What better way to complement Britain’s soft summer countryside humm than with the gentle roar of a Ferrari? Roof down and heading north from London, Antioco and I set off to discover some of Relais & Châteaux’s finest country house hotels.
After a few moments of trepidation while we got a feel for Ferrari’s magnificent power, we headed north towards Hambleton Hall, a tranquil British haven in the heart of England’s smallest county, Rutland. As the supercar climbed a small hill and pulled into Hambleton Hall’s grand driveway, we caught sight of the Downtown Abbey-esque Victorian hotel and the spectacular views over Rutland Water Reservoir.
Greeted and shown around by Hambleton Hall’s welcoming manager, Chris Hurst, it became apparent that luxury comfort presides at the hotel, with 17 traditional, individually decorated bedrooms, with plush and cosy features: rich fabrics, luxurious furnishings and sumptuous beds to sink into.
However, there is no rest for the wicked, and we weren’t to sleep at Hambleton Hall. Instead, we would spend our time indulging in the Michelin-star cuisine. Sitting outside on the terrace, we tucked into the restaurant’s tasting menu by chef Aaron Patterson: modern British seasonal cuisine made with the finest local produce. While we dug into each wonderful dish, sommelier Dominique Baduel was on hand with recommendations from the exquisite wine list, and a side offering of friendly chatter. Luck was on our side that day and we were able to sit outside, overlooking the Rutland Water, but had the stereotypical British weather prevailed, the dining room or private dining suite would have lent themselves perfectly to the dining experience.
Donning our Barbour jackets and boots (and in need of a post-lunch ramble), we headed out to experience a good old-fashioned British tradition. Having initially been built as a hunting box by Walter Marshall, Hambleton Hall is a haven for those who have a penchant for shooting: traditional fox hunting and game shooting is bookable through the hotel. Although neither of us were quite as good at hunting as expected (pah!), the walk gave us the opportunity to see the breath-taking views of Rutland Waters and enjoy the hotel’s gardens.
As the afternoon summer sun settled into the horizon, we jumped back into the Ferrari and headed north towards Gilpin Hotel & Lake House in England’s Lake District.
Unbeknown to us, the Ferrari’s in-built satnav had a particular fondness for country lanes. So we rumbled through the winding rural roads noticing the ever-more undulating landscape for almost 200 miles. Finally, the Lake District emerged in all its might. And out of its majestic scenery appeared Gilpin Hotel & Lake House: a charming Relais & Châteaux hotel that combines its historic building with modern touches. A happy sight if we had ever seen one.
The hotel is well known for its warm and relaxed atmosphere, which is maintained by the Cunliffe family. That evening – as we turned up slightly bleary-eyed – we were welcomed by the lovely hotel manager, Sarah, and settled into our suites: perfectly cosy and lavish, giving onto magnificent lake views that were to be lit up the next day.
Celebrating the Lake District’s produce and the WestCoast’s seafood, chef Lee Clarkson’s dinner menu was more than welcomed. But before we could tuck in, we took a quick wander to the hotel’s cellar where over 200 carefully selected international wines were on offer. Having made a well considered and advised choice, we indulged. British flavours were combined with a delicate, precise and creative touch, and presented in the hotels’ traditional and down-to-earth dining room.
Gorging done and a nightcap under our belts, our heads hit the plump pillows with a quiet slump.
Waking up to Gilpin Hotel’s spectacular view of the private lake, the morning set the scene for a shoot (and not the prey kind). FOUR’s luxury supplement issue was to be enveloped in the Lake District’s beautiful backdrop. Darting between the worst of British weather, FOUR’s photographers – Steve and Panos – snapped a few pictures before we headed on the next leg of our journey.
Pushing our route further into the north of England, our Ferrari resolutely led us through the scenic route towards our third destination: Farlam Hall. Owned by the Quinon family, this beautiful 17th-century Relais & Châteaux manor house stands in the stunning county of Cumbria, a stone’s throw away from Hadrian’s Wall on the border between England and Scotland.
As the heavens finally closed and the afternoon came to its end, we stopped the supercar by Farlam Hall’s beautiful gardens and stretched our legs. The house’s ivy-covered walls face a beautiful ornamental lake, expansive green gardens and manicured paddocks. Adding to the hotel’s historical highlights, an experimental track called ‘The Rocket’, which was the first steam engine locomotive, runs through the garden.
Inside, however was where we were greeted and led through the hotel to our rooms. Echoing Farlam Hall’s history, the interior design epitomises traditional country living. It’s a good thing sumptuous homely warmth and luxury features are what we like.
Dinner was promptly served and, further reflecting Farlam Hall’s dedication to traditional country living, chef Barry Quinion presented his ever-changing, seasonal menu dictated by local produce and showcasing some of the area’s finest ingredients.
A must while at Farlam Hall was Hadrian’s Wall, a Roman fortification dating back to AD122. The wall – at a short drive away – was right up our street after a good night’s sleep. However, with a 130-mile drive across the border into Scotland in sight we only had time to make a speedy visit.
It must have been the spectacular views and dreamy weather (and of course not the country lane-loving satnav) that got us ever so slightly lost when we got into Scotland. However, with the help of a local we found our next destination: the magnificent Glenapp Castle.
A restored Scottish baronial castle, built in 1870, Glenapp is another of Relais & Châteaux’swonderful properties, and gave our trip an almost magical finale. Winding up the castle’s narrow path, the Ferrari growled towards a stunning view from the hill on which it stands: a panoramic across the Irish Sea to the island of Arran and theAilsa Craig granite rock.
Inside, the hotel was opulent, sophisticated and comfortable: a combination that is rarely made so well. Having been rebought in the 90s, the castle was fully restored to its former magnificence.
We settled into our gigantic bedrooms: one with a spectacular sea view and the other facing the castle’s 36 acres of grounds. And like well oiled machines, we headed for the restaurant. In its plush dining room, chef Adam Stokes offered us award-winning fine dining, based around seasonal produce. Many of the ingredients are fresh from the castle’s garden, and others are sourced from local Ayrshire producers. We were delighted to hear that chef Stokes would also be on hand for lunch the next day.
After our last night of shuteye, we awoke for a day of Scottish country living (or should we say lounging?). We rambled through the hotel’s sleepy grounds – made up of private gardens with rare plants, an azalea pond and a Victorian glasshouse – and enjoyed a morning of the supposedly rare Scottish summer. Luckily we had one final gourmet meal to bid farewell to our luxury journey in an appropriate manner.
Tearing away from the Scottish lair, we headed to the port to take a windy ferry across the Irish Sea to Belfast, where we reluctantly parted with the Ferrari Spider. Needless to say, our return to London’s hyper summer buzz took a while to adjust to, compared to the slow hum and majestic backdrop of the British countryside.