Best for: River views
The Bingham, Richmond, Surrey
Oh my word, The Bingham – if I had the means, I would follow in the softly-slippered footsteps of the well-heeled and take up residence here, as Lady Thatcher did at the Ritz and Peter Sellers at the Dorchester.
If you stay in The Bingham’s riverside rooms, you’re more likely to wake into rather than from a dream. Draw back the plush, silk curtains and look beyond the immaculately kept terrace and gardens to see boats and swans paddling past, and Richmond’s residents cycling and walking and pushing prams along the towpath. It’s a scene of pure serenity.
While the views from the 15-room, Grade-II listed hotel will take your breath away, it’s the cuisine that will completely blow you away. Head chef Mark Jarvis creates magic in that kitchen of his – yellow fin tuna with compressed melon, scallops with lime caramel, and quail with black pudding and hazelnut – you don’t think the pairings will work but, like those marriages between two people you never would have put together, they do.
Best for: Lake views
Hambleton Hall, Oakham, Rutland
This gorgeous Victorian manor keeps a watchful eye on Rutland Water from its prime position on a small peninsula. From the minute you crunch up the gravel path to the morning you reluctantly crunch down it again, you’ll languish in the very lap of luxury. Head down to the lake for a five-mile walk or cycle, or swim in the heated outdoor pool to work up an appetite for a Michelin-starred dinner, among the best I’ve ever had. Head chef Aaron Patterson has created a menu that will delight even the most restricted of diners. Try him with vegan, gluten- or dairy-free, or fire the hat trick at him – it won’t faze this practical master. You’ll still be presented with dish after work-of-art dish – each one a joy to look at and a privilege to eat. If the Tastes of Lemon and Violet dessert is on the menu, have it. I considered the indulgence in gluten and dairy a price worth paying.
Best for: Sea views
St Michael’s Resort and Spa, Falmouth, Cornwall
If coastal walks and waking up to the sound of the sea are your thing, then visit St Michael’s Resort in Falmouth. It’s a lovely hotel set in four acres of tropical gardens, just a couple of minutes from Gyllyngvase, a Blue Flag beach. From there you can join the 630-mile South West Coast Path, one of the best walks in the world, according to Lonely Planet, to Pendennis Castle or to Swanpool Beach and Nature Reserve – all within easy reach. Come back in time to enjoy a swim in the award-winning spa, followed by a facial, a massage, or a manicure before dinner. The hotel’s sea-view restaurant, the Flying Fish, specialises in Cornish produce, and its menu includes Newlyn crab cakes, served with a perfectly poached egg; plump scallops; and, for those who want to try the local catch, the Flying Fish grill – a trio of market fish of the day on a bed of marsh samphire. Sublime.
Best for: Salt marshes
White Horse, Brancaster Staithe, Norfolk
Step out of your room at the White Horse, and breathe. And breathe. And breathe. If you’re timing is right, you will feel as if the world you’re looking at, and all the air in it, belongs to you – huge skies, the surrounding marshlands, marsh harriers soaring and swooping above. And not a soul in sight. It’s the light that does it, elevating this lovely part of Britain, already a designated area of outstanding beauty, to something beyond merely beautiful. Even in winter, it’s somewhere you’d want to be, striding along the eerie marshlands at dusk, with the welcoming lights of the White Horse guiding you back.
Once there it’s time to relax and rejoin the world. Your choices for dinner, served in the conservatory that opens onto a sundeck terrace overlooking the coast, depend upon the season. Brancaster mussels, from the beds that lie just a few hundred yards from the hotel, are a speciality, as is Cromer crab and Norfolk Red Poll “aitch bone” beef.
If your budget allows, bag the split-level “room at the top”, which has a telescope for day-time birdwatching, and night-time star gazing.