A note on the stylish staycation
Once synonymous with lacklustre seaside guesthouses and chintzy country piles, the British staycation is now a coveted concept, drawing an overseas crowd and reminding us Brits of the bucolic treasures on our doorstep. These pastures green, with their sheep-filled fields, glassy lakes and fairy-tale glades, now offer so much more than woodland walks and Yorkshire puds.
A lifestyle movement has gripped the staycation scene, embracing artisanal rhythms, a dedication to local produce and a deep-seated respect for nature — setting new standards on home turf. The following three idyllic escapes perfect the new blend of homegrown history and contemporary thinking. And to keep the magic alive, we’ve foraged for design treasures mirroring those in each hotel, so you can take away a touch of rural romance when you depart.
The Bradley Hare, Somerset
A 19th-century coach house on the Duke of Somerset’s estate, reimagined for the urban escapee. Cue all the linen, rattan and velvet trimmings and a hearty-but-happening menu.
Previously a Soho House design director, co-owner James Thurstan rightfully abstained from the group’s mid-century hallmark for his Bradley Hare revamp, seizing instead on a suitably pared down, organic aesthetic with warming heritage touches in line with the crackling fires and convivial country spirit. Brooding Farrow & Ball shades set a cosy tone in the main pub and reading room, while upstairs, chalky, cream-coloured walls create a clean canvas for thick linen curtains, jute rugs and artisanal pottery. On the whole, the design and period touches nod to Dickensian coach-house architecture. Reconciling this elevated narrative with the cosy familiarity of a proper English country pub is no easy task, but the restrained rustic decor is a resounding hit with locals and urbanites alike, all heading here to load up on good food and fireside conversation.
In line with the pitch-perfect design blend of period-meets-contemporary character, the food at The Bradley Hare is polished English pub grub. And like the modern art or the layered muted palette, high standards still toe a rustic, slightly scruffy line that differentiates a country pub from a restaurant with rooms. Jake Shantos (of The Newt pedigree) whips up flawless, hearty plates of charred kitchen-garden vegetables, tender steak cooked to perfection, and divine chips with salty shells that crack like caramel. Naturally, sourdough plays a starring role – a spruced up pub bereft of sourdough would send shockwaves across the cosmopolitan stretches – and it’s pure, olive-drenched rapture. From pearl barley risotto to delectable platters of meat cured in the West Country, the food here is not only tasty but local and seasonal.
A mere two-hour drive or train journey from London, Maiden Bradley is a pretty slice of feudal England on the Duke of Somerset’s estate. Weekends tend to revolve around scenic ambles through Cranborne Chase or a browse of local markets, where tables groan with organic, artisanal and antique treasures. Art lovers will relish Bruton and Frome’s proximity – two happening Somerset towns with market rhythms and independent galleries – while an after-lunch game drive can always be arranged at nearby Longleat Safari park.
While there is no spa in the main pub, guests can roam through the meadows to The Potting Shed Spa in Bradley House’s grounds. This small-but-mighty spa boasts an impressive list of treatments; expect everything from hot-stone massages to reflexology sessions.
Coombeshead Farm, Cornwall
A foodie pilgrimage spot in Cornwall’s rural thickets, where guests wake to the smell of freshly-baked bread and the gentle hum of native black bees. Coombeshead Farm is home-spun heaven – a bucolic English escape lathered in thick farm butter and plum jam. Its chef-owners (and authors) Tom Adams and April Bloomfield have brought their New York restaurant nous to the British countryside, taking things back-to-basics while simultaneously delivering a delicious slice of the good life.
Honouring its previous life as a dairy darm, Coombsehead has kept its flagstones, its old stone fireplaces, and with them, its rustic soul. A home-from-home feel permeates all aspects of the design, from the cushioned printed headboards to the raspberry velvet chairs. Comfort is king. Barn-style doors slide open to reveal roll-top baths in some rooms, while in others, heavy pastel quilts and woven rugs warm the wooden floorboards and cool-shaded walls. Antique trunks that could pass as treasure chests tuck in at the bottom of the beds in the attic rooms, where blonde farmhouse beams criss-cross a cosy, cottagecore scene. Outside, flowers sprout from terracotta pots and painted crates in the courtyard, adding colour to the grey-stone building smothered in wisteria and creepers. Foxgloves and wild flowers soften a gently manicured garden, which uses a break in the hedge to spill into the rolling fields.
Coombeshead Farm single-handedly set new standards within the restaurant industry – it remains a constant source of inspiration for chefs adhering to the farm-to-fork philosophy, while gastronomes fetishise over their puritanical approach to making everything from scratch (and in their onsite bakery). The menu may read like simple British farmhouse food, but the spec of the ingredients and sheer talent of the chefs lifts home-spun style to new heights. The much-lauded warm sourdough lathered in homemade butter is the show opener in the cavernous renovated barn, followed by seasonal plates – baked artichoke, piquant Mettwurst sausages with crab-apple, curd and nettle… whatever the farm or local farmers offer up.
This is pastoral England at its best, away from the overly manicured Cotswolds or the sceney countryside hot spots. Coombeshead (a real farm) spreads out across nearly seventy acres of oak woodland, soft meadows and kissing gates, where pigs root for treasure and cockerels strut past unwitting guests. Nights are cool, star-studded and silent. Days are undemanding with long walks through Dartmoor or Bodmin Moor, even longer lunches and leisurely jaunts into the time warp village of Lewannick, with its off-the-beaten-track country pub.
With herds of Hebridean sheep the only real traffic to contend with, and days filled with long walks followed by long baths, there really is no need for a spa. Wellness comes in many guises – here it’s all about switching off, eating well and recalibrating within the herb-infused air and gentle rhythms of the countryside.
Elmley Nature Reserve, Kent
Unbeknownst to many, 3,000 acres of unspoilt wilderness lies just an hour from London on the Isle of Sheppey, where the Thames Estuary meets the North Sea and where Elmley invites weary souls to reconnect with nature.
Scattered amid wetlands are a series of shepherds’ huts, farmhouse rooms, bell tents and log cabins – all wrapped in woodland with uninterrupted country views. Despite a clear back-to-basics brief, the larger shepherds’ huts boast Victorian cast-iron radiators, outdoor copper showers and chunky patio chairs placed around a firepit. Londoner’s stew in outdoor roll-top baths and pale wooden hot tubs that blend seamlessly into the surrounding woodland. Purists can opt for the traditional shepherd huts, where few luxuries (bar the odd Bramley shower gel) come between you and the surrounding wilderness. For a more refined spin on rural, the Kingshill Farmhouse rooms feature Waterloo poster beds, botanical wallpaper and standalone bathtubs with breath-taking views across the wetlands.
The Linhay and The Barn both leverage local ingredients for all-day plates such as slow-roasted aubergine with sun-blush tomatoes and fennel, or warm focaccia and smoked butter. Breakfast and wholesome, seasonal lunches and suppers can be ordered to the huts and cottage, as can gourmet picnics or flasks of home-made soup with spelt bread and seaweed butter to sustain you on long walks. The Reserve’s previous owners, Philip and Corinne Merricks, were ahead of their time with regards to rewilding, conservation and sustainable farming. They have since passed the mantle to their daughter, Georgina Fulton and her husband Gareth, who continue their sustainable efforts, reaping the rewards with top-drawer ingredients for guests.
Elmley offers up an exhilarating dose of seclusion, with nothing but meadows, snaking lakes and mossy wetland for miles. Wifi is patchy at best, which keeps the digital nomads at bay and off-grid relaxation a top priority. Guests can expect to encounter a panoply of wildlife on the many trails winding through the reserve (guided nature tours can be arranged). For a dose of antiquity, Faversham’s warren of antique stores is a 20-minute drive away, while Whitstable’s oil-painting-pretty harbour, along with its famous oysters and beaches, is a half-hour’s drive.
While this is not spa country, in-room holistic massages can be booked (though do so well in advance as the therapist is reputedly outstanding).