The English countryside is enjoying a bit of a moment. Increasingly, Londoners are craving rustic getaways to romantic cottages nestled in the wilderness, so much so that cottagecore has become one of the dominant interiors trends of today. While foreign travel may be starting to resume, there are still plenty of countryside escapes that are well worth exploring. Here, we’ve rounded up the finest luxury cottages to book for your next staycation.
Imagine a 5,000-acre private estate, set deep in the Suffolk countryside, that’s entirely devoted to guests’ enjoyment. Wilderness Reserve is that place. The brainchild of billionaire property entrepreneur Jon Hunt, this enormous swathe of land houses 15 luxury cottages, farm and country houses hosting two to 27 guests, all of them pet- and child-friendly.
You might think that Sibton Park – the estate’s 14-bedroom Georgian manor house – is the jewel in the crown. And, in many ways, it is, with its dramatic portico entrance, spectacular suite of reception rooms (the drawing room, with its listed Chinese wallpaper, is stand out), gym, private cinema and courtyard.
Each property is unique in its architecture and decor, but all guests have the run of the estate and it may come as no surprise that the activities on offer are extensive. The energetic can try anything from paddleboarding on the lake to exploring the grounds on a Pashley bicycle, and the nature trail is a pleasant way to while away an afternoon as the estate ecologist points out the flora and fauna that call Wilderness home (Hunt is said to have planted one million trees here).
The food offering taps into the local scene, whether it’s a hearty meal in your cottage, a ‘firefeast’ in a secluded woodland setting or large-scale festivities with friends and family. For a celebration like no other, you could even rent the entire estate. Now that would be some party
But while the other properties may be a little smaller, they’re no less impressive. The Walled Garden is an eight-bedroom retreat spread across three glasshouses, with its own one-acre private garden resplendent with espaliered fruit trees. And the infamous pink Farmhouse – the oldest property on the estate, sleeping 12 – is all beamed ceilings and inglenook fireplaces.
Also dreamy is Moat Cottage, an extraordinary Tudor farmhouse that’s surrounded by water and accessed only by a footbridge, and Hex Cottage, a tiny, thatched hideaway with a private lavender meadow as its back garden. Electricity-free, it’s ideal for a romantic candlelit weekend (the wood-burning range provides hot water and heating).
Those hankering after bucolic charm need to put Southrop, Gloucestershire, into their SatNav. For it’s here, on a rolling 150-acre private Cotswolds estate, that they’ll find a honey-hued cluster of farmhouse buildings collectively known as Thyme. This family-run country house retreat – or ‘village within a village’, as founder and creative director Caryn Hibbert calls it – has the vibe of a sleepy hamlet, but with everything you need to relax and recharge.
Find a shady spot in the topiary-filled gardens to sip ice cold rosé and admire Bunny Guinness’s garden design. Or up the ante with botanical cocktails at The Baa – lambing sheds transformed into a bar. There’s also a bustling cookery school, not to mention a tennis court, heated springwater outdoor pool and The Meadow Spa, a haven of peace and tranquillity with its ‘love of nature and the land’ ethos and Aurelia Probiotic Skincare treatments.
Guests can stay in the hotel rooms, all of which have been individually designed by Caryn (with names such as Lemon Balm and English Rose, they’re as charming as you’d imagine), and have the run of the place. But those seeking extra privacy should book one of the on-site cottages, each one a pared back vision of wood-burning stoves, roll-top bathtubs and deeply comfortable beds.
Picture-perfect The Tallet offers the best of both worlds – seclusion in the form of a four-bedroom suite, so four couples could book it together, with a spacious open-plan living space and private courtyard. Even better, guests also have access to all the facilities of the hotel. Similarly, Pear Tree – a new one-bedroom cottage suite – joins the portfolio this summer.
Old Walls, on the other hand, is a self-catered cottage with sweeping views across rolling fields, where Black Welsh Mountain sheep graze contentedly, and wildflower meadows that hum with life in summer. Spread over three rambling floors, it has two double bedrooms and two bathrooms, a cosy sitting room, sunny conservatory and a walled garden ideal for dogs and children, as well as a spot to sip a cool Pimm’s on a balmy evening. A welcome hamper with homemade goodies awaits new arrivals.
The Ox Barn serves lunch and dinner currently on the relocated, socially-distanced south-facing terrace, where chef Charlie Hibbert (Caryn’s son and formerly at Quo Vadis in Soho) delivers a kitchen garden-inspired menu, including pork with polenta and asparagus and meringue with freshly picked rhubarb. For a home-from-home hideaway, this country idyll has it all.
Anyone who has stayed at stately home-turned-country house hotel Cliveden will not be surprised to learn that its three-bedroom cottage is just as luxurious as the big house, making it the ideal spot for an indulgent weekend away.
Set in the wooded grounds of the five-star estate – which was once the seat of the Astor family – in its previous life the cottage was the summerhouse of the former chatelaine, the Countess of Orkney. The 19th-century building has been brought bang up to date and is decorated in soft, muted tones, allowing the historical features to shine, most notably the stunning lattice bay windows.
The three comfortable bedrooms (two doubles and a twin), and the bathroom with its walk-in shower, bath and splash tv, make it ideal for families, small groups or even couples looking for a bit of extra space.
Downstairs, enormous sofas and crackling fires in the two lounge areas are designed for cosy evenings with a glass of wine and a board game on the go. The country kitchen comes with all the mod cons, including a duck egg blue Aga – though there is a private chef on hand should you wish to hang up your apron for the duration of your stay.
But it’s the location that steals the show. Sitting on the banks of the River Thames, the cottage’s private garden gently slopes down to the water’s edge and even comes with its own mooring – Queen Victoria would arrive here by boat when she came to take tea at Cliveden, and it was in these grounds that Kenneth Grahame wrote the children’s literary classic The Wind in the Willows in 1908. It’s the perfect spot to sit and watch the comings and goings of the river as you gradually make your way through the welcome hamper, which contains Champagne and wines, as well as nibbles – there’s even hot chocolate and marshmallows for younger visitors.
Guests can use the facilities at Cliveden (when it reopens in May) and will likely want to make a beeline for the outdoor heated pool, which is flanked by comfortable loungers and two enormous hot tubs. Surely one of the most glorious spots in England on a hot summer’s day.
Thank goodness Peter and Amanda Jacques-Walker decided to leave their successful careers in London to embark on a rural adventure. Otherwise we wouldn’t have Brownber Hall, a Victorian country house in a remote Cumbrian hamlet which the couple bought and transformed into an award-winning seven-bedroom guesthouse.
But in the wake of the pandemic and in a bid to adapt to the #NewNormal, last summer the couple decided to reopen the Hall as a private rental, whilst simultaneously launching Brownber House, an adjacent four-bedroom farmhouse sleeping eight – also available for staycationers.
The interiors in both – a mix of traditional and contemporary – are all down to Georgina Rose, who was formerly an architect and interior designer at Soho House and just happens to be Amanda’s sister. Expect a Vanessa Arbuthnott covered chair here and William Morris wallpaper there, while well-loved books, modern art, cosy rugs and vintage furniture all add to the eclectic aesthetic.
The attention-to-detail throughout the Hall and House is exemplary, from the well-equipped kitchens to the bathrooms with their Perrin & Rowe fittings (you’ll likely never want to get out of the freestanding stone bath tub in the master bathroom, which offers magnificent views).
The two properties are connected by a private 50-metre pathway, meaning guests can comfortably hire one or both (sleeping up to 23 guests across the two) – though each has its own sizable garden, BBQ and firepit. Indeed, it’s all about the outdoors here, with the beguiling Howgill Fells right on the doorstep, waiting to be explored.
Hungry walkers will be rewarded handsomely at Brownber. A hamper greets new guests, packed with freshly baked sourdough bread, marmalade, cakes (the lemon drizzle is a must) and cookies. Fridges can also be pre-stocked with local delicacies, as well as picnics and home cooked meals. What could be more delightful than a post-ramble plate of local longhorn beef bourguignon with dauphinoise potatoes made that day by Amanda, who trained at Leith’s, all washed down with a bottle of Burgundy?
This is just one example of Peter and Amanda’s nothing-is-too-much-trouble approach. Whether you’re looking for insider tips on the best walks or need help curating your stay (stargazing, horse riding, biking, fishing), they are only a WhatsApp message away. “We want people to feel they can relax here and make themselves at home,” says Peter. “Our aim is for our guests to feel as if they have come to stay at a friend’s house in the countryside.”
Main image: Thyme – The Lodge. Photography by Rich Stapleton