The grand country house reached its height in Britain a century ago. All over the country, dukes and earls, industrialists and politicians entertained in their rural ‘piles’ of varying magnificence.
But Downton Abbey’s days were numbered. After the Second World War, social revolution, death duties and a plain shortage of cash (and servants) meant the upper classes could no longer afford their large country mansions. Some of those piles became tourist attractions; others became schools and conference centres.
And now, increasingly, they are becoming hotels. In the mid-1990s, the funky boutique revolution found some unlikely adherents in the British shires once Nick Jones of London’s Soho House snapped up an elegant Queen Anne mansion called Babington House for a new breed of affluent weekender.
Now, you’ll find contemporary country house hotels all over the world. Something else has changed, too. They’re places where you can switch off from reality, venturing out for wild winter walks before retreating into the glow of a warm rural bolthole. Expect that warm, fuzzy feeling to kick in soon after check in at these five cosy country house hotels around the world…
Ellenborough Park, England
This manor house hotel in the Cotswolds, the rural retreat of London’s movers, shakers and former prime ministers, has a long and illustrious history. It whisks from 899 AD, through the eras of Queen Elizabeth I, Richard III, George III and skirmishes during the English Civil War. Today, the hotel has all the classic hallmarks of a Cotswolds country house: sweeping drive, Grade II-listed building, four-poster beds and rolltop baths.
La Bastide de Marie, France
A winter visit to Provence means escaping the lavender-hued tourist clichés – and turning to the food instead (the truffle festival in Richerenches takes place this month). Return to this restored 18th century country farm from hikes in the Prealps for Provençal dinners cooked in the traditional farmhouse kitchen and eaten by the open fireplace. Decor is typically rustic French: stone walls, wooden beams, ceiling-high country dressers, shelves stacked with books and antique furniture. The wine also helps: the hotel’s located in the grounds of a working vineyard.
Camellia Hills, Sri Lanka
By day, the fresh white walls, massive open sliding doors and high ceilings keep this new Sri Lankan hotel bright, airy and cool (the infinity pool comes in handy, too), while log fires take care of the chilly Hill Country nights – when the temperature drops and the mists roll in across the lush Castlereagh Valley. The boutique five-room hotel, 1,200 metres up in the mountains, has been built to reflect the design of the many tea bungalows in the surrounding terraces. When it’s raining outside, the fireplace in the lounge provides the ideal space for snuggling up with a cup of Ceylon tea and enjoying the panoramic views.
Falsled Kro, Denmark
There are cosy hotels all over Denmark. But this one on Funen, Denmark’s third-largest island, is pretty special. The charming black and white, thatched, 19-room inn dates back to the 1500s, and its sturdy whitewashed interior brick walls meet soft, well-positioned lighting, quilted bedspreads and sea views. Each room is different, but you can expect plenty of natural wood and comfy armchairs. Order the tasting menu at its renowned French-Danish restaurant, then head to a suite with a log fire.
Otahuna Lodge, New Zealand
A Victorian homestead built at the end of the 19th century: check. Twelve hectares of botanic gardens: check. A setting between the South Island’s Banks Peninsula and Southern Alps: tick. Otahuna Lodge is the quintessential New Zealand country house, dedicated to the man it was built for, Sir Heaton Rhodes, a pioneer of the region of Canterbury (the lodge is just 20 minutes from Christchurch). Sir Heaton loved the finer things in life, which is probably why there’s a range of helicopter itineraries departing right from Otahuna’s own lawn.