dorset lamb, which is given a special twist with a mini shepherd's pie served alongside the tenderloin, whilst banana soufflé is a serious crowd-pleaser.

Doubles cost from around ₤225. 

Explore

The village of Evershot oozes traditional Dorset charm by the bucketful, with its narrow winding lanes, ivy-clad cottages and glorious countryside on its doorstep. There are endless public footpaths and country lanes to get lost in and the hotel will happily provide wellies and picnics. Take a pit stop in Evershot at 16th-century coaching inn The Acorn, which features in Tess of the d'Urbervilles. Worth checking out nearby is the enormous Maiden Castle, an Iron Age hill fort, and 40 minutes' drive away is the Jurassic Coast - 95 heart-stopping miles of coastline from Studland Bay in Dorset to Exmouth in Devon. Don't miss Chesil Beach, a beautiful 18-mile-long shingle beach.

 

CRAZY BEAR, BUCKINGHAMSHIRE

The ultimate escape for a dirty weekend break, the Crazy Bear is a hotel set within the oldest documented building in the market town of Beaconsfield, in the Chiltern Hills. A 500-year-old former coaching inn, in September 2008 it opened as an outrageous, sexy and decadent hotel. If you're a shy and retiring type, it's probably not for you.

There are wow factors dripping from every corner. Firstly, the 10 bedrooms are just incredible. Each one has jaw-dropping features, like the huge copper freestanding baths filled by taps in the ceiling, reproduction rococo gold beds, black leather walls, and a velvet padded or mirrored ceiling. We stayed in room 3 - very dark and utterly gorgeous, and with two side-by-side toilets! There really are no holds barred, and the designers must have had an absolute riot.

The grandiose, opulent style continues throughout the hotel, in the excellent English and Thai restaurants (we sampled the likes of steamed red snapper and venison fillet at the Thai), the bar and Crystal Room. Everything looks like it could be fresh from an MTV video, or a movie star's Beverly Hills mansion. 

There is a staircase covered with 24-carat gold leaf and Persian pony skin on the walls of the bar, a Swarovski crystal studded chesterfield, crocodile-print leather floor tiles and hefty chandeliers. Outside, there's a courtyard and an Arab tent, a hot tub and a swimming pool, beautifully lit at night. 

Doubles cost from around ₤250 - pricey, but it'll be a blow-out to remember.

Explore

With its historic Old Town and bustling New Town, Beaconsfield (located halfway between Oxford and London) is surrounded by Green Belt and ancient woodland and is prime walking territory. There's a cute model village to see in the heart of the New Town.

Lisa.Pollen

I’m a freelance travel journalist from north London and have worked as a writer and editor since 2001. Publications I write / have written for include the Sunday Times Travel, Daily Express, Fabulous, easyJet Inflight, Star, OK! [Hot Stars], Now, Closer and She. I’m a contributor to travel book ‘1001 Escapes To Make Before You Die’, published in summer 2009. I’m an adventurous traveller and have sky-dived out of planes, hiked up glaciers and scuba dived with sharks at feeding time, but also love simply relaxing on a sun lounger on a paradise beach. I appreciate life’s luxuries - great hotels and excellent food and wine rate highly - but also meeting fascinating people from different cultures. I live and breathe travel and enjoy nothing more than exploring the big wide world, preferably with a loved one in tow!