When it comes to being almost irresponsibly good-looking, The Lake District has easy-on-the-eye down to a fine art. Bursting with bucolic mountain tarns and rugged windswept fells, these picture-perfect lands – a collection of blustery Cumbrian counties bordered by the Pennines and the Irish sea – provided inspiration for Romantic poets and children’s authors alike.
Still as captivating as ever, this Unesco heritage site is also home to some of the most splendid boutique hotels in the UK. Here’s our pick of the best.
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Harried city-dwellers will find the perfect spot to relax in The Forest Side, a beautifully renovated Gothic pile (now a restaurant with rooms) that dates back to 1853. Set on the outskirts of Grasmere, it offers prime access to the north and central lakes – Windermere is a pretty 25-minute drive away – and Wordsworth’s Dove cottage is reachable on foot.
Rooms are high-ceilinged with modern touches (like pea-green succulents and beech wood furniture) while the rest of the place shimmers with burnished silver, velvet sofas and soft shades of grey. The restaurant serves up Michelin-starred fare (there’s also an expansive kitchen garden, a charcuterie and the chef has a predilection for on-site pickling) and the surrounding grounds are speckled with roe deer and rare red squirrels.
From £229 per night
Want to escape the hordes of Wellington-wearing tourists that clamber across Lakeland’s most famous mountains? Head slightly further afield and settle into the vintage furniture at Brownber Hall. Its location in the lovely upper Lune Valley, with views across Howgill fells, put it within prime striking distance of the Lake District, without the hassle of the crowds.
The homely but hip feel extends from the communal spaces to the guest house’s eight rooms, with eclectic design touches and a home-away-from-home vibe. This is prime walking territory, and the path below the house runs through Smardale Nature Reserve, and there’s horse-riding, wild swimming and star-gazing on your doorstep, too.
From £90 per night
Another Place, The Lake, Ullswater
Views of Ullswater’s sail-flecked surface can be soaked up from almost all 40 rooms at the preposterously pretty Another Place, The Lake. You’ll see it from the infinity pool at the Swim Club spa too, which is entirely encased in glass (there’s also a hot tub on the terrace for steamy evenings under the stars). Here, Georgian grandeur meets contemporary cool, and rooms are splashed with pops of daffodil-yellow, blush pink and teal.
The new Joules suite is particularly pretty, with a comfy four-poster and homely design touches from the unmistakably British brand. Down at the lake you’ll find running trails, kayaks for hire and open water swimming for the brave. Then warm up at the Rampsbeck restaurant with regional produce from salt-baked turnip to local-reared pork.
From £180 per night
Enclaved by pretty polished gardens and with views of Victorian steamers gliding across the lake, Linthwaite House is a satisfying blend of old and new. Outside its windows, rugged fells rise like giants; inside, contemporary interiors – like shellback chairs upholstered in green velvet and leopard print – gleam like treasure.
The 30 bedrooms have each been designed by Beverley Boswell, the woman behind the interiors of South African sister properties Leeu Estates, Leeu House and Le Quartier Français in the Cape Winelands. Michelin-starred chef Simon Rogan will take over the restaurant here in October 2019, opening Henrock, with small sharing plates including raw aged beef, elderberry and shiso; halibut baked in cabbage leaf, bay shrimp and pink pepper; and fried apple pie, miso butterscotch and cassia clotted cream.
From £200 per night
Tucked into the trees, Brimstone offers next-level service to its well-heeled guests. Step through the doors of this chic, chalet-style retreat and you’d be forgiven for thinking you’d wafted into an upmarket alpine ski retreat – all slick slate, polished wood and gleaming glass. But delve further and you’ll find sculptural velvet, moss-green upholstery and soothing coffee–toned leather. There’s no chintz here, and the staff are just as smart, helping to kit guests out with wet weather gear and providing all-important advice on walking routes. After a day on the trails, return to the soothing surrounds of the swanky spa for mineral steam baths, hot stone massages and dual treatments in the just-for-two couple’s spa.
From £370 per night; brimstonehotel.co.uk
In search of total privacy? Check into one of the classy standalone spa lodges at Gilpin for a truly luxurious retreat from it all (in this case, luxury comes in the shape of your own en-suite spa with rainmaker showers, steam rooms, hydrotherapy hot tubs and saunas).
Better yet, head a mile down the road to the six-bedroomed Lake House. Wrapped in 100 private acres, this renovated fishing lodge comes with cedarwood hot tubs, floor-to-ceiling views across the lake and its own army of staff. Back at the main house, the Edwardian building houses a mish-mash of uniquely-shaped rooms, all decked out in modern country-house style. Out the windows you’ll spot alpacas grazing in the gardens and at the centre of the house you’ll find the Michelin-starred HRiSHi, which serves up modern British dishes with a twist, such as Norfolk Quail three ways and peanut butter semifreddo with hot fudge and banana ice cream.
From £245 per night
The Samling is so stylishly low-key, even the deer that keep the grass trimmed are almost absurdly relaxed. More of a townhouse than a county pile, you’ll find artwork by Matisse, Picasso and Chagalle on the walls, and décor is a sophisticated mix of dove grey, soft silver and powder blue textiles. Set in 67 acres, the gabled Georgian house is surrounded by kestrel-filled grounds and woodlands dripping in gold lichen, and the eastern shores of Lake Windermere are so close you’ll hear them lapping as you kick back in the outdoor hot tub.
Ask at reception for walking guides or, if the weather’s not on your side, book a wine-tasting session using the Coravin system in the smart cellar (their list is rated as one of the top 500 in the world). The hotel’s refreshingly dog-friendly too (although it will set you back £25 per furry friend) and the grounds are ideal for long, head-clearing walks.
From £230 per night
This is a wonderfully higgledy-piggledy sort of place, actually a restaurant with a smattering of cottage rooms dotted around the village of Cartmel. Accommodation is smart but unfussy, making way for the real draw: the food. Overseen by Simon Rogan, the two-Michelin starred L’Enclume is a former wheel-makers and smithy. The tasting menu calls on ingredients from the 12-acre kitchen garden to produce dishes such as Goosnargh duck with cherries and smoked beetroot, and butter poached turbot with courgettes and nasturtium. There’s also a chef’s table and development kitchen where you can get a glimpse of the magic that happens behind the scenes.
From £175 per night
With views stretching across to Bassenthwaite Lake, Skiddaw and the spellbinding Lakeland Fells, Armathwaite – which has stood on its site in one form or another since the 11 th century – has all the trappings of a historic country house. Set in 400 acres of private woodland, the hotel’s interiors, particularly in the main hall, are original and grand: sweeping staircases, open fire places, classic wood paneling and oil paintings steeped in history. Rooms themselves are neat and unfussy.
There’s an award-winning spa and seasonal restaurant dishing up tasty lamb rump dishes and milk ice cream with bee pollen, but it the experience programme here that’s most impressive, with everything from archery and clay pigeon shooting, to photography workshops and via ferrata tours on offer for guests.
From £170 per night
Storrs Hall has stories to tell. Built in 1790, in its heyday it welcomed the likes of William Wordsworth and Beatrix Potter for glamorous social occasions (the former recited his famous Daffodils in the drawing room). Today, it stands resplendent on the shores of Lake Windermere, with original architecture and large lattice-framed windows peering out like huge eyes. Interiors are relaxed and fitting for a country house, with pretty stained glass and cosy nooks filled with model boats and busts of famous creatives.
Accommodation ranges from cosy rooms and self-catered lodges, to a swish converted boathouse right on the water, with a steam room, fire pit and hot tub (four junior suites also come with dual aspect views of the water and surrounding countryside).
From £180 per night