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Our little black book of enchanting places



Posted in HOTELS + VILLAS By Maggie O'Sullivan

What could be better than being snow-bound in a country house hotel? A late breakfast with the papers instead of rushing out to explore the gardens. Afternoon tea by the fire instead of charging round all the National Trust properties in the area. Perhaps even use that freestanding bath in the bedroom … Here are my top five hotels for a snowy weekend break.

Middlethorpe Hall, York, Yorkshire

Middlethorpe Hall (above) sits in 20 acres of gardens and parkland just outside York. Inside, the William and Mary manor house is quite grand, filled with antiques and fine paintings, but it’s also very cosy and welcoming. There are 29 rooms and suites; 10 in the main house and 19 in the adjacent 18th-century courtyard. I’ve only stayed in the courtyard (the Paget Suite is enchanting), but if it were bitterly cold, I think I would prefer to be in the main house, perhaps in the Duke of York suite which has its own fireplace. At tea time I would order the Piper Heidsieck ‘Sublime’ Chocolate Afternoon Tea (£29.50) which includes Middlethorpe’s famous chocolate and orange scones. But I would have to brave the cold to visit the spa as it’s housed in two listed Edwardian cottages in the grounds. Further information, Middlethorpe Hall 

Combe House, Honiton, Devon

It doesn’t snow very often in Devon but when it does, this Grade I Elizabethan house would be the place to be. Set in 3,500 acres, not far from Exeter, Combe House is exactly what you want from a country house hotel in winter: log fires, squashy sofas, and award-winning cuisine. It has recently introduced a lovely new suite, housed in a 600-year-old thatched cottage in the grounds, but if you prefer to be closer to the restaurant and that blazing log fire in the Great Hall, the 15 bedrooms and suites in the main building are pretty special, too. Further information, Combe House

Hartwell House, Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire

Hartwell House is as grand as country house hotels get, with a impressive list of former residents that includes Louis XVIII of France. There’s so much to admire here, from the decorative plaster work and Rococo ceilings to the marble fire-places and beautiful panelling. Being snowed in would be a chance to learn more about them all. The (four-poster) corner rooms are the ones to go for – Louis XVIII and his queen thought so, too. Last time I visited, I watched agog as a helicopter landed on the lawn, bearing two new guests. There will be none of that in heavy snow. Further information, Hartwell House 

Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons, Great Milton, Oxfordshire

It’s true that one of the draws of Le Manoir is its lovely garden, but with the herb beds and vegetable garden tucked up under a blanket of snow, I could concentrate of the main attraction: Raymond Le Blanc’s award-winning cooking, served in a fairytale dining room. On this occasion I would waive my rule of staying in the main house because the two garden suites here are just so lovely – L’ Orangerie all pale and Provençal; Opium, sumptuous and exotic – and each has a little garden where I might even build a snowman. Further information, Belmond Le Manoir au Quat’Saisons 

Bowood Hotel, Spa and Golf Resort, Calne, Wiltshire

Bowood Hotel is part of the Bowood estate, home of the Marquis and Marchioness of Lansdowne. This is a country house hotel with a contemporary twist, with 43 light and airy rooms and suites, each designed by the Marchioness. The bar is modern and buzzy, while the library and morning room are more traditional, both with blazing fires. With the championship golf course and glorious 'Capability' Brown parkland under a foot of snow, I would sign up for a Winter Spa Day package (£95 to include lunch and cake) and allow plenty of time for a swim in the infinity pool, while deer pass by outside. Further information, Bowood Hotel, Spa and Golf Resort 

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