Much ado about something – Sophie Ritchie shares why Billesley Manor in Stratford-upon-Avon makes a regally rural weekend getaway this winter
Gleaming oak panelled walls, roaring fireplaces, sofas at every turn and enough gin bottles to power Patsy Stone for at least a week – there’s no doubt that the newly refurbished Billesley Manor is a property weaving a leisurely Adagio tempo into every detail.
This is a base from which to explore, a retreat to escape to, a space to snuggle up and finally read that book – or if preferred, do absolutely nothing at all but swill a well-recommended glass of wine and chat the afternoon away. Steeped in fascinating history, it’s no new kid on the block, either – you’ll find impressive mentions of Billesley Manor dating back to the 1086 Doomsday Book.
With awards for everything from cleanliness to being a top Travelers’ Choice, its recent £5.6m refurbishment has made this historic manor house more inviting than ever for unwinding and reclining in one of the many inviting armchairs. Surprisingly however, both business and leisure guests are welcome here – you could just as easily hire it for a conference as you could an enchanting country wedding in the property’s romantic and topsy-turvy topiary garden.
Born and bred in nearby Stratford-upon-Avon (and rumoured to have frequented Billesley often), there’s an essence of William Shakespeare dropped in now and then (lookout for flamboyant artwork hanging on The Stuart Restaurant’s walls or request Room 4 for the ‘Shakespeare Suite‘) but this is certainly less gimmick and more gourmet grandeur – the main attention is poured onto refinement and poise rather than relics and plays. For those keen to learn more about the Bard of course, the town centre and Shakespeare’s birthplace is a mere 10-minute drive away.
Fine dining fans can park up at The Stuart Restaurant for a refined bite from specially-curated seasonal menus. Think classics with a spot of sophistication – nourishing and colourful salads, mains such as tender honey-roasted duck breast and for those feeling naughty, a seriously posh fish finger sandwich with melt-in-the-mouth batter.
Lunch and dinner are both served a la carte, whilst breakfast is a DIY affair (served from 7.00-9:30am on weekdays and 8.00-10.00am on weekends) with trestle tables laden down with cooked breakfast staples, cereals and a simple selection of fruit and yoghurts.
Pouring Measure for Measure, head to The Great Hall and bask in its historic splendour with a sip – the extensive drinks list features many tempting cocktails and wines to sample. The room’s stunning gold and azure-hued bar is fully-stocked with household names, but Billesley Manor has also partnered with a local distillery and brewery to offer boutique refreshment from closer to home.
Large and lustrous, my Manor House Double bedroom in the main building is spaciously inviting with a large double bed and a vast mullioned archaic window, which dominates the space and looks out across the sprawling grounds beneath.
Cozy touches complete the abode – velvety chairs, dangling chandeliers and floor-to-ceiling oak panelled walls that transport a guest straight back to the early 17th century when the grade II listed property was first rebuilt in stone after changing ownership for the first of many times. Modern touches bring a dreamer back to reality however, with the addition of flatscreen TVs, vibrant fabrics, bedside USB ports and very non-Renaissance hairdryers.
The bathroom is equally well-stocked with all the essentials – think well-heeled toiletries, fluffy heated towels and clever tech that makes getting spick and span easier than ever. Button-powered shower facilities eliminate the usual process of turning the tap until the water no longer scalds or freezes, whilst a motion detector dressing mirror lights up when one’s face (and eyebrows) are nearby. Back in the room, you’ll also find basic but ample tea & coffee making facilities, as well as the weekend getaway essential – cozy linen robes.
These can of course be utilised best in the hotel’s spa facilities, where a large indoor swimming pool flanked by loungers and petite sauna and steam room await. Open to residents as well as local members, visit at an off-peak time for the best experience or book a pampering spa treatment for some added ‘me time’ – the 25-minute Back, Neck, Shoulder Massage (£45) with 100% preservative-free essential oils will have you drifting off with every kneaded knot.
Things to do
1 Bring your appetite to El Greco, a nearby restaurant specialising in excellent Greek cuisine with a side of warm hospitality. Order from the modest three-course Prix Fixe menu or if you’re feeling adventurous, take on the notorious 22-course banquet! el-greco.co.uk
2 Learn more about the world of independent artisan spirits with a visit to Shakespeare Gin Distillery, where handcrafted gins and rums are crafted entirely onsite. As well tours, gin schools, gin cruises (all aboard) and cocktail masterclasses, there’s also a shop to stock up on the award-winning tipples. shakespearedistillery.com
3 Wildlife fans can mecca to Stratford-upon-Avon Butterfly Farm, the UK’s largest tropical butterfly attraction that’s ideal for a drizzly-day activity. Potter through exotic plants and gurgling waterfalls whilst a kaleidoscope of butterflies soar around you. butterflyfarm.co.uk
The Wordrobe Verdict
There’s much ado about something at Billesley Manor, and it’s certainly special. Be welcomed with open arms this winter and enjoy a hotel stay just ‘As You Like It’ – from exploring to epicurean indulgence, there’s something for everyone at this Warwickshire hideaway.
Make it happen
How: Billesley Manor Hotel & Spa rates start from £160 per night B&B based on two people sharing, subject to availability. For more information about Billesley Manor Hotel and to book a stay, please visit www.bespokehotels.com, www.billesleymanor.com or call 01789 279955.
Where: Billesley, Stratford-upon-Avon B49 6NF