Far enough away from London to feel properly rural yet near enough to be fairly easily accessible from the capital, Dorset has some lovely places to stay if you know where to look. We know exactly where the best places to stay in Dorset are hidden so read on if you are considering a visit to this lush pastoral county, where Thomas Hardy set most of his novels (though he called it Wessex).
There are no motorways in Dorset but there is an airport at Bournemouth and the county is served by two mainline railways. The lovely countryside is criss-crossed with sunken lanes, dotted with gentle hills and unspoilt villages.
The incredible coastline has a bevvy of beaches which will be irresistible to walkers, runners and sitters alike. Dorset’s coastline is rich both in fossils and iconic coastal locations. Three quarters of the coast is a World Heritage Site and inland over half the county is designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Many of our best places to stay in Dorset are within this area.
Lulworth Cove, the Isle of Portland, Chesil Beach and the impressive Durdle Door are all well worth a visit. You might want to pack a copy of Ian McEwan’s short elegant novel On Chesil Beach to read during your stay.
If you plan to do more than eat, drink, sleep, relax and enjoy your surroundings, the Roman Town House in Dorchester is one of the Dorset sites that is well worth a visit. The only example of a fully exposed Roman Townhouse in the UK, it is free to visit and open all the year round.
Kingston Maurward Gardens and Animal Park also in Dorchester will appeal to younger children who can run around the gardens and meet all kinds of animals.
And close by in next door Somerset is the Fleet Air Arm Museum at Illchester. As much an attraction as a museum, it has exhibits of helicopters and fixed wing aircraft as well as the first British-built Concorde and lots of interactive exhibits. There is a mini Marines assault course outside making the museum a truly all-weather, all-ages destination for families.
Summer Lodge Hotel is south of Glastonbury, a place forever associated in the minds of everyone under 60 with grubby but happy campers. This hotel is the antithesis of that grungy pop festival vibe.
Smart and luxurious it is a riot of fabrics and plushness in the public rooms and grand comfort in the spacious bedrooms. A super-comfortable hotel with a cream tea laid on every afternoon.
The nearby Bridge House Hotel in Beaminster, run by London escapees, blends traditional bedrooms with more modern though still country style public areas.
Lovely light dining room and friendly efficient service in a building with real character. Low ceilings, big fireplaces and comfy sofas ensure cosy relaxation.
On the Weymouth seafront, B & B Weymouth is part of a chain of concept B & Bs which offer superb value for money. Pale, minimalist and clean with no frills, metaphorical or otherwise, it has an open plan kitchen/breakfast room which serves cheery no-nonsense breakfasts.
The Castleman Hotel, near Blandford Forum, an ex dower house which is now a restaurant with rooms has beautiful gardens so guests can start enjoying the truly great outdoors of Dorset the moment they step out of the hotel. The bedrooms are big and the food is good, served in a long functional dining room.
Further west at Sturminster Newton, Plumber Manor is a Jacobean house which has been owned by the same family since it was built. This extremely homely and welcoming hotel is run by three members of that family who look after guests like friends, helped by a few laconic labrodors.
Smart B&B - part of a new b+b concept chain - offering modern design on Weymouth's seafront, opposite the beach, for an affordable price. Convenient and central base.
Georgian farmhouse b&b on an organic farm in the pretty Tarrant Valley. Contemporary styling mixed with auction house finds to create a stay of great character.
Lyme Regis, Dorset
Quirky and stylish artists house and studio - Georgian villa with sloping lawn and seaviews in charming seaside town. Five minute walk to the beach, and right in the middle of town.
Thatched tudor cottage turned B&B just outside Dorchester. Period features and walls crammed with art. Only two bedrooms ensure an intimate atmosphere. Great bolthole for exploring the Jurassic coast and surrounding area.
Buckhorn Weston, Dorset
A reinvention of the English country pub, boutique style. Original highlights - wooden beams, inglenook fireplaces - retained, with addition of stylish, freshly designed rooms.
Blandford Forum, Dorset
Charming and eccentric restaurant with rooms, bags of character, in a Queen Ann manor house. Good value, simple rooms, old fashioned, in great countryside.
near Dorchester, Dorset
Superb private country house b&b wonderfully situated amidst fields, for total relaxation, walking & good food. Secluded with great views, surrounded by lovely countryside.
After a makeover, this former Georgian inn in the middle of Hardy country oozes casual elegance. Retire to stylish rooms upstairs after dinner in the first-rate revamped restaurant. Great service and classy accommodation without the high price tag.
Blandford Forum, Dorset
Award-winning thatched country pub in picture postcard village in rural north Dorset, with great food (game a speciality), and cosy, stylish rooms.
Renovated country town hotel, with great food, for romantic weekending. Stylish mix of contemporary and traditional, in an excellent town for antiquing surrounded by great countryside.
Designer eco hotel a few hundred yards from the beach, with fine dining - great for business stays or small conferences.
Sturminster Newton, Dorset
Characterful Jacobean manor house hotel in glorious Thomas Hardy country, in the same family for centuries, with portraits to match. An air of faded grandeur. The real deal.
Style and exceptional service on the Dorset coast. The newly refurbished Christchurch Harbour Hotel offers smart bedrooms, excellent food, pampering spa and wonderful views. Perfect for an indulgent break by the sea.
Lyme Regis, Dorset
Panoramic views over the ocean and the harbour from this cliff top boutique hotel. Luxurious bedrooms with private balconies, gourmet restaurant and sea-facing terrace, and an excellent spa too. Great for a weekend away, think lobster and sea breeze.
A slice of old England served with China tea, a peaceful and romantic hotel in lovely Wareham on the edge of the Isle of Purbeck. Plenty of great excursions for adults and older kids.
Hardyesque country house hotel that pulls the stops out, with spa, pool, gourmet cooking and luxurious rooms. Multiple fabrics and plush furnishings, not for minimalists.