I don’t know about yours, but my family traditionally overeats over Christmas, and in the lead up to Christmas too! My mother and my aunts would then spend January trying to out-do each other with carefully planned, portion-controlled menus offering heritage diet favourites like cottage cheese, grapefruit, rice cakes and celery. This pattern has been passed down to the next generation but we now celebrate the end of what we call the ‘lean period’ with some kind of special foodie experience. What our mothers really passed down to us was a real love of food and cooking, and of its healing powers, and of sharing that with family, and friends. So, while it may not be what a nutritionist would recommend, we celebrate the end of a post-feast fast with a small feast.
This year I thought I might suggest we all go away together for a long weekend. Maybe try some new food, or learn some new recipes together, or perhaps just share some special meals the way we did as children. There’s just no better way to reconnect with family – and if we outsource the job of cooking then we lose the insatiable element of family rivalry. So The Hotel Guru gave me some excellent suggestions of foodie hotels that I’d like to share with you…
Sea it and Eat it?
Our mothers really loved food and all of them were exceptional cooks at times, but they did all fall for fads and the classic British starter of prawn cocktail is one they all presented – and fairly regularly too, so much so that it’s become a bit of a family joke. So we’re always on a quest to test prawn cocktails far and wide. Especially if they’re Michelin starred, and served against an ocean backdrop…
Where to Stay: I don’t know if Rick Stein is serving a prawn cocktail at his famed Seafood Restaurant in Padstow, but it would be interesting to arrive en masse and see if we could convince his chefs to serve one! Anyway, his restaurant has rooms too, decorated in Cornish blue and white, with a light, airy seaside-y feel, wood floors and the best of them with ocean views. Rooms start from £165 per night including breakfast.
Practical Details: Padstow is one of those places that should be easier to get to, considering how popular a place it is to visit. But if you don’t want to drive the best station to head for is Bodmin Parkway, which is about 35kms away, and from there you can catch a bus. If you live near an airport you might consider flying to St Mawgan, Newquay Airport, and catching the bus from there.
Around the Lizard on the south coast of Cornwall is another restaurant with rooms I’d like to try out, The Driftwood Hotel, which is an intimate affair overlooking Gerrans Bay near St. Mawes. This property is set amid acres of private gardens and part of what they offer is a picnic service, where they’ll prepare something delicious for you to take on your rambles along the coastline at the end of the garden. Their restaurant also has a Michelin star, and the 14 rooms look light, stylish and slightly nautique – which I certainly favour in seaside hotels. Rooms start from £220 per night B&B.
Practical Details: Portscatho is the closest town to the Driftwood Hotel, and Truro is the closest station, but you could change trains and go to Falmouth Docks if you prefer to travel via Falmouth and St Mawes. Either way the last part involves a taxi.
Hearty Country Fare?
Our family also enjoy a good stroll before or after a big meal – the order depends on who is hosting: some of us walk while food is in the oven and then force-march everyone the final leg in order to prevent burning, and some of us prefer to rouse everyone after their meal and force them out of the house to ‘get the digestion going’…
Where to Stay: The Yorke Arms is grand enough, with food impressive and delicious enough, to win over even the harshest of critics. It’s very definitely decided it’s a restaurant with rooms, the quoted prices include dinner and breakfast, and nothing is too much trouble for them – they really want to make the most of your entire stay. The decor is whimsically clever, and the rooms, which come in all different shapes, sizes and prices, have fun names like Vixen, Howzat Bill?, Game On, Old Trout, On Yer Bike and Ey Up, with gentle adjustment to the classic decor to match. They also feature every modern amenity you could imagine. When it comes to the restaurant it’s Michelin-starred, but there’s also a Little Dining Room off the bar which is less formal, with food that’s no less delicious. Rooms start from £300 per night, but it does include dinner and breakfast, so have a good look at the packages they offer.
Practical Details: The Yorke Arms is on the Ramsgill village green, which is in the Nidderdale Valley close to Harrogate, that quintessential Victoria spa town and Yorkshire charmer. You’re also close to the Yorkshire Dales and the North York Moors. This is the kind of place where you’ll see a range of impressive cars in the car park. If you opt for public transport, then the best way to get here is probably by train to Ilkley and then a taxi, or fly to Leeds Bradford Airport and then get a taxi from the airport.
For the Ultimate Cooking School
There is somewhere we all always talk about going, and I wonder if this might be the year for it?
Where to Stay: Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons is Raymond Blanc’s beautiful 15th century manor house hotel, complete with his fantastic restaurant with its two Michelin stars and cooking school, and incredible gardens, complete with a kitchen gardens to feed the restaurant, and a gardening school too. The hotel and restaurant opened in 1984, which is when it was awarded its Michelin stars, and it’s held them ever since. The wine cellar is something to behold too, and the 32 rooms and suites are all different but all gorgeous. It does start from £665 per night, though…
Practical Details: If you’re staying here you should really pull out all the stops and hire a fancy vintage sports car, or horse-drawn carriage to arrive in. But if you decide not to drive the hotel is about eight kilometres outside Oxford, close to Great Milton, and you can travel by train to Oxford and then onwards by bus, or to Haddenham and Thame Parkway and on by bus.
Great Food and Great Value?
The first couple of months of every year is a time many families cut back, on spending as well as feasting. So it might be popular with my family if I suggest a great value option, and this wonderful looking hotel is under £100 per night.
Where to Stay: The Great House in peaceful medieval Lavenham is a 3 AA Rosette award-winning restaurant with a small luxury hotel attached. They’re not even calling it a restaurant with rooms because the rooms are worthy of a mention on their own. There’s a French rustic feel to the food and the decor, with dark wood floors, French-grey walls, a huge fireplace, big beams and crisp, white table linen. Upstairs are the bedrooms, decorated with antiques – one has a Jacobean four-poster bed. It’s been going for around 35 years and they really know what they’re doing here. Plus, with five bedrooms it’s perfect for us to book out the whole place.
Practical Details: Most of Lavenham’s buildings were built between 1450 and 1500, when the town was a wealthy medieval wool centre, and most are in an excellent state of repair – though some now have quite a lean on them. It’s a bit like being on a film set, actually. The best way to get there without a car is to catch the train to Sudbury or Bury St Edmunds. From Sudbury you can catch a bus, which will take you another 30 minutes or so.