2020, as we all well know, was a year of scuppered plans, cancelled weekends away and postponed trips. It was also the year those of us in the UK got to know our own countryside better, forgoing the Amalfi Coast and the Cote d’Azur to find beauty on our doorstep. As travel remains uncertain, those of us that can are looking to spoil ourselves closer to home with a staycation or two, when restrictions lift. Which is why we’ve hunted down the most glorious boltholes in the countryside for a lovers’ weekend away, and ones where the food is just as much as a draw as the bedrooms to boot. From Norfolk to Somerset, via the Cotswolds, this is our edit:
Distance: 3 hours from London
The Gunton Arms is an exemplary pub with rooms, made entirely with chic carnivores in mind. Its restaurant, with ex-Hix chefs at the helm, is one of the best in North Norfolk since art dealer Ivor Braka (expect Tracy Emins and Damien Hirsts on the walls) took over in 2009. Surrounded by one thousand acres of deer park, you will spend your weekend exploring the surrounding coastline — exquisite Holkham is only an hour away — and the county’s picturesque villages. Come evening, settle into your table (book ahead) in the Elk Room for a feast of meat cooked over an open wood fire: steaks, chops, venison sausages and sharing ribs of beef. There are also fruits of the nearby sea including Cromer crabs and Kings Lynn brown shrimp. Then you can roll upstairs to the pub’s super cosy and comfortable rooms. We love the Robert Kime-designed rooms, especially the spacious four posters in the Barn Room.
The Gunton Arms Cromer Road, Thorpe Market, Norwich, NR11
Distance: 2 hours from London
Part of the Daylesford Estate in the rural idyll of Kingham, The Wild Rabbit is Cotswolds elegance at its best. Set in an 18th century coaching inn, built from that that gorgeous honey stone, it is part pub, part Michelin-starred restaurant and part fabulous hotel. The bedrooms are all named after woodland creates and supremely tastefully done with lots of wood, exposed stone and creams and taupes — our favourite is the Deer Room which is stunning four poster bed made from birch trunks and deep bath tubs. After some drinks round the fire, head to the restaurant for the organically sourced tasting menu. Think curried Jerusalem artichoke, Cornish pollock and venison Wellington — all paired with wines by the sommelier, of course.
The Wild Rabbit Church Street, Kingham, Chipping Norton OX7 6YA
Distance: 2.5 hours from London
With its own Hauser & Wirth outpost, the rolling Somerset hills and Babington House and The Newt nearby, Bruton has long been a magnet for weekenders. Recently, a combined opening has only added to its allure: diminutive farm-to-table restaurant Osip, which is part of bijou hotel, No. 1 Bruton. A 12th century forge, row of townhouses and cottages in the centre of Bruton have been transformed to create this haven of character, comfort and colour with 12 bedrooms. We love the honesty bar for mixing your own cocktails before walking the few steps for dinner at Osip. The first restaurant from rising star chef, Merlin Labron-Johnson, the menu here pays homage to its mother county of Somerset.
No. 1 Bruton 1 High Street, Bruton, Somerset, BA10
Distance: 2.5 hours from London
The Rectory is one of those brilliant places that nails the country house hotel vibe, making you feel like you are staying with great and generous friends at their country pile in Wiltshire’s pretty Crudwelll for the weekend. Beds are vast and sink-in, baths are claw footed and deep, there is a bar for late-night negronis and a velvet-clad sitting room with a roaring fire for whiling away wintery afternoons after a bracing walk. And the food is just as fantastic as the Soho House-esque bedrooms: sitting among vines and lemon trees in the chic Glass House, you can choose from dishes such as cured sea bream, roast lamb kohlrabi and a cote de boeuf. Breakfast is also well worth getting up out of those wonderful beds for, just make sure you leave room for Sunday lunch at their lovely pub across the road, The Potting Shed.
The Rectory Crudwell, Malmesbury SN16 9EP
Distance: 2.5 hours from London
A largely Tudor coaching inn in the Cotswolds’ Broadway, the Lygon Arms is impressively steeped in history and dates back to the 14the century: Oliver Cromwell stayed the night before a battle and King Charles I and his supporters gathered in one of the suites during the English Civil War. More recently, Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor took a room during their affair in the 60s. Nowadays, the Lygon Arms is a cosy, antique-filled bolthole for those looking for their country fix. There is a spa with a gorgeous swimming pool, tartan-strewn comfy bedrooms — plus endless roaring fires. When it comes to being fed and watered, you have the choice of two bars and two restaurants, including an Italian-inspired wine bar.
The Lygon Arms High Street, Broadway, Worcestershire, WR12 7DU
Distance: 1.5 hours from London
A higgledy-piggledy 18th century coaching inn is the picturesque setting for The Mash Inn, a restaurant with rooms set against a backdrop of the rolling Chiltern hills. Food is honest, simple and excellent and mostly cooked over a wood-fired grill with many of the ingredients coming from its own kitchen garden. The House Tasting Menu (£85) changes daily but features dishes such as lamb and spring onion yakitori, truffled chicken and figgy pudding with homemade creme fraiche, Upstairs, there are six bedrooms for those who very wisely want to make a weekend out of it and simply roll up to one of the Hypnos beds after a first-class dinner.
The Mash Inn Horseshoe Road, Bennett End, Radnage, High Wycombe, HP14
Distance: 2 hours 45 minutes from London
The Talbot is set in Mells, possibly one of the prettiest villages in Somerset and a hop, skip and a jump from Babington House — in fact, its owner is ex-Soho House. Rooms are generous for a pub, with stylish touches such as Berber rugs, freestanding baths and vast, emperor beds in the largest. The setting for dinner is the super intimate, candlelit dining room where you can expect to order Longhorn steaks or brill and crab risotto with samphire. And then there is the breakfast: DIY Bloody Marys to take care of any hangovers wrought by the very drinkable wine list, yoghurt and croissants followed by hearty brunch-style dishes including black pudding and Eggs Benedict.
The Talbot Inn Mells, Somerset