Sarah Marshall rounds up the UK’s top romantic venues for a Valentine’s break
THERE is an area of Berkshire that is turning into a foodie paradise. The Roux family kicked it all off back in 1972 with the Waterside Inn, then Heston Blumenthal launched the Fat Duck, both in Bray.
The latest chef to pop up in the rolling hills of the beautiful Berkshire countryside is Andre Garrett.
Already a Michelin-starred chef, it’s just a matter of time before he garners awards at his new home in the relaxed splendour of Cliveden House.
His menu is mouth-watering, from the vegetarian dream that is sneakily undersold as a “salad of roast winter vegetables and leaves”, to the fillet of Cumbrian Longhorn beef, complete with smoked bone marrow with oxtail, roast carrots and pommes mousseline.
But perhaps what’s even more eye-opening is the fact that at lunchtime, you can opt for a £28 threecourse Market Menu, even on a Saturday.
As for the rest of Cliveden, you couldn’t ask for more grandeur. The privately owned five Red Star award-winning hotel oozes old-time sophistication.
Originally built back in 1666 as a hunting lodge for the Duke of Buckingham, it’s played host to pretty much every monarch since George 1.
Wall-to-wall wood panelling teams up with ceilings so high, Cirque du Soleil could practise their backflips inside. And stepping into the bedroom, don’t be surprised if you feel ever so slightly like a Borrower. The bed is so tall you actually have to climb up into it. The grounds, owned by the National Trust, are sprawling. The spa, with both indoor and outdoor pools, jacuzzi and hot tubs, is not to be missed. And staff, at every twist and turn of this elegant establishment, are welcoming and wonderful. I couldn’t recommend it more.
- Doubles from £252 per night with breakfast. Book with Mr & Mrs Smith (mrandmrssmith.com/ 0845-034-0700) forbest available rates, money back with every booking and a free extra on arrival.
Sarah Marshall has grand expectations of a romantic retreat in the capital
MY boyfriend and I are not talking to each other. In fact, we haven’t exchanged a word for the past 45 minutes. But there’s not a whiff of tension in the cedarwood-scented air as we sink into a cavernous pool of pummelling water jets, before relaxing on heated stone beds, illuminated by a strip of low-rise flickering flames.
We’ve been stunned into silence by the opulent four-floor ESPA Life spa at London’s five-star Corinthia hotel, where minutes can very easily turn into hours as time and stresses evaporate.
Perhaps it’s in the fabric of the Thames-side building, which was once used as offices by the Ministry of Defence, but this historic property is a master of discretion – which probably explains why A-listers such as Johnny Depp and Rihanna make it their pit-stop when visiting the capital.
A romantic evening at a penthouse suite at Corinthia Hotel, in London
With two excellent restaurants on site – Massimo, which specialises in simple but excellent Italian food, and the Northall, where Garry Hollihead has created a menu of fine British food, there is little need to leave this comfortable enclave.
We head to the David Collins-designed Massimo – a glorious emerald green and gold Art Decoinspired space, where a sharing platter of crudo (raw seafood) and oysters is followed by wild seabass and lemon sauce, sliced and served at our table.
Our meal ends with a nightcap in the Bassoon bar, an elegant take on the clandestine, underground jazz haunts of old, where cocktails have been inspired by musicians and composers.
When we leave, romance is definitely in the air - but it’s the Corinthia that’s become the new object of my affections. But of course, I haven’t said a word to my boyfriend.
- Doubles from £335 with breakfast. Visit corinthia.com or call 0207-9308181.
Find peace and quiet in Yorkshire, says Susan Griffin
THERE is not another soul on the roads as we wind our way through the narrow country lanes of North Yorkshire looking for our hotel. Darkness descended a good while ago and a light mist now swirls above the road in front of us.
Finally, we spot the sign for Middlethorpe Hall and Spa. We’re met by the inviting sight of an orange glow emanating from the red brick exterior of the grand 17th Century country estate voted York’s best hotel last year.
The interior’s as impressive as its accolade suggests but, as there are only 29 rooms and it is owned by the National Trust, don’t expect much bustle. In fact, it’s so quiet the only sound that can be heard is the ticking of a clock when we check in. It feels more like we’re staying in the private home of landed gentry than a hotel.
Middlethorpe Hall and Spa, in Yorkshire
Our bedroom, like the rest of the house, has been decorated tastefully to evoke the 18th Century. We wake the next morning to glorious views of the impeccably kept 20 acres of parkland bathed in milky winter sunlight.
After a sumptuous breakfast in the panelled dining room, we take a walk through the manicured gardens before heading into York, which is only a short bus ride away (the stop is directly outside the hotel).
Middlethorpe’s spa is discreetly hidden behind what looks like Edwardian cottages, and we decide to enjoy a dip in the pool and a blitz in the sauna and steam rooms, which we have entirely to ourselves.
Impeccable service aside, it’s the peace and quiet, so scarce these days, which makes Middlethorpe the perfect place to escape with a loved one.
- The hotel’s 30th anniversary package costs £129pp per night and includes a three-course dinner (£43 food allowance per person), full Yorkshire breakfast and use of the spa. Visit middlethorpe.com or call 0190-464-1241.
Seaside seduction brings Abi Jackson to Devon’s South Sands
MAYBE it’s the bracing sea air, or the sense of fun the seaside evokes, but there’s something wonderfully romantic about a weekend on the coast – especially when you’re staying somewhere as picturesque as South Sands Boutique Hotel.
The promise of top quality seafood and gorgeous scenery entices my fiance and I to this secluded corner of Devon, tucked onto the edge of South Sands bay, a couple of miles from Salcombe.
The hotel opened in 2010 and still feels fresh and new. The decor’s bright, contemporary and awash with nautical charm, and the atmosphere’s relaxed.
The Beachside Restaurant at South Sands Boutique Hotel, Devon
When it’s warmer, diners can eat on the terrace overlooking the bay. But right now, the log fire in the bar’s more inviting and we enjoy a cosy drink before tucking into a delicious meal of king prawns and fish pie for me, and an ‘‘incredibly tender’’ steak for him.
There’s also lots to explore in the surrounding area. The South West Coast Path, described as one of the UK’s most stunning walks, can be joined just half a mile away, and there’s also a Blue Flag beach nearby.
We spend the morning pottering around Salcombe, a quirky seaside town full of pastel-coloured terraces and assorted shops and cafes. The obligatory cream tea and some local fudge are the perfect final sweet treat for the weekend, before catching our train home, rosy with sea air and amour.
- Doubles from £150 per night with breakfast. Visit southsands.com