Travel: 10 Great Escapes
1. Pic above
• The King’s Head Hotel, Cirencester, Gloucestershire
40 miles / 52 minutes
In the ‘Capital of the Cotswolds’, this town-centre hotel reopened in September 2014 after major cosmetic surgery which turned a tired old fogey into a bright young thing. The raw material is a Grade II listed coaching inn and the rooms are modern-meets-Georgian (panelling, sylvan wallpapers, power showers and restrained heritage colours). The rest is a smart combo of glassy walkways, a pampering spa, clubby lounges and restored original architecture. And it’s handy for Cirencester’s Market Place and the Brewery Arts Centre.
Doubles from £135 (01285 700 900, kingshead-hotel.co.uk)
• The Lord Poulett Arms, South Somerset
65 miles / 1 hour, 15 minutes
In Hinton St George, a chocolate-box vision of hamstone and thatch, this 17th century village inn – Somerset’s dining pub of the year – is big on log fires, leather chairs and Farrow and Ball paint colours. It’s worth the drive just for the Sunday lunches (roast rib of beef with Yorkshires, Lyme Bay fish-cakes or Dorset asparagus), and worth spending the night so you can try the local ales (Branscombe and Otter among others). Rooms are retro-rustic (antique beds and roll-top tubs) and include a vast loft apartment.
Doubles from £85 (01460 73149, lordpoulettarms.com)
• 5 Bimport, Shaftsbury, North Dorset
44 miles / 1 hour, 20 minutes
On the border of Wiltshire and Somerset, ancient Shaftsbury is proper Dorset: all medieval monks, rolling vales and Thomas Hardy. Local attractions include Gold Hill (the oh-so-steep, cobbled street which famously featured in a 1970s Hovis advert directed by a young Ridley Scott), lots of green-welly walks and views of Blackmore Vale. The place to stay is Number 5, Bimport, an elegant Georgian townhouse, done up by its arty owners, Trevor and Kate, and offering two large, light bedrooms.
Doubles from £85 (01747 228490, fivebimport.co.uk)
• Swain House, Watchet, North Somerset
54 miles / 1 hour, 20 minutes
When Jason and Annie Robinson moved to Watchet from London (they both worked for Disney), they brought a whiff of cool, urban style to this time-warped harbour town which claims to be the inspiration for Coleridge’s epic poem, The Ancient Mariner. Swain House used to be a junk shop (eat your Somerset breakfast in a shop window overlooking the high street); now it has four bedrooms, all with king-size bed, wall of digital wallpaper (details from National Portrait Gallery masterpieces) and luxury bathroom. Views are not its strong point but Watchet is great base for the Quantocks, Porlock Bay and Exmoor.
Doubles £125 per night (01984 631038, www.swain-house.com)
• Hix Townhouse, Lyme Regis, West Dorset
70 miles / 1 hour, 30 minutes
Premier league chef, Mark Hix seems to doing to Lyme Regis what Rick Stein pulled off in Padstow. First the Oyster House restaurant (fishy, pricy, sensational views) and now the Hix Townhouse B&B recently acquired and tarted up with wrought iron beds, varnished timbers, vivid colours and the odd bit of trendy taxidermy. Not much in the way of sea views, but it’s a short walk to Broad Street (tea shops, fossils, driftwood, vintage), the beach, the sea-front promenade, the famous Cobb harbour and footpaths along the Jurassic Coast. Breakfast is delivered to the room in a hamper.
Doubles from £120 (01297 442499, hixtownhouse.co.uk)
* The Magdalen Chapter, Exeter
80 miles / 1 hour, 30 minutes.
Exeter’s former West of England Eye hospital, was converted in 2012 to offer a city resort with restaurant, lounge bar, walled gardens, and a swanky inside-out pool and spa. It’s big and bold but like its sister hotel (the Montpellier Chapter in Cheltenham), the atmosphere is relaxed and the rooms very boutique-hotel (wallpapers and velvet drapes, shades of plum and aubergine, white hospital tiles). Special features include striking contemporary art, tapas on the terrace, an i-Pad in every room and a freebie mini bar. One of the rooms is a former operating theatre, but don’t let that put you off.
Doubles from £150 (01392 590257, themagdalenchapter.com)
• Felin Fach Griffin, Brecon Beacons
72 miles / 1 hour, 30 minutes
This was the first dining-pub-with-rooms in the Eat Drink Sleep micro chain run by the Inkin brothers, whose maxim is all about slow food, affordable comfort and good quality in everything from wines to Welsh wool blankets. With pretty gardens and country views, it’s cosy and cottagey and though the food is posh (they do supper here – with pastille, pickled apple and pomme puree) the place has a laid-back pubby vibe: think rustic furniture, books, beer and squashy sofas. If you can tear yourself away, you are close to lit-fest Hay-on-Wye, the Black Mountains and the Brecon Beacons.
Doubles from £125 (01874 620 111, eatdrinksleep.ltd.uk)
• Weeke Barton, Dartmoor
88 miles / 1 hour, 35 minutes
Tucked away in the wilds of Dartmoor National Park, this celebrated Devon retreat is run by an ex-Conran restaurant manager and a graphic designer – and their collective eye for detail is part of its winning formula: an easy-going mix of 15th century Devon Longhouse (oak beams, latched windows, wonky walls) and hip, edgy-London hotel (cowhide rugs, sheepskin throws, designer lamps, arty photography, a bit of Tracey Emin). There’s a free-standing bath tub in one of the bedrooms, chilled music in the lounge and the extras include starry nights, birdsong in the morning and home-cooked evenings meals on request. There’s an honesty bar if you fancy a beverage.
Doubles from £110. 01647253505, weekebarton.com)
• Brown’s Hotel, Laugharne, Carmarthan
118 miles, 2 hours
Immerse yourself in the Dylan Thomas experience at Brown’s Hotel in Laugharne the great poet’s Welsh stamping ground. The 18th century inn was one of his favourite boozers but he missed out on the recently jazzed-up rooms: some with poetic, photographic murals, high ceilings and roof trusses; others that stray into the Three Mariners next door. In the bar, good honest pub grub is served with Welsh ales and occasional live music. Explore Laugharne’s round of Dylan Thomas moments – writing shed, boathouse, grave, monument – plus the Taf Estuary, a castle, and the quirky Tin Shed Experience (look it up).
Doubles from £75 (01994 427 688, browns-hotel.co.uk)
* Kaywana Hall, Kingswear, South Devon
105 miles, 2 hours
Can this really be Devon? A glamorous, modern re-make of a 1960s ‘butterfly house’, it looks like it’s been teleported from California – or Tracy Island. Owners, Tony and Gordon, bought it with a view to restoration but they ended up demolishing and rebuilding, hiring an architect to replicate the original glass cube spaces, the carport and the dramatic inverted roof. Their B&B is pricey, but worth it, with classy suites, woodland views, sunny terraces and a shimmering blue pool. They don’t do dinner, but nearby Kingswear is a 10-minute walk; from there you can take the Dart River foot ferry to Dartmouth.
Doubles from £140 (01803 752200, kaywanahall.co.uk)
All prices are based on two people sharing a room and include breakfast. For distances and travel times we used Google Maps directions from BS1.