Want to hire out an amazing property for a weekend soirée? Nicky Rampley-Clarke has the key to the door
Want to hire out an amazing property for a weekend soirée? Nicky Rampley-Clarke has the key to the door
It’s all about sport at Cowdray House, home to a stellar championship golf course and great spots for fly-fishing on the River Rother. Follow that with a dip in one of the two pools and it’s the perfect prelude to an elaborate, beautifully styled private dinner. Historic Buck Hall is the heart of the action for your weekend – all vaulted ceilings, centrepiece fireplace and Tudor accents, where up to 150 family and friends can gather to sample canapés and sip champagne. Then, it’s on to the main event: a beautiful banquet provided by a private staff, before slipping off to one of 15 sumptuously appointed rooms – soon to be increased up to 22 as of April 2018.
Gothic revival doesn’t come grander than at Penn Castle. It dates back to 1797 and features Grade II- listed battlement parapets, manicured Italian gardens and dramatic coastline views from its lofty position on the Isle of Portland. Nine en suites befitting royalty can be found across two floors; there’s also a spectacular orangery, swimming pool and sun-drenched terrace. Trusted caterer Nomad Food can leave prepared meals in the superbly appointed kitchen, or you can call on a chef to serve them restaurant-style in the dining room. The grounds make for a perfect backdrop to early walks followed by mornings spent with the Sunday papers.
On the eastern edge of the Lake District, Askham Hall attracts foodies from far and wide for the hyper-local menu at its restaurant. The country-house retreat, nestled in grounds rich with game, offers a range of dining rooms. The best tables are in the beamed barn, where a dedicated kitchen serves glorious feasting menus – from golden-roasted scallops to gorgeously slow-cooked lamb shoulder. From there it’s just a short pad to your bedroom, with fine-thread- count sheets and 17th-century features.
This Grade I-listed Georgian hideaway boasts decor straight from an interior designer’s dream, with original wooden floorboards, cornices and fireplaces. There are eight en suite boudoirs, plus four more doubles in The Guest Range, and a kitchen ideally set up to cook for yourself using the region’s finest produce. After dinner, slip down the secret staircase to the super high- tech cinema room, or convene in the Twenties-style cocktail bar – glam enough for Jay Gatsby himself.
Built in the creamy-coloured honeystone synonymous with the area and framed by lavender, this Costwolds manor is the definition of picture-postcard, while the recent unearthing of a Victorian water garden makes this heaven for horticulturalists. The modern kitchen is perfectly sized for dinner parties – for which you can also hire an in-house chef – while two barbecues can be used for alfresco feasts. And on a hot day, there’s no better spot than beside the unique geothermal pool, something ice-cold and dusky pink from Provence in hand.
The property reopened this year after an extensive refit by first-time hotelier Alex Payne. Book it out for all the amenities of a country- house hotel combined with the comfort of staying in the home of a well-heeled chum. The Jazz Age- inspired drawing room is where the party’s at come dinner – English veal, Duroc pork or Cornish lobster are sure-fire winners – while sister pub The Potting Shed is across the street for relaxed lunches. Work up an appetite with a ramble on the historic winding Roman Fosse Way nearby.
This well-appointed cottage and barn on the Cornish coast ticks all the right boxes for a takeover. Upon arrival, host Bonny Shanks can arrange everything from massages by the eco-friendly saltwater pool to private dinners cooked by Jack Stein (son of Rick). The two properties, with their artistic yet relaxed decor, can sleep 22 when booked together, while a quirky renovated Airstream caravan outside can be used for two more. Overlooking Bodmin Moor and close to pretty fishing villages, there’s plenty to see and do when not holed up inside, and there are 16 acres of private gardens on the doorstep if leaving sounds too much like hard work.
After a day huntin’, shootin’ and fishin’, gather the troops at this bolthole, set in 300 acres of farmland, with its 10 boutique-style bedrooms. Once the dogs are fed and down for the night, a charismatic butler and talented chef Ronnie Cockett bring a Downton Abbey vibe: G&Ts are mixed, then in the double-height dining room with its crackling fireplace, dinner is served. Ingredients – such as perfectly pink, slow-roasted lamb rump –are sourced direct from the farm. Then enjoy a digestif in the low-lit billiards room. Rock Inn, a 450-year-old gastropub, is on the doorstop for Exmoor ale and hearty Sunday lunches.
Aside from the stunning surrounds, food is the real draw here, with ex-pat April Bloomfield who’s tearing up New York’s restaurant scene behind the menus. She’s supported by the excellent Tom Adams – founder of barbecue joint Pitt Cue – who’ll be rattling the pans for your stay. You and your party will forage for ingredients by day, and eat them by night.
Nothing makes a better base for enjoying the hikes and fells of Cumbria than a former staging post and coaching inn with an AA- Rosette restaurant. The Pheasant Inn is the perfect perch beside Bassenthwaite Lake. Upstairs are 15 rooms resplendent in chintz and curios, with Farrow & Ball on the walls and Egyptian cotton on the beds. Downstairs you’ll find an informal bistro as well as a seriously smart restaurant, both cosy spots in which to wind down after a day tramping the hills. Two cottages are also available, perfect for the kids. The private dining room seats 20, while the menu showcases dishes from the restaurant. Wafer-thin carpaccio of beef, loin of lamb with crispy shoulder or roast hake with chicken dumplings will refuel even the weariest walker.
It was a brave soul who chose blue paint for the cascading staircase at this arts and crafts Tudor-revival manor in Sandwich Bay. But it works. You could think the Heinz family – the property’s previous owners – might have something to do with it. It’s full of eccentric design choices: patterned wallpapers, parrot-shaped lamps and the odd pink chaise longue. There are eight bedrooms across three buildings – the main house sleeps six; the Butlery and the Restoratory four apiece. As for recreation, aside from the bracing seaside strolls, head to nearby Chapel Down winery to sample a sparkling, shuck oysters at Wheelers in Whitstable, or simply stay put and use the slick kitchen as a blank canvas to create meals to remember.
The Kinlochs have lived here for 12 generations, and for the past 20 years they’ve also opened the doors to guests. A theme of attentive hospitality runs through the property: an exclusive booking comes with a full-on butler service to cater for every whim, from drinks to turn down. You’ll get free run of 100 acres of woodland and 10 luxurious suites in which to rest your legs after exploring the former. The dining room is the setting for supper in classic surroundings, with something on the menu for every taste, and Kinloch ancestors looking down on you from their gilded frames.
From a lively cèilidh to a casino-themed evening, Cringletie House is geared up to create virtually any kind of celebration. Built in 1861, the imposing pink sandstone property, near the bustling market town of Peebles, has plenty to bring to the party. Included in a private-hire package is free-rein access to 28 acres of lush countryside, the best tables in the house at the AA-rosette restaurant, and 13 bedrooms (the luxury master suite comes complete with turrets to explore). Nice touches such as a local complimentary dram before bedtime round things off perfectly. Don’t miss nearby Rosslyn Chapel, whose 100-plus mysterious ‘Green Man’ carvings inspired its appearance in Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code.
Ever dreamt of your own private castle, complete with moat, on a remote island? Surrounded by staggeringly beautiful scenery, Isle of Eriska Hotel makes that dream a reality. This remote Scottish castle boasts 350 acres of sweeping grounds, a revered restaurant using local produce, and a world-class spa with heated pool, sauna, steam room and treatments that use ingredients foraged from the island itself. Add to all of this 16 luxury bedrooms, five spa suites, six hilltop reserves with hot tubs and two garden cottages, and you’ve got the makings of a truly indulgent private party.
Close to the buzz and transport links of central Edinburgh, Dundas Castle is geared towards five- star blowouts. A glorious mish-mash of 15th- and 19th-century styles, there’s no minimum stay, either. Find 36 friends or family to fill the 17 bedrooms and separate cottages, then enjoy a different dining experience every night, from the candlelit medieval stag chamber with 3ft-thick walls, to the chandelier-lit pavilion with floor-to-ceiling windows and built-in dance floor. For something niche, the property managers can arrange an experience inspired by the cult TV series Outlander, compiling a bespoke itinerary that includes everything from themed banquets and whisky tastings to Scottish pipers and location visits. The nearby Champany Inn makes a perfect off-site lunch venue.
‘I never saw a lovelier or more romantic spot,’ wrote Queen Victoria of her 1873 visit here. Indeed, the vivid colours of the evergreen trees and sparkling blue of the loch make a beguiling setting for a landmark celebration. A more contemporary lure is the presence of Albert and Michel Roux Jr in the castle kitchen, where they have designed menus featuring modern British cuisine with classic French influences. And from golf to white-water rafting, all the usual rough and tumble of Scotland can be enjoyed on the doorstep.
Near the pretty harbour town of Tenby, this beautiful old rectory with high ceilings, exposed beams and dazzling chandeliers instils a real sense of occasion. Book room six for yourself: floor-to- ceiling windows give gorgeous sea views over to Caldey Island and the Gower Peninsula. At dinner, produce for a well-put together menu by head chef Jerry Adam is grown and foraged locally. While in the area, you could do worse than make a reservation at relative newcomer The Salt Cellar, followed by a soul-stirring walk on the beach.
Fulfil childhood fantasies of being whisked away to a castle at Château Rhianfa. The Grade II-listed pile in north Wales, a former stately home, has French renaissance-style and gothic-revival features as well as breathtaking views of Snowdonia. Swirl fine wines in the vaulted cellar, handle birds of prey at the falconry, or take a speedboat trip up the Menai Strait for an exhilerating afternoon’s entertainment. However, it’s the award-winning restaurant, Le Dragon Rouge, that’s the real jewel in this castle’s crown: book out the banqueting hall in its entirety and feast on top-drawer Welsh-French fusion food. There are plenty of places to retreat to afterwards, with 30 bedrooms and three self-catered cottages making for truly regal, comfortable and relaxing quarters.
This is the kind of place to cosy up in during winter with decent ale in front of an inglenook fireplace. Better still, 21 of your closest friends can hunker down with you in the 11 elegant bedrooms upstairs. In summer, everyone decants on to the terrace to make the most of those views: a delightful kitchen garden from which the chef gathers fresh ingredients, an ancient stone bridge straddling the River Monnow and the rolling hills on all sides. Welsh native Joseph Colman is the man behind a local, seasonal menu. Lamb, as you’d expect, is a speciality. A trip to the picturesque nearby village of Skenfrith and its 13th-century castle ruins is a must.
A Michelin star in the
kitchen and starched tablecloths in the dining
room set the scene for
honest fare at Tyddyn Llan
– one of Wales’s best
restaurants. So why bother
staying elsewhere after
Bryan Webb’s meticulously
crafted tasting menu
starring Pembroke crab and
Goosnargh duck? There are
13 rooms in this cosy country bolthole outside Llandrillo. There's also plenty to do in the day: have a ramble
to the organic Rhug Estate,
with its farm shop selling
meat reared on the pastures
and a café. Go fly-fishing on
the River Dee, or try sailing,
canoeing or windsurfing on
This Georgian hotel 40 minutes from Cork prided itself on a farm-to-fork philosophy long before it became trendy. Indeed, there’s not much served in its restaurant – headed up by Raymond Blanc protégé William O’Callaghan – that doesn’t come from the estate’s farm, kitchen garden, distillery or orchard. Our pick is the Turner private dining room: a Victorian glasshouse with views of Blackwater Valley. The 20 rooms are an exercise in country-house chic; the best are at the back, which overlooks a courtyard with topiary. Parties on the lawn are a must in summer.
There’s plenty to whet the appetite at Virginia Park Lodge – a grand 18th-century estate in 60ha of emerald beauty overlooking the shimmering waters of Lough Ramor. Accommodation is geared specifically towards groups and ranges from the main house to luxurious apartments and 12 simple and attactive shepherd’s huts. The cookery school cottages sleep between four and six each and are set around a pretty courtyard. Top Irish chef Richard Corrigan bought the lodge in 2013 and his own philosophies shine through. Book a private cookery session to learn more about making produce shine. When it comes to meals, the team are on hand to produce bespoke menus using fresh ingredients from the farm that display a passion for delicious, unpretentious plates.
It’s a family affair at Coopershill: dinner is eaten with silver passed down the generations and the venison is sourced direct from the family farm. The O’Haras have owned and run the 200ha estate since it was built in 1774, the latest of whom is the enigmatic Simon O’Hara. With just eight bedrooms, he has achieved a wonderful home-away-from-home feel. Inside, it’s all about candlelit dinners and open fires; outside, there’s a golf course, riding and clay-pigeon shooting. Or book into the local spa for a local seaweed bath.
This glamorous château in south-west France, clad with greenery, has your family’s next milestone moment written all over it. Up to 48 can sleep here comfortably, making this excellent for once-in-a- lifetime get-togethers. By day you can lounge beside the pool with a good book and a glass of something crisp; by night, enjoy pretty Périgordian plates, cooked by a private chef, in the half-panelled dining room. The decor is faded French glamour at its finest – think period furnishings, antique four-posters, heavy drapes, elegant wallpaper and imposing suits of armour – with each room boasting more talking points than the last.
The centrepiece of this all-stone holiday home in is the magnificent Roman- style, collonaded swimming pool. Inside six spacious double bedrooms sleep a dozen, while the on-site La Petite Villa Romane can house another three guests. Take a stroll to the village of Beaucaire and pop into a boulangerie, or simply drink local pink on the banks of the Rhône, at the end of the grounds.
There are tales to tell at this 18th-century château, just half an hour from the historic beaches of Normandy, as it played a key role in World War Two when the German army commandeered it as a base. The house is made up of three buildings – a château, carriage house and mews – and can sleep up to 27 guests. Self-catered, it’s the perfect place for creative cooks to take turns, whether buying produce locally (duck pâtés, saucissons and calvados are specialities of the region) or further afield in one of the big markets of Cherbourg (the largest runs every Tuesday). When it comes to breaking bread together, the damask wallpaper-clad dining room sets a dramatic scene for supper. On down days, book an excursion from St Malo to St Helier, taking in the charm of the tiny but mighty crown dependency of Jersey.
This isn’t the place for small and intimate affairs. Spread over 5,000 sq m, Le Moulin Neuf comprises five separate accommodations with 14 rooms and sofa- beds for a further ten that are ideal for multi- generational holidays. But this former water mill is as much about quality as it is quantity: expansive gardens with picnic tables for alfresco feasting, a central courtyard with circular swimming pool, and a tiled terrace with lounge chairs for basking in the sun.
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