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7 dreamy mini breaks just outside of London

Evening Standard logo Evening Standard 13/08/2019

© Getty images © Getty images There’s still all to play for this summer.

It may not feel that way if you are crashing down to Earth after a fortnight in the Med or stuck in the office, but three weeks of August plus a bank holiday await — and some of the best escapes are just outside London, as our writers discover.

Vitamin sea: The Grand Brighton

(Getty Images) © Provided by Independent Digital News & Media Limited (Getty Images)

Getaway clause: 55mins from London Victoria, then a 15-minute walk to the hotel.

USP: Bowler-hatted doormen and beach-view bathtubs.

Brighton’s historic seafront hotel — famous for being bombed during the 1984 Tory Party conference — has had a multi-million-pound makeover. The Grand 2.0 sports a new Victorian-Italianate facade, a buzzy cocktail bar and a spa featuring world-famous bee venom facials endorsed by royal facialist Deborah Mitchell, the Duchess of Cornwall’s go-to.

  © Getty images © Getty images The city’s main attractions all lie within a 10-minute walk (or 10 seconds, if you’re heading for the pebble beach). Inside, almost a third of the hotel’s art-deco-inspired bedrooms are sea-facing and the most indulgent choice for a romantic retreat is the deluxe sea view featuring a giant four-poster bed, a beachfront balcony and a deep wooden bathtub overlooking Brighton pier — the perfect spot for sipping a Brighton gin. 

The next day, afternoon tea is served overlooking the promenade, before seafood and cocktails at the hotel’s fish restaurant, GB1.

Rooms from £104; 97-99 King’s Road, BN1, grandbrighton.co.uk

Katie Strick

Room at the bar: Barnsley House

a close up of a flower garden: (Barnsley House) © Provided by Independent Digital News & Media Limited (Barnsley House)

Getaway clause: 90mins from London by car, or 60mins by train from Paddington to Kemble.

USP: The village pub.

I’m sure that most people who visit Barnsley House leave with heads full of hours spent lounging in the hidden spa, or wandering through the spectacular gardens designed by the last owner Rosemary Verey. And sure, all that was pretty great. I had a top-notch massage and whiled away a near-perfect afternoon wallowing in the steaming open-air hydrotherapy pool, watching wood smoke curl from the outdoor fireplace, with only some cooing wood pigeons for company. But come on, a hotel with its own pub? This is the stuff of minibreak dreams, London.

A short meander from the country house, it’s an exquisite, wood-panelled bolthole. We ate like kings (the bar snacks are worth lingering over) and drank even better, our return journey fuelled by several nightcaps of grape vodka, brewed by the landlord. If a lock-in doesn’t persuade you to hit the Cotswolds, then note that the Barnsley doesn’t allow young children, so mornings are blessedly undisturbed. And the rooms are exquisite — tasteful but decadent. Ours had two enormous baths, which has ruined traditional one-tub living for me forever. But why linger in the water when there are pints being pulled?

Rooms from £224; Barnsley, near Cirencester, barnsleyhouse.com

Lucy Hunter Johnston

The American dream: Mollie’s

a red light on the side of a road: (Soho House) © Provided by Independent Digital News & Media Limited (Soho House)

Getaway clause: 1hr 30mins from London by car or 1hr by train from Paddington.

USP: The best of America comes to the Cotswolds.

Soho House’s latest opening is quite a departure. It has none of the chocolate-box-cottage charm of nearby Soho Farmhouse and none of the group’s usual pools or spas; Mollie’s is a motel on the A420 just outside Swindon. The closest attraction is a BP petrol station.Yet it’s drawing the crowds. On the Friday night I visited it felt like half of the population of the Cotswolds were in the restaurant, queuing for Dirty burgers (Gizzi Erskine’s Pure Filth bun is available for vegans) and margaritas. There’s a drive-thru if you want to take your fried chicken back to your own Oxfordshire cottage, and regular DJ sets. Admittedly this is a pitstop rather than a destination, unless you’re particularly into the motel vibe (and the breakfast waffles). But what it does is turn a one-night stopover, usually a non-event, into a memorable extension of the break.

The restaurant and bar are the main attraction, along with the giant red neon sign on the motorway, which is fast becoming a signifier of cool on Instagram — think a modern Edward Hopper painting.

Mollies’ 79 rooms are soundproofed so you can’t hear the motorway, and booking is done by an app that doubles as a room key. In the rooms, the look is minimal Scandinavian with pale wood, rather than the retro Americana kitsch that rules in the restaurant. It’s recognisably Soho House, with Cowshed products in the bathroom, a mighty rain shower to blast away hangovers, comfortable beds and a TV.

Founder Nick Jones has plans for Mollie’s: he wants to open 10 in the UK, bringing much-needed variety to motorway stops. If he can bring vegan hotdogs to rural Oxfordshire; I look forward to seeing what he does with the rest of the country.

Rooms from £75; A420, Faringdon, molliesmotel.com

Susannah Butter

Deep dive: Christchurch Harbour Hotel and Spa

a house with trees in the background: (Christchurch Harbour Hotel and Spa) © Provided by Independent Digital News & Media Limited (Christchurch Harbour Hotel and Spa)

Getaway clause: 2 hrs 30mins from London by car, 1hr 47mins by train from Waterloo to Christchurch.

USP: Spa escape by the sea where food is the focus.

The active toddler we have in tow means we arrive at this luxury Dorset destination in fear. What would he break and how long would it take him to do it? The staff quickly put us ease. Despite the salubrious setting, children are welcome. R&R is key at this chic beachside retreat, with the HarSPA and exclusive hideaway area (no kids allowed here) and two renowned restaurants the unmissable attractions. On our first evening we eat the The Jetty — scallops, perfectly cooked beef and a glass of wine to match each course are the ideal way to recover from the Friday night drive from London. On Saturday we take in the sights of neighbouring Mudeford Quay and stop for a play at the beachside playground while filling our lungs with sea air.

On Saturday nights the Upper Deck bar fills up with friendly locals and an atmosphere that demands a couple of pre-dinner cocktails with which to drink in the sea view. Breakfast is another high point, with seasonal produce a prerequisite. Before returning to London, I head to the spa for a hot-stone massage and enter a state of bliss that extends beyond the bumper-to-bumper traffic awaiting on the M3.

Rooms from £135; 95 Mudeford Road, Christchurch, harbourhotels.co.uk

Karen Dacre

Totes a-maze: Dormy House

a large room: (Dormy House) © Provided by Independent Digital News & Media Limited (Dormy House)

Getaway clause: 1hr 30mins from London by car, under 2hrs by train from Paddington to Moreton-in-Marsh.

USP: The hotel’s two new restaurants.

Londoners seeking a luxury weekend bolthole need look no further than Dormy House with the rolling Cotswolds countryside as its backdrop. If it’s relaxation you are after, the hotel’s award-winning House Spa will help you unwind with its quiet pool, outdoor hydrotherapy hot tub, champagne nail bar and six treatment rooms

Should you feel like venturing out, Dormy House is set on the 400-acre Farncombe Estate where you can try Segway safaris, soap-box derbies and a Crystal Maze experience.

When it came to dinner, we were spoilt for choice as the hotel’s relaxed Potting Shed restaurant has now been joined by two additions. The Back Garden is a one-stop spot for the best the Cotswolds has to offer with a “slow food” menu that includes meat from high-welfare farms alongside locally grown vegetables. Take your pick from pearl barley and Worcestershire hop risotto or duck Wellington with Oldfield’s cider sauce.

The more intimate MO offers just 12 guests the chance to savour a seven-course seasonal tasting menu. When this level of luxury is on offer so close to home, there is every reason get out of town.

Rooms from £269; Willersey Hill, Broadway, dormyhouse.co.uk

Jack Lefley

Village people: Thyme

a large brick building with grass in front of a house: (Thyme) © Provided by Independent Digital News & Media Limited (Thyme)

Getaway clause: 2.5hrs from London by car.

USP: Country pile for an A-list crowd.

If a jaunt to a quaint countryside village is every cramped city dweller’s dream, then checking in at Thyme may just convince you to pack your bags and leave town forever. Located in the picturesque Cotswolds enclave of Southrop, best known as the location of Kate Moss’s nuptials, this sprawling country pile leaves you with little inclination to venture beyond its 150-acre estate, save from a trip (or two) to its cosy pub The Swan. Its on-site farm, lush kitchen garden and tennis courts add to the outdoorsy charm, while those who have had their fill of fresh air will be rewarded by home-grown feasts at the Ox Barn restaurant and botanical cocktails at The Baa, complete with fluffy sheep seats.

Room for more indulgence? Book the Meadow Spa for its dreamy menu of muscle-melting massages and Aurelia probiotic facials, plus a dip in the Cotswold limestone-filtered spring water pool housed in a walled garden (there’s a hot tub coming soon). As for where to lay your head at night, the options are just as plentiful, from the two private cottages to the Hollywood-styled Lodge room complete with projector and cinema screen.

The jewel in its crown is the English Rose suite, a rose-petal-pink paradise with two fireplaces and a roll-top tub looking out across a green and ridiculously Instagrammable view of your own private garden. Don’t forget to nip upstairs to the honesty bar for a nightcap.

Rooms from £325; Southrop Manor Estate, Gloucestershire, thyme.co.uk

Emma McCarthy

The big chill: The Spa at South Lodge

a close up of a flower garden in front of a building: (South Lodge) © Provided by Independent Digital News & Media Limited (South Lodge)

Getaway clause: 90mins from London. by car, 80mins by train from Victoria to Horsham.

USP: State-of-the-art spa.

We were full of ideas, of course. Optimistic notions about yomps across the South Downs, taking in Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and a picnic in a field of lavender. Just a flyby through the spa, we reckoned — just to say we’d visited — then we’d be off into the great outdoors.

Not a chance. Sure, nature looks great, but it looks even better reflected in the infinity pool of South Lodge’s state-of-the-art spa. The 44,000 square foot super-spa was installed this spring, and besides the infinity pool features a sauna with floor-to-ceiling windows, marble salt steam sauna, a wet room, hydrotherapy pool and outdoor (heated) natural swimming pond. There you go — great outdoors quota, sorted. My massage was superlative — I assume, as I fell asleep — and the rest of the weekend passed in a circuit of steam-sauna-outdoor dip. We whispered reverently to each other, smiling politely at other disciples shuffling around in fluffy robes. Camellia is a sure bet for seasonal food, and our kingsize double had spectacular views of the grounds stretching into the distance. Which of course, we ignored the next day and went straight back for another plunge in the hydrotherapy pool.

Rooms from £212; Long Hill, Lower Beeding, Horsham, RH13 6PS, exclusive.co.uk/south-lodge

Phoebe Luckhurst

Gallery: How popular tourist destinations are dealing with bad behavior (Tribune News Service)

Explore the issues faced by the UK’s most vulnerable children and young people this summer and discover what you can do to help.​​

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