Swan Hotel and Spa, Cumbria

“Lavish and sprawling, with naked people in the lobby”

Review by Fiona Duncan, published 16th March 2011.

The cost of Lake District hotels never ceases to amaze me. It seems to operate in a world of its own, matched only, outside London, by Bath. It's a popular and undoubtedly beautiful area, of course, but it's also down to earth, and beloved of coach parties and caravans, so I'm not sure how the elevated prices continue to hold sway.

Thus I find it hard to recommend Lake District hotels, both for that reason and because many, especially the longest-running ones, are, frankly, old hat. Not so the sprawling Swan at Newby Bridge, on the banks of the Leven that flows into Windermere a mile away.

When the devastating Cumbrian floods of November 2009 hit ("there was a whooshing noise and the water just bubbled up through the floor and into the lift shaft"), she and her co-owner, Audrey Robertson, took the opportunity to redecorate the entire hotel. This included all 52 bedrooms, which now have air conditioning and big, generous, user-friendly bottles of Penhaligon toiletries, from which you can take as much as you like (but not, obviously, the bottles themselves – that's theft).

Someone – Audrey I'm told – has had fun here, using bold wallpapers and jazzy fabrics to great effect. It's a bit girlie in places, and more à la mode than timeless (therefore prone to becoming dated), but successful nonetheless; sensational even, for a hard-working hotel that caters as much to private functions and business people as to leisure guests.

Let's leave the lobby and go for a wander. On your left: a sitting room filled with toys (a real effort is made here for children). On your right: nearly naked people, cavorting and, beyond, sweating. Farther on, more cosy sitting rooms, one with blazing fire, a rustic/pretty bar area, a huge lavender-blue dining room.

On a mezzanine above, yet another dining room, stunning, in ruby red and with thick stone walls, but now only used for breakfast, and then an elegant Georgian ballroom for weddings, further reception rooms and a boutique Espa spa – very spoiling.

Quite a place. Lavish. New handmade beds throughout. Very decent food. But you're wondering about the nearly naked people. The Swan's leisure centre is open to view from the lobby. A bit odd, to my mind, to see people thrashing in water and slogging on running machines as you stand with your suitcases, but hey ho.

I do have quibbles, such as the slightly hands-off, un-pampering atmosphere, despite all the wild wallpapers; receptionists with headsets taking bookings (surely a backroom job); standard-issue bedroom furniture; empty minibar; no in-room tea and coffee; the beastly main road across the river. Even so, the Swan is joining my shortlist of Lake District recommendations.

  • Newby Bridge (015395 31681; www.swanhotel.com). Doubles from £119 per night, including breakfast). Access possible for guests with disabilities.

Fiona’s choice

WHAT TO DO

The Lake District is on your doorstep, but not for walkers unfortunately. The main road and other roads militate against walking from the door with ease, though you could go to High Dam via Finsthwaite, a lovely route.

The launching point for steamers on Windermere is just a mile or so away. For children aged 10 and over there's Go Ape (0845 643 9215;www.goape.co.uk), where they, and their parents, can get in touch with their inner ape by climbing, crawling and swinging through the trees in Grisedale Forest.

PUB LUNCH

My favourite local pubs are The Punchbowl (01539 568237), next to St Mary's church in Crossthwaite (formal restaurant and traditional pub menu in the bar); and The Masons Arms Strawberry Bank (015395 68486), five and a half miles from Windermere. Nice terrace for summer evenings.

WORTH A VISIT

Local grand houses include lovely Holker Hall and gardens (www.holker.co.uk) in Cark-in-Cartmel, and Levens Hall (www.levenshall.co.uk) with its marvellous topiary, near Kendall. It might be easier to entice reluctant children to Hill Top Farm, Beatrice Potter's former home, now owned by the National Trust (www.nationaltrust.org.uk).

The Hotel Guru verdict

Rooms
4 out of 5

Save your pennies; garden view standards are spacious and quieter than pricier riverside rooms

Service
4 out of 5

Somewhat workaday but well meaning; lovely spa girls

Character
4 out of 5

A great job has been done to enliven what could easily be dowdy and unfocused

Food and drink
3 out of 5

Too much pizza and pasta. I tested them with less popular dishes on a quiet night: they passed

Value for money
3 out of 5

Stick to the spacious standard rooms and avoid too many glasses of wine

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