18 Tuesday February, 2014
"Boutique hotel [noun] 1. Boutique hotel is a term to describe hotels which typically have between 10 and 100 rooms and often contain luxury facilities in unique or intimate settings with full service accommodations"
Here are Ampersand's top 10 favourites in the UK...
1. Lime Wood, Hampshire. In terms of boutique hotels, Lime Wood is to the countryside what Blakes is to London – the real deal with just 30 odd rooms. It is located just outside a gorgeous Hampshire village and although it attracts a very smart crowd (it is an hour and half from London so it receives a lot of Londoners), it is also refreshingly unpretentious and authentic. Set in a beautiful old building that has been converted to the highest spec, there is nothing flashy about Lime House yet it feels deeply luxurious.
You enter into a smart black and white hallway with a winding staircase going up two stories. There are usually a few wellies scattered around and a dog running around, so it literally feels like you’re staying in someone’s incredibly beautiful home. They have the most amazing spa, Herb House, designed by David Collins. It has an outdoor and indoor pool, lots of treatment rooms and a herb garden on the flat roof where you can do yoga. Head chef, Angela Hartlett, who is now running the restaurant, is there three days a week and the emphasis is on foraging for ingredients you find in the New Forest.
The rooms are just AMAZING. They won’t tell you where the throws on the beds are from (it is top secret!) but trust us, they are the nicest throws in the world – as are the beds. Rooms have iPod docks, a well stocked mini-bar and the highest quality furnishings and fittings. Some rooms are in the main house and you just walk off the staircase and get to your room, which feels very homely. Other higher category rooms are set in buildings around the grounds. These are really nicely done, set in tucked away private spots, and each has a forest view. Lime Wood was created by a private investor, Jim Ratcliffe (who also set up The Pig, the pub with rooms nearby, which is a fun spot for lunch) and he reportedly spent £30 million of his own money on Lime Wood. That is no doubt why everything is so perfect – it was probably more of a vanity project than a commercial project!
2. Loch Ness Lodge, Scottish Highlands is set on a hill with just eight individually decorated rooms, which look out onto the waters of Loch Ness and the beautifully kept gardens of the lodge. It is run by a couple, Scott Sutherland and his wife, who are incredibly sweet and charming. In the evenings you can sit by the living room fire and they bring you an aperitif and canapés before leading you into the dining room so for your meal. The lodge has a snug room, a living room and a dining room, and there is a little spa with a hot tub a sauna opposite your room. Each room has been inspired by some aspect of the surrounding natural landscape, from soft lichens and autumn russets to natural stones and purple heathers. There are lots of activities on offer – from taking you to the Isle of Skye for the day, or organising boat trips on Loch Ness and you are 15 minutes from Inverness.
3. The Soho Hotel, London is super cute and funky. It’s a great representation of London life for Londoners and perfect for those who are familiar with the city and want to stay somewhere that is cool and central. Its colourful and kitsch interiors are by Kit Kemp, who also does all the Ferndale hotels, and who has the most amazing eye for funky designs. She owns Soho Hotel with her husband – he’s the architect and she’s the designer – and they have created something really unique and uplifting. They design their own wallpaper and fabrics, which have become the iconic trademark of the hotel. There is a great restaurant and a striking bar – both of which are always buzzing with a local crowd, which not very many London hotels can boast.
4. The Wheatsheaf Inn, Oxfordshire is not 5 Star but because it’s so wonderfully charming we don’t think it needs a star rating! Located in the Cotswolds, an hour from Oxford, it is set in an old 16th Century coach inn where people used to park their coaches when they were on their way to London from the west. Built with Cotswolds stone, it has huge fireplaces, lots of small, high steps, and well-loved, scuffed up chairs. It has amazing credentials but it is a little rough around the edges... in the best way (Kate Moss, for example, put her guests up here for her wedding).
We would only recommend the Excellent Rooms, which are the highest category – they are large, with huge TVs which come out right from the bed, amazing linen, towels and throws, stand alone baths and organic Bramble toiletries. There is a large communal area outside where people sit and eat out in the summer. The property is essentially a pub with rooms and if you’re fussy and high maintenance it might not be for you, but if you want to see real people having fun and interacting, the Wheatsheaf Inn is great. There are dogs running around and the food in the pub is excellent.
5. Blakes, London has been running since 1978 and it is supposedly the world’s first boutique hotel. It was designed by Anishka Hempor who first found fame as a Bond Girl before she became an interior designer. Blakes appeals to those who appreciate sumptuous luxury with lashings of flair – musicians, movie stars, fashion designers and creative types. Unlike all the “boutique” impersonator hotels out there, what makes Blakes special is its authenticity: it is small with just 47 rooms, every room is completely different, each with original paintings on the walls, stand alone baths and the best of the best technology, which is all discreetly hidden away. It feels old worldy and quirky, but you have the benefits of 21st Century mod cons.
Tucked away down a little South Kensington residential street, it feels almost like you are staying in a private home. Lots of London-based celebrities spend weekends here; Blakes are known for being extremely discreet (we suspect anything goes!) and they have some new top suites which you access through a private entrance, so you don’t even have to go through the main area. We love it because it is has an inimitable English eccentricity, but it also appeals to our passion for travel with unique design touches taking you to the exotic lands of South East Asia, the Pyramids and Italy. Plus, we just adore Julian Payne, the General Manager, who is a real character – just like his hotel!
6. The Old Parsonage, Oxford is a privately owned boutique hotel located in a calm spot a few minutes walk from the heart of Oxford city centre. It is comprised of a wisteria-clad 17th century stone building with a walled terrace outside the property where you can have dinner and drinks. Inside, it is wonderfully higgledy piggledy: wonky stairs, pictures hung up here and there, a huge old-fashioned fireplace that burns all day long, all of which helps to create that snugly and homely Oxford feeling.
There are just 30 rooms with luxurious drapes and original paintings, and a dining room which serves great food. The staff at the Old Parsonage are extremely sweet and they lend you bicycles and make you picnic lunches. Although it feels a bit like you’re staying in a country house, the great thing is there is plenty to do in the area. You can walk into town to visit the Oxford colleges and galleries, like the Ashmolean, or take punt down the canal.
7. Belgraves, London has been open since 2012 and it is an extremely sexy option for those looking for a dash of New York cool in West London, just a few minutes from Sloane Square. Part of the American owned Thompson Group, Belgraves was designed by Tara Berhnard who has gone for modern art on the walls, shelves stylishly stacked with books, green sofas, orange chairs and purple mosaic walls … which sounds rather garish but it all just works unbelievably well.
Belgraves is young at heart but it’s also extremely smart and the rooms come with top quality linens, cowhide rugs, frete bathrobes and mini-bars full of really fun things like popcorn and jellybeans. We adore the juxtaposition of this edgy New York vibe bang in the middle of a quintessentially English leafy square. Some of the baths sit in a precipice of the room jutting out over the courtyard, which is the perfect spot to take in the views.
8. Gilpin Lodge, Lake District is a Relais & Chateaux property set in a ravishing lakeside spot, and it has been run by a couple and their children for over twenty years. It is comprised of a main building and a Lake House, which is totally separate and has its own private lake. The main house is a converted Victorian style cottage and it is very much set up like a home. There is a living room and three rooms for dining which are all part of the same restaurant, so the idea is you can eat somewhere different each night.
The lodge can set up lots of activities for guests like horse riding, walking tours and food safaris of the Lake District’s organic producers accompanied by a local food expert. The owners are extremely nice; you’ll see them everyday and they go above and beyond to take care of you. The Lake House is more luxurious and private, well suited to honeymooners who value seclusion. It is literally in the middle of nowhere so you can walk around the grounds in your bathrobe if you wish!
9. Hope House, Oxfordshire is a cosy little bolthole and as “boutique” as it gets with just three suites! Its location is idyllic and rich in history, set very close to Blenheim Palace in Woodstock, about a 20 minute drive from Oxford. It has an interesting back story: the owners of the building are the last descendants of the Money family who have been in this area since Blenheim Palace was built over 300 years ago; Hope House it is considered somewhat like a sister property.
The three suites – appropriately named Marlborough, Churchill and Blenheim – are decorated in a faux-armoury style with big wooden poster beds with Mulberry duvets and Bulgari toiletries in the bathrooms. Despite being homely and personal, Hope House is also extremely professionally run – the owner used to work at the Oberoi for a long time so he comes with some serious experience. You can walk to Blenheim Palace from Hope House, so it is perfect for people with an interest in this landmark and it is close to a number of picturesque Cotswold villages.
10. The Witchery, Edinburgh is not so much a hotel as a “restaurant with rooms” (its restaurant is a famous Edinburgh institution), but it has made our list because the bedrooms are some of the most romantic we’ve ever come across. Secondly, its location is out of this world; situated at the top of Princes Street in the old town, you walk out of the hotel and Edinburgh Castle is literally right in front of you. Thirdly, the history of this place is mind-boggling; it is called the Witchery because it is set on the site where they used to burn witches in the 15th Century. It has two restaurants, both with a similar vibe but a few differences – one is cosy and warm with low ceilings and wooden panelling and tapestries. The other is really large and flooded with light – you walk down a wooden staircase as if you are walking into a den, and then you see this room with fantastically high ceiling and long tables covered in fruit and flower decorations. It’s quite something!
Special occasions like Christmas and New Year’s Eve (or Hogmanay, as it’s known in Scotland) are magnificent here. Vanity Fair described the Witchery as one of the most romantic hotels in the world and Valentines Day is huge for them. Everyone from pop stars to actors have slept in these suites – there are just eight of them and they are done out in the most unbelievably over-the-top King Arthur-style décor: huge four poster beds with thick wooden poles, massive tapestries, dozens of candle sticks, carpets everywhere and pictures on every inch of wall. These suites are more like apartments with their own kitchen and dining room. There are TVs but they are cleverly hidden inside a chest so you don’t see them when you enter the room. It’s literally like walking into the past – you can’t help but feel impressed by its theatricality!
For more information on any of these hotels or to start planning your tailor-made tour of the UK, please contact our UK sales specialist, Ellie Boulstridge: +44 (0)20 7819 9770 / firstname.lastname@example.org