Review by Fiona Duncan, published 12th January 2012.
"What a brilliant idea," I say to Imogen Skirving, owner of Langar Hall, remarking on the hand-printed photographic wallpaper that makes reception and the office behind look as if they are lined from floor to ceiling in real books. "One of my clever guests came up with that," she replies with a twinkle. "It's the reason I take the orders at dinner; so I can find out which guest does what and put them to good use!"
I'm back at Langar Hall and I'm breathing a sigh of relief: nothing, give or take some lovely new wallpaper or fabric here and there, has changed. When I last stayed here, I left thinking that it was my favourite hotel in England; I did so again this time, and my husband and son agreed with me.
Langar Hall is Imogen Skirving. The stuccoed, apricot-washed Georgian house, reached by an avenue of limes, has been in her family since 1860. When Imogen inherited it, she began to take in paying guests to make ends meet, then added en-suite bathrooms, then thought she might employ a chef… and gradually, organically, transformed her home into an instantly likeable hotel that perfectly mixes character with style (English, with a strong dash of India, with which she has close ties).
The gracious, charmingly decorated house still feels like a home, not least because of the number of guests who leap up in the dining room and greet their hostess – Imogen has a natural gift for conversation and putting people at their ease. "She's got an 8ft personality in a 5ft frame," commented one. Trotting round the pillared room, she has a word for everyone, and her key staff echo her warmth.
Children are welcome, with a big basket of toys in one of the comfortable, attractive sitting rooms (there's also a bar and a pretty garden room serving light meals all day) and a play area outside. It's also a great choice for lone travellers, who are made to feel particularly welcome.
The heart of the hotel is the restaurant, literally in the middle of the house, set back from the flagstone hall. Its reputation for unpretentious good food ("classic English with a twist") holds up.
On a Monday night we devoured assiette of Langar lamb, pheasant from the Belvoir estate, steak and ale pie and Stilton from the surrounding villages – all very sound. An interesting wine list accompanies.
Langar Hall stands in the Vale of Belvoir, next to the village church, surrounded by a mature garden and overlooking a series of medieval carp ponds. Imogen has written a short history of the house and she ends with words about her own time here, worth repeating because they are so true. "When people ask me about having 'strangers' in my home, the answer is simply that I love it. With their encouragement, the house retains the impression of a home, although it is fully staffed and managed as a business."
When she took over, her aim was to allow this magical place to survive into the 21st century. In doing so, she has created something that is now unique. A real one-off, exactly like its owner.
- Langar Hall, near Nottingham NG13 9HG (01949 860559; langarhall.com). Doubles from £130, including breakfast; singles from £100. Access possible for guests with disabilities