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Romantic Hideaways - UK

By Martin Li

You and your beloved need to get away. You’ve just eloped, you’re having an illicit affair and need to escape jealous partners or perhaps you simply need to withdraw to an enchanting, sleepy hideaway where even the combined forces of Sherlock Holmes and Inspector Morse would have difficulty tracking you down. You need somewhere that’s intimate, idyllically picturesque, totally secluded and, above all, oh so romantic. You’ll be hard pushed to beat any of the following.

Altnaharrie Inn, nr Ullapool, Wester Ross

If somebody suggested opening an exclusive haute cuisine restaurant hotel on the far shore of an isolated Scottish loch which could only be reached by boat, you might think they were mad. But this is exactly what Fred Brown and Gunn Eriksen did when they opened Altnaharrie Inn in 1976. And the Inn hasn’t only been successful, it’s become something of a legend.

Altnaharrie Inn dates back hundreds of years and has impeccable hideaway credentials. Located on the southern shore of Loch Broom on Scotland’s north-western coast, there is no proper road access. Instead, you leave your car in Ullapool and travel across the loch by private motor launch. As you approach the Inn’s small wooden jetty, the white building crowned by several chimney stacks appears, partially hidden by tall trees and climbing blooms. Behind the Inn, the heather-clad peninsula rises sharply and a stream gushes down the steep slope. You pass two grass-thatched outbuildings, enter through a wooden gate and follow a short path overhung by trees to reach the entrance to the Inn.

There are only eight rooms of which five are in the main house and three are in separate cottages. Flowers decorate the rooms and there are no televisions, radios or telephones. The sense of tranquility and seclusion is overwhelming. The nearest neighbor is miles away and the only sound is the gentle lapping of the loch against the pebbly shore. Its isolation requires the Inn to have its own generator which is turned off when guests have gone to bed (bedside torches are provided). After power down, all that remains are the faint beads of light from Ullapool’s distant promenade.

Altnaharrie is very popular with newly-weds and has often had several honeymoon couples staying at the same time. Yet despite its wonderfully romantic setting, many guests visit the Inn more for the two Michelin star cooking. The menu is largely fixed although individual dislikes are catered for and you will not have the same course on more than one night of your stay (although you might wish to). Fresh local game and seafood caught from the loch that morning feature strongly at dinner and there is a liberal use of truffles, fungi and foie gras. You can choose from over 200 wines and the cheese list is one of the longest you will encounter. You are then encouraged to try all three of the dessert choices.

Gunn, the chef, works alone in the kitchen. Given the intricacy of the meals she creates, tables are not served together but one after another. It might be an idea to ask to be served last so as to allow the expectation and aromas of the meal to reach their most heightened levels - you won’t be disappointed when it’s finally your turn.

Information

Phone: 01854 633 230. Dinner, bed & breakfast 185 to 205 per person per night. Closed annually from early November to Easter.

If visiting Scotland from London and southern England, a charming and time-efficient way to travel is by overnight ScotRail sleeper. Depart London late in the evening and wake up to breakfast against the spectacular backdrop of the Scottish highlands. Phone: 08457 550033, Internet: www.scotrail.co.uk.

Isle of Eriska, nr Oban, Argyll

Isle of Eriska is a 300 acre private island guarding the mouth of the glacier-formed Loch Creran, the approach to which involves crossing a causeway over the Atlantic ocean.

The outside of the house is a stern gray but the inside is warmly welcoming. Log fires, wood-paneled rooms, deep sofas and large, comfortable guest rooms named after nearby Hebridean islands induce calm and relaxation. Eriska even offers aromatherapy and reflexology for the intensely stressed. For maximum tranquility, ask for Glensanda, a particularly quiet room high in the house and with a private turret. Morning coffee and afternoon tea in the Hall are civilized touches evoking more a country house party than a hotel.

Extensive reading material is available for those who just want to curl up in front of a fire. For the active there is a modern sports complex in an outlying building which offers swimming pool, gym, spa, sauna and steam room. Light meals are also available here so that you can "eat out". Tennis, clay pigeon shooting and a nine-hole golf course are also available on the island.

To appreciate fully the secluded charm of Eriska, borrow a pair of boots from the communal Wellie Rack and walk one of the well-graded nature trails. Particularly rewarding is the trail through the woods to the isolated beaches of the wild eastern side. You might encounter all manner of wildlife including seals, otters, deer and sea birds.

Dinner is a sumptuous affair and, rather incongruously for a hotel which doesn’t feel like a hotel, there is round-the-clock room service. One of Eriska’s unforgettable attractions takes place nightly after dinner when badgers from a nearby set come to be fed on the steps of the bar. These wild badgers are believed to be the third or fourth generation of diners at the house and feed happily oblivious of the spellbound guests only feet away.

The Buchanan-Smiths are charming hosts. Beppo, the youthful General Manager, and his father "Mr B", who originally bought the island, mingle easily amongst their guests. Another unforgettable sight is Mr B rushing around the house to say his goodbyes to departing guests. With hospitality like that, it’s not surprising that humans and badgers return to this enchanting hideaway again and again.

Information

Phone: 01631 720 371
Fax: 01631 720 531
Email: office@eriska-hotel.co.uk

Dinner, bed & breakfast 120 to 160 per person per night.

Tarr Steps Hotel, nr Dulverton, Exmoor

The drive to the Tarr Steps Hotel is an extraordinary roller coaster through deepest Exmoor. The narrow winding lane twists around occasionally blind corners, rises and plunges down steep hills and is bound tightly by overgrown hedges and overhanging trees. Miss the acute, uphill turning to the hotel, just before a sign marked "Unsuitable for motor vehicles", and you could end up in the River Barle, the river spanned by Tarr Steps - a primitive dry stone clapper bridge resembling a straightened out, low-level Stonehenge. First-time visitors would do best to arrive before dark.

What do you find at the end of this white-knuckle ride? Total seclusion in a conservationist’s paradise. Nestling in a beautiful valley and surrounded by 500 acres of ancient broadleaved forest hides one of the most tranquil and stunningly-situated hotels imaginable. Originally a Georgian rectory, the 11-room hotel has the ambience of a hunting lodge. The entrance hall is lined with old fishing rods. Hunting scenes hang from many walls and numerous hunting trophies stare from the wood-paneled walls of the cozy bar. Polished antiques adorn the individually-styled rooms, some with four-poster beds, and wood fires crackle on cold days. The Aga cooking is excellent.

Ask for a south-facing room or enjoy the same panorama taking tea and cake in the comfortable drawing room. The scene across the valley, particularly on a sunny afternoon, is breathtaking. Open heather moor crowns a steep, wooded valley which plunges down to a grassy pasture on which sheep graze on the banks of the River Barle - quintessential Exmoor at its glorious best.

There are no televisions or radios in the rooms. Mobile phones don’t work in the deep valley, which might be useful if you’re trying to escape the office. Even the wildlife is respectfully quiet at night when the only sound you’ll hear is the gentle babbling of the river.

The hotel offers six miles of fishing on the clean River Barle which teems with wild brown trout (March to July) and in which 6 pound salmon are common (July to September). Exmoor is superb riding and walking country and hunting and shooting are also available nearby.

Information

Phone: 01643 851 293, Fax: 01643 851 218. Dinner, bed & breakfast from 60 per person per night but ask about seasonal offers. Closed annually for three weeks from end-January (re-opens for St Valentine’s day).

Island Hotel, Tresco, Isles of Scilly

You can travel to Tresco, the second largest of the Isles of Scilly, by boat but the best way to arrive is by helicopter. Even before you’ve landed, you’re confronted by the seemingly impossible tropical greenery which flourishes in the mild, Gulf Stream-warmed climate. The 30-seater Sikorsky has not only taken you the 28 miles from Penzance but has also transported you back in time to a totally different world where there is no crime, no police and where nobody bothers to lock their doors.

The hedonistic Island Hotel is a sumptuous hideaway perched right above its own beach. There are no cars on Tresco and you get to the hotel by open-sided trailer drawn by tractor through the island’s narrow, palm-fringed lanes. The pace of life here is altogether sedate and revolves around the daily movement of tides and boats. Sunday newspapers arrive on Monday. Many famous guests, including Prince Charles and Princess Diana, have found tranquility and relaxation here.

Many rooms offer uninterrupted sea views through large glass doors and some even have private gardens. Rooms in detached outbuildings offer even greater seclusion. The main restaurant also offers panoramic seaviews and the window tables sometimes have to be re-set several times so great is the demand from guests. Freshly caught crab and lobster are restaurant specialties.

Borrow the hotel’s open-top (following an accident!) golf buggy and explore the island. Then take a stroll amongst the densely planted cactuses, palms, ferns, camellias and lilies of the famous Abbey Gardens. Tresco has four miles of silver-sand coastline and, as the island can only accommodate 400 visitors at any time, it’s relatively easy to find one to yourself. Take a boat to a remote beach of one of the uninhabited isles for the ultimate getaway.

The hotel is a much cherished secret and commands extraordinary guest loyalty. You need to book early but the hotel is so popular management won’t allow bookings more than one year in advance.

Information

Phone: 01720 422 883
Fax: 01720 423 008
Email: islandhotel@tresco.co.uk

Dinner, bed & breakfast from 95 to 230 per person per night. Closed annually from end October to early March. Transfers from Penzance through Scotia Helicopter Services, Phone: 01736 363 871, Fax: 01736 332 253.

Amberley Castle, nr Arundel, West Sussex

Queen Elizabeth I once owned 12th Century Amberley Castle, which nestles between the South Downs and the peaceful Amberley Wildbrooks. The Castle stands proudly at the end of a long driveway bordered by lakes. The location is quiet although not totally secluded but the owners have made every effort to safeguard the peace and privacy of their guests. A high curtain wall and massive gate house conceal the delightful central courtyard and enclosed gardens. The huge oak portcullis is lowered each day between midnight and 7am. Even the approach to the Castle is deliberately not well sign-posted. A sign beside the approach makes the point more directly: "Please do not enter Amberley Castle or its grounds unless expected".

In one corner of the enclosed gardens stand the charming courthouses. From the outside the Castle’s soft lights and candles flicker enchantingly through narrow lattice windows. The lounges and library are cozy and welcoming. There is copious reading material in the lounges and bedrooms. Swords, crossbows, lances, cannons, suits of armour and the presence of a benign ghost leave you in no doubt that this is a castle.

There are 15 bedrooms in the Manor House and Tower House (within the Castle walls) and five new Bishopric suites in the dry moat. All rooms are individually and sumptuously designed to pamper and include antiques, Jacuzzis, video players and, in the Bishopric, CD players. Individual rooms feature massive four-poster beds, Jacuzzis you could almost swim in, exposed beams, magnificent windows and direct access to the battlements. Fresh fruit and home-made biscuits await you on arrival.

The barrel-vaulted Queen’s Room restaurant offers impressive dining and a lengthy wine list ranging from first growth clarets to wines from Israel and China. The window table, with its romantic views over the curtain wall, needs to be booked in advance.

The Castle provides a romantic setting for civil marriages. For a religious ceremony St Michael’s Church in Amberley Village is just the other side of the Castle’s St Richard’s Gate. Amberley is also popular for honeymoons, anniversaries and wedding proposals. On request management can arrange arrival by helicopter or hot air balloon.

Information

Phone: 01798 831 992
Fax: 01798 831 998
Email: info@amberleycastle.co.uk

From 73 to 150 per person per night, including breakfast.


Martin Li is a freelance travel and lifestyles writer based in London. Born in Hong Kong, his family moved to London when he was three. After graduating from Cambridge University with a degree in physics, Martin worked initially in high level positions in financial services and capital markets.  Martin has published a number of books and articles and his topics frequent include his parchment for hideaways destinations, adventure trips, and sports travel. (More about this author).

Martin Li
19 Stephen Court, 52 Victoria Drive
London SW19 6BD, United Kingdom

Tel +44 (0)20 8780 0273
Fax +44 (0)20 8788 2802
Email martinli@mistral.co.uk 

 

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