Review by Fiona Duncan, published 21st February 2010.
At this time of the year, winter lingering, spring still a distant prospect, one dreams of escaping to the perfect cosy hotel. In our mind's eye it has roaring log fires in inglenook fireplaces; squashy sofas; beams; crumpets and home-baked cakes for tea; and warm, inviting bedrooms with deep, comfortable beds. Easier to imagine than find, however, so here Fiona Duncan chooses her favourite cosy hotels. Whether a traditional inn, thatched cottage or oak-panelled country house, and whether in the city, by the sea or deep in countryside, these hotels all make excellent, welcoming winter retreats.
Prices include breakfast, but note that some hotels require half board or two nights at weekends.
ARUNDELL ARMS, DEVON
At this time of year, one gravitates not to slick contemporary hotels but to tried and tested old favourites, largely unchanged by the passage of time, and the Arundell Arms is a prime example. Though fishing, for which it is famous, is not available in winter, hunting and shooting can be arranged. Neat, pretty bedrooms, a roaring fire in the comfortable, homely drawing room and hearty food in the bar add to the appeal.
- Lifton (01566 784666; www.arundellarms.com) Doubles from £170.
BAILIFFSCOURT, WEST SUSSEX
Take a step back in time at this apparently fine example of an ancient manor house, which was in fact created by Lord Moyne, of the Guinness brewing family, in 1927. It comes complete with original medieval stone, woodwork, doors, windows and fireplaces, and the effect is immediately enveloping, as narrow passageways with flagstone floors lead you through a series of intimate lounges and sitting rooms. For a spot of the modern day, there's also a spa.
- Climping (01903 723511; hshotels.co.uk) Doubles from £215.
BATH ARMS, LONGLEAT, WILTSHIRE
Pub bedrooms, assorted sizes, with real panache: quirky, boldly coloured and full of character, with inlaid mother-of-pearl furniture from India, enchanting handmade wallpaper depicting English eccentrics and carved Oriental beds, plus cafetières for proper coffee and huge flat-screen tellies. A handsome building with a cluster of lime trees in front, the Bath Arms stands close to the main entrance of Longleat and retains both its public bar and its skittles alley.
- Longleat Estate, Horningsham (01985 844308; batharms.co.uk) Doubles from £95.
BOATH HOUSE, INVERNESS-SHIRE, SCOTLAND
Despite its grand proportions, this Grade A-listed Georgian manor has a truly friendly feel. The fires are always lit and the warmly decorated rooms have views over the 20-acre garden. A bedroom you won't want to stir from, No 3, has a canopy bed and a pair of free-standing roll-top baths. But don't miss dinner, when Michelin-starred chef Charlie Lockley cooks up a storm with organic, seasonal ingredients, many of them home-grown.
- Auldearn, Nairn (01667 454896; www.boath-house.com) Doubles from £220.
BUTLEY PRIORY, SUFFOLK
Don't stay here if you like everything just so… if faded antique fabrics, Indian lanterns, shabby chic furniture, creaky floorboards and the odd belching pipe are not, despite style and panache, your cup of tea. But if you like quirky character in spades, church candles flickering on the mantelpiece and an open fire in your bedroom, then you won't be disappointed by this endearingly shaped, exuberantly decorated gatehouse to a long-disappeared Augustinian priory.
- Near Woodbridge (01394 450046; butleypriory.co.uk) Doubles from £75.
DEVONSHIRE ARMS, NORTH YORKSHIRE
The moment you cross the threshold of this ultra-comfortable 17th-century country house hotel on the Duke of Devonshire's 30,000-acre estate, you'll be struck by the warmth of the genuine Yorkshire welcome; a warmth reinforced by the attractive sitting rooms, blazing fires, deep sofas and well-polished antiques. There are hotties in each luxurious bedroom, and the option of duvet or blankets. For dinner, choose between the candlelit Michelin-starred Burlington restaurant and the buzzy, contemporary brasserie.
- Bolton Abbey, Skipton (01756 710441; thedevonshirearms.co.uk) Doubles from £230.
THE DOWER HOUSE, ROSS-SHIRE, SCOTLAND
What better way to start the day than with one of the Aitchisons' gold-standard Scottish breakfasts, including porridge and eggs from their own hens? Mena and Robyn, a talented self-taught chef, have been honing their skills at this charming country house hotel for the past 21 years. The house, in the Georgian cottage-ornée style, has an elegant red-walled dining room, where Robyn's excellent no-choice dinner is served, four traditional bedrooms and mature well-tended grounds.
- Highfield, Muir of Ord (01463 870090; thedowerhouse.co.uk) Doubles from £130.
THE DRAYCOTT, LONDON
This intimate Chelsea home-from-home achieves a seamless melding of the old and the new. It occupies an Edwardian building with high ceilings and original fireplaces, furnished with antiques, prints and knick-knacks. Bedrooms are themed on theatrical or literary figures, with relevant photographs and books, but have Wi-Fi and satellite television. There's no skimping on service, with complimentary afternoon tea, early evening champagne and cocoa before bed. No restaurant, but plenty to choose from nearby.
- 26 Cadogan Gardens (020 7730 6466; draycotthotel.com). Doubles from £293.90.
EAST END ARMS, HAMPSHIRE
An excellent example of a village pub, off the beaten track, which still functions as a local hostelry, the simple public bar is often packed with locals, while upstairs five charming new rooms, with cashmere throws on luxurious beds, mean that it now appeals equally to weekenders looking for a bit of country character alongside their customary creature comforts. Good dinners in the restaurant, and hearty breakfasts.
- Lymington Road, East End (01590 626223; eastendarms.co.uk) Doubles from £95.
FOX CLUB, LONDON
Central London hotels don't come cosier than Mayfair's Fox Club (or better suited for single travellers). Non-members pay a little more to stay, but can then join in the general conviviality of a private members' club with welcoming bar and small adjoining restaurant. Upstairs (no lift) there are nine pretty, recently refurbished bedrooms in the 18th-century house once occupied by Charles James Fox and his courtesan lover and wife, Mrs Armistead.
- 46 Clarges Street (020 7495 3656; foxclublondon.com). Doubles from £180.
GALLON HOUSE, NORTH YORKSHIRE
Chef Rick Hodgson and his wife, Sue, specialise in "long, slow weekends" at their award-winning b & b, perched spectacularly 100ft above the Nidd Gorge. Everything in this stress-free house feels right, from its warm colours and stripped floors to the honest but excellent food. There's an oak-panelled guests' sitting room and a south-facing balcony with breathtaking views, which you can enjoy equally from the conservatory when it's too chilly to sit outside. Plenty of spoiling extras in the bedrooms.
- 47 Kirkgate, Knaresborough (01423 862102; gallon-house.co.uk) Doubles from £110.
THE GROVE, PEMBROKESHIRE, WALES
Neil Kedward and Zöe Agar bought this handsome white-painted house as a wreck and have restored it and its outbuildings quite beautifully. The house is Georgian, with later additions, and the interior has distinctive Arts & Crafts features. Open fires and natural wood floors and panelling give the public rooms a homely feel, and the cosiest of the bedrooms, the Tannery Garden Suite, has its own wood-burning stove. A perfect weekend bolt-hole.
- Molleston, Narberth (01834 860915; thegrove-narberth.co.uk) Doubles from £130.
HOSTE ARMS, NORFOLK
Who could resist tucking up for the night in a converted 19th-century railway carriage? Lovingly restored, with its timbers burnished to a shine, it makes a snug double room with a brass bed, draped in rich velvet and a stunning copper bathroom. The Hoste Arms's latest project is a stroll from the 17th-century coaching inn overlooking the village green and its inviting bar, panelled dining room, conservatory and pretty walled garden.
- Burnham Market (01328 738777; hostearms.co.uk) Doubles from £83.
LANGAR HALL, NOTTINGHAMSHIRE
A perfect choice for intimate winter gatherings. You'll find a wood-burning stove in the sitting room and an open fire in the study, while the comforting menu includes casserole of local fallow deer and pheasant and partridge from the Vale of Belvoir. There's always a party atmosphere in Imogen Skirving's charming hotel next to the village church, and the delightful bedrooms include Lilac, where she slept as a child.
- Langar (01949 860559; www.langarhall.com) Doubles from £100.
OLD DUNGEON GHYLL, CUMBRIA
After a gruelling day on the Fells, it's hard to imagine a more welcome sight than the Hikers' Bar at this Lake District hotel, with its beams, fire and generous selection of ales and whiskies. Weary climbers have been flocking here for 300 years, and although the rooms are now comfortable and warm, there are still no televisions and you're unlikely to get a mobile signal. Packed lunches and robust home-cooked dinners.
- Great Langdale, Ambleside (015394 37272; odg.co.uk) Doubles from £112.
THE OLIVE BRANCH, RUTLAND
Sensitively converted village inns serving the sort of hearty but imaginative food that people yearn to eat (especially in winter) instead of fiddly dishes spattered with foam, make perhaps the best and least-expensive retreats for a cosy few nights away. The Olive Branch (and Beech House opposite, where its attractive bedrooms are located) is a prime example: rustic, quirky and fun, with brilliant food, wine and excellent ales.
- Main Street, Clipsham (01780 410355; theolivebranchpub.com). Doubles from £100.
PLUMBER MANOR, DORSET
How do staff at Plumber Manor make their guests feel cosy in winter? "Oh that's easy," says owner Richard Prideaux-Brune. "We settle our guests into squashy sofas around a roaring fire, which we light at 3pm every afternoon. The Labrador falls asleep and we serve home-made shortbread and fruitcake for tea. We just tuck them up really." In the same family since the 17th century, set in its ways and more than a little eccentric, Plumber Manor is for anyone who wants to hunker down with a good book and comforting food. Make sure you leave room for something from the pudding trolley.
- Sturminster Newton (01258 472507; plumbermanor.co.uk) Doubles from £120.
SUN INN, ESSEX
One of the new breed of pubs with rooms and first-rate kitchens, but one that hasn't lost its traditional heart. Painted an appropriately sunny yellow, it stands in the high street of the village most closely associated with John Constable. Inside, the atmosphere is convivial: there's a bar with beams and striped floor; a crackling fire and sofas in the Oak Room; and five captivating bedrooms. Try for the one with the panelled four-poster. In the restaurant, the accent is on Italian food, prepared with locally sourced ingredients.
- High Street, Dedham (01206 323351; thesuninndedham.com). Doubles from £95.
TREVALSA COURT, DEVON
This fine Arts & Crafts house, with a garden running down to the coast path and steep steps to its own beach, still feels like the family home it was built as, and makes a warmly welcoming base for exploring Cornwall, milder than the rest of the country out of season. There's a skating rink at the Eden Project and Caerhays, one of the county's famous gardens and home of the national magnolia collection, is well worth a visit from this month onwards. As for the coast path, "it's much more exciting in winter," says owner John Gladwyn.
- School Hill, Mevagissey (01726 842468; trevalsa-hotel.co.uk) Doubles from £105.
WHITE VINE HOUSE, EAST SUSSEX
Beyond neat privet hedges in picture-perfect Rye, this historic house has a Georgian façade, an Elizabethan frame and a cellar that dates back to the 13th century. It's not just the cosy oak-panelled rooms downstairs and engaging bedrooms that make this such a special place to stay, but the care that hands-on owner, Javed Khan, takes with his guests. He gets the little things right, from handmade organic soap and filter coffee in the bedrooms to tips for car parking and local attractions. First-rate bistro-style food.
- 24 High Street, Rye (01797 224748; whitevinehouse.co.uk) Doubles from £130.