Review by Fiona Duncan, published 31st January 2010.
A happy accident of geography, geology and politics has allowed Stamford to remain the ''finest stone town in England'' since its rise to prominence, thanks to the wool trade, centuries ago. At the meeting point of four counties in that tourist no-man's land, the East Midlands, its geography has also meant that, for most of us, this handsome town stays a little-known delight.
We tourists may whizz past on the A1, but that's our loss. Pause, and you'll find street after street of 18th and 19th-century timber-framed and limestone buildings in a thriving regional centre with not one but two historic coaching inns that still act as a hub for the local population, just as they did in the past.
They are very different. The George has a magnificent interior that must never change, and bedrooms and bathrooms that by all accounts need upgrading. The humbler Crown was on its last legs until it was bought 10 years ago and completely revamped. What it now lacks in original character (and it does) it makes up in modern comforts, high standards and local staff, though I do have a problem with the superficially trendy ground floor decoration. Boldly patterned wallpapers are all very well, but is this the place for flamingos?
That aside, the Crown is exactly what a town inn should be like, with local owners, a thriving bar and restaurant and cheerful, well-equipped, bedrooms (though I hate bottles of bath gel that are clamped to the wall – the opposite of homely).
"We know our market," says Michael Thurlby, a down-to-earth local farmer turned hotelier and publican who loves his patch, and its history. Leaving his co-owner, his sister Sue Olver, and manager Sally Rouse to run the Crown, he scoots around between his other concerns in his muddy boots and farmer's coat. One is a nightclub. "I used to be young enough to feel at home there," he says, "but now you can see them thinking 'who's that saddo?' when I walk in."
I like many of the 18 bedrooms in the inn itself, individual and full of colour, though I draw a veil over ours, No 2, meant to be strikingly original but, to our mind, just strikingly odd. But none compare with the Crown's recently unveiled additional accommodation: among the most delightful hotel rooms I've seen in a long time. In Stamford's most elegant street, Barn Hill, two late 18th-century town houses, complete with original panelling, ornate plasterwork and working fireplaces, now contain nine bedrooms and bathrooms, three in one, six in the other, plus their own sitting rooms (which need more personal touches, such as an honesty bar and well chosen books). They are quite wonderful: stay there and experience Stamford at its glorious best.
Oh, and eat at the Crown: Dan Ketteringham's food is genuine, unfussy and several cuts above, which goes for breakfast and tea as well. We need more places like this in our towns.
6 All Saints Place, Stamford (01780 763136; www.thecrownhotelstamford.co.uk) Doubles from £120 per night, including breakfast. Access possible for guests with disabilities. More reviews by Fiona Duncan at www.thehotelguru.com