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Where to go for a UK winter holidays retreat

Lauren Hill

Contributor

Wreath-making, stargazing and cooking mussels over a campfire: this is how some of the UK’s luxury rural hideaways are helping guests embrace the winter holidays. Each of these hotels combines luxurious accommodation and hearty food with experiences that connect you to the surrounding landscape. From the countryside outside London to further afield in Scotland, these are the cosy boltholes offering a festive stay over the holiday period.

Heckfield Place, Hampshire

A Georgian manor house and biodynamic farm, woodland, lakes and gardens occupy this 440-acre estate in the Hampshire countryside. Having benefitted from an extensive restoration before its 2018 opening, the house is distinguished by warm, earthy interiors that reflect its surroundings, The Little Bothy Spa offering all-natural treatments and restaurants led by celebrated chef Skye Gyngell focusing on the on-site farm’s produce. While much of the focus here is placed on spending time outdoors, Heckfield Place also hosts The Assembly, a diverse programme of events such as talks and master classes. The festive programming builds on the Assembly’s event calendar. Upcoming editions include wreath making workshops, mince pie making, festive produce sales and winter solstice celebrations. Over Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day the estate is then hosting celebrations including a candlelit walk through the wintery estate, duck and geese herding and a Christmas lunch at restaurant Marle. Carol singers are to come by on Christmas Eve and Father Christmas will be making an appearance with his reindeers.

Tudor Farmhouse, Gloucestershire

Reflecting its name, this boutique hotel takes up a former working farm dating back as far as the 13th century. This farmhouse turned luxury hotel lies at the heart of the Forest of Dean and Wye Valley of Gloucestershire. This rural hideaway is the ideal base for exploration of the surrounding woodland on foot or by bicycle and on foraging excursions. On return, guests can then tuck into the culinary creations of the hotel’s renowned restaurant, which sources most of its produce from within a 20-mile radius. Now, Tudor Farmhouse is embracing the change in season with a new outdoor experience. The ‘star storyteller’ Jim Bell is now leading stargazing safaris from the hotel’s grounds, leading participants on a two-hour star journey focusing on the dark skies above the village of Clearwell, which is home to the hotel. Guests will hear the stories behind the stars, constellations and planets as they observe the night sky from a hilltop vantage point. The hotel has combined this experience with a short break to offer the winter Stargazing Staycation.

The Grove, Hertfordshire

The Grove is only 18 miles from London but set within 300 acres of the Hertfordshire countryside, it feels like a real retreat from the city. The stylishly refurbished mansion, which is the former home of the Earls of Clarendon, houses a collection of spacious guest rooms and individually designed suites, along with several restaurants and bars including estate-to-plate restaurant The Glasshouse and The Stables Bar, an 18-hole championship golf course and the Sequoia Spa. The grounds here then encompass a walled garden, heated pool, woodland trails and plentiful space for outdoor sports. For the holiday period, the hotel is hosting the winter pop-up restaurant, Jimmy’s Lodge at The Grove, in collaboration with chef Jimmy Garcia who also created Jimmy’s Winter Lodge on London’s Southbank. This mountain-inspired pop-up will take over The Stables restaurant with cosy alpine décor and a menu of dishes including maple glazed pumpkin, seasonal game and cheese fondue. From here, you can head to the hotel’s newly decorated lounges for a garden-to-glass cocktail, which highlights ingredients from the kitchen garden.

Eilean Shona, Loch Moidart

A tidal island of Loch Moidart—with a name said to be taken from the Old Norse for ‘sea island’—Eilean Shona is believed to have been the inspiration behind J.M. Barrie’s Neverland. This is the setting for hotelier Vanessa Branson’s luxury private island retreat, which has 1,300 acres of moors and hillside, sprawling woodland and secluded paths. Guests can stay in Eilean Shona House or one of several refurbished cottages including a former hunting lodge. Each space is eclectically decorated, furnished with items from Marrakech—where Branson has the boutique hotel El Fenn—and filled with the artworks including a dining room mural by artist Fred Pollock, prints by Grayson Perry, a painting by Paula Rego and drawings by William Kentridge. Throughout the seasons, guests are encouraged to embrace the great outdoors through wild swimming, picnicking, kayaking, hiking and cooking fresh mussels over a campfire. The retreat has just introduced its newly designed Timber Cottage ahead of the winter holidays, pairing contemporary furnishings with luxurious touches and inviting features such as an open fire. While the season generally runs from March through October, the cosy cottages provide a cosy stay over Christmas and the New Year.

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