Blame it on the frenetic pace of the modern world, but many of us are now choosing to retreat to places where gardens, gentle and green, are at the heart of the hospitality. Janelle McCulloch, author of The Gardener’s Travel Companion to England chooses her must-visit hotels with gardens for green-fingered travellers.
Top UK Hotels with Gardens
Abbey House, Wiltshire
If you like the thought of wandering Abbey House’s beautiful topiary and rose gardens at dawn, before all the day visitors appear, then stay the night.
Guests have full use of the 5-acre gardens and can wander the paths after hours. Occasionally there are Clothes Optional Days held in the gardens (to presumably keep long-time guests happy, as the tradition has been going for years), so just check whether you need to bring many clothes before you book! The views of the garden from the suite are sublime, whether there’s a bare bottom walking past or not!
Malmesbury, Wiltshire, SN16 9AS.
Askam Hall, Cumbria
Askham Hall is a former peel tower dating from the fourteenth century. It opened as a country house hotel in 2013, with luxury accommodation, a restaurant, spa, café and wedding barn. However, the real reason to stay here is the splendid formal garden with terraces of herbaceous borders and topiary dating back to the seventeenth century. The property also includes kitchen gardens, which provide food for the Hall as well as the owners’ pub and restaurant in nearby Clifton, the George and Dragon.
Askam, Penrith, Cumbria, CA10 2PF.
Asthall Manor, Oxfordshire
Asthall Manor will be familiar to followers of Nancy Mitford, Deborah Mitford and the rest of their literary and creative sisters; the romantic, gabled Jacobean Cotswold manor house was the childhood home of the Mitford family in the early twentieth century. There are herbaceous borders and lawns, reminiscent of Edwardian garden parties, but there are also contemporary parterres, with borders of roses, irises and peonies contained
elegantly within box hedges. Like the interiors of the house, the garden has a soft, romantic, agreeably pleasant feel; plants that escape to the gravel are allowed to grow while roses tumble over themselves in a wonderfully uncontrived fashion.
Asthall, near Burford, Oxfordshire, OX18 4HW.
Barnsley House, Gloucestershire
While England is dotted with hotels and hideaways designed for garden lovers, the golden-hued seventeenth-century manor Barnsley House is something special. Many of the rooms have their own courtyard or garden, although exploring the main garden, with its knot gardens, fountains and flower beds is enough to calm even the most travel-weary soul. The pretty Potager restaurant also takes in the view of the garden from its wide windows.
Barnsley, Cirencester, Gloucestershire, GL7 5EE.
Belmond Cadogan, London
Situated in the chic neighbourhood of Chelsea, and once a stopping point for both the famed actress Lillie Langtry and the playwright Oscar Wilde, this 1887 property has just opened after a three-year, £40-million restoration. The 54-room hotel is made up of five adjoining townhouses with many of the original design details (working fireplaces, mosaic floors and wood panelling) kept intact. Best of all, guests have access to the square’s private garden, Cadogan Place Gardens, which is usually reserved for locals only. This is a particularly elegant London square featuring ornamental planting and sweeping lawns; a design that has remained relatively unchanged since it was laid out in 1886. The hotel will even provide blankets, deck chairs and board games.
75 Sloane Street, Chelsea, London, SW1X 9SG.
Originally Cliveden was the country house of Nancy and Waldorf Astor in the 1930s. Today, it is a prestigious hotel, although the garden (technically also on the border in Buckinghamshire) remains open to the public. The magnificent balustrade in the garden was bought by the Astors from the Villa Borghese in Rome, and forms a platform to see the formal planting scheme, particularly the rose gardens. There are lots of whimsical yew topiaries, formal Italianate statuary, pretty plantings of herbs and herbaceous borders, and some lovely walks through the woodland landscape.
Cliveden Road, Taplow, Maidenhead, Berkshire, SL6 0JF.
Gidleigh Park, Devon
An exquisite Arts and Crafts manor house standing within 107 acres of Dartmoor National Park, the Relais & Châteaux hotel Gidleigh Park offers a traditional colourful English country garden, a water garden, a thriving vegetable and herb garden, ancient woodland and a wildflower meadow. The vegetables, fruit and herbs are used in the two-Michelin-starred restaurant. The hotel offers a ‘Grounds and Gardens’ tours twice monthly between April and October, led by the head gardener, which are rounded off with aperitifs, canapés and a two-course lunch, as well as ‘Nature Trails’ and ‘Fungi Forays’ with a local Dartmoor foraging expert.
Chagford, Newton Abbot, Devon, TQ13 8HH.
All extracts taken from The Gardener’s Travel Companion to England by Janelle McCulloch
We caught up with Matthew Freedman, author of Best Buildings Britain, to chat about his thoughts on modern architecture, what inspired him to write the book and why he believes we should all love a bit of concrete!
How did the book come about, what is the idea behind it?
It’s the third in a series by the publisher, Luster, that already covers Belgium and Holland. All the books are based on the same simple principle: an architectural tour based on the choices of a whole range of architects and experts.
The main section gives you 75 British buildings completed in the last 100 years, based on the choices of about 30 interesting people — practising architects, and experts in architecture and design of one sort or another. They contributed a list of their favourites, and anything picked more than once automatically made the cut. It makes for a really varied, occasionally eccentric, selection. It’s not meant to be complete or definitive, but I hope it’s diverse and thought-provoking.
Why did you want to write it?
I think about buildings all the time and I use them a lot, so it seemed like a good idea.
How did you decide on the timeframe for the buildings chosen – from 1918 until today?
The idea was to keep things focused on a range of modernist styles, and demonstrate what excited the contributors about the buildings of the 20th and early 21st centuries. I started planning the book in 2018, and looking back 100 years to 1918 just seemed right. The choices embrace Bauhaus, art deco, brutalism, underground stations, ornate cinemas, unorthodox private houses … And beware: there’s plenty of exposed concrete in this book! But there’s a lot more than that too.
Were you surprised by any of their choices?
Often. Plenty of things came up again and again, just as you’d expect: 1930s landmarks like Highpoint in North London and Bexhill’s De La Warr Pavilion, plus the Royal Festival Hall, the National Theatre, the Lloyd’s Building, and so on. Frankly, it would be downright odd if certain buildings didn’t feature. But alongside those, for example, Norman Foster chose Concorde and wartime prefab housing — examples like that are great reminders of the breadth of people’s interests and inspirations. Asking a diverse group means you get a rounded-out selection that includes seaside apartment blocks, defunct shopping centres and postmodern pumping stations, as well as all the acknowledged greats.
What did you learn from writing the book – any buildings you’d never heard of?
Certainly. Apart from the main 75 illustrated entries, every contributor’s complete list is at the end of the book. That adds about 100 more buildings, so almost everyone will find something new. I particularly like the small, personal choices. Things like the 1969 house (chosen by Peter York) inserted in a 19th-century terrace in Pimlico – a nice bit of brutalist infill. Or the unassumingly moderne Redhill Odeon (1938), a childhood favourite of Bevis Hillier, who went on to pioneer the appreciation of art deco.
Some of the choices have been demolished, what factors make other modern buildings stand the test of time?
There’s a major random factor here. It’s certainly not the case that the all best buildings survive, and the rest get knocked down, through some kind of rational selection process. We still have Preston Bus Station (1969), for example, only because of a passionate struggle by locals and the 20th Century Society. The authorities wanted it gone and almost succeeded. On the other hand, the Tricorn shopping centre (1966) in Portsmouth was flattened by the council in 2004 with no clear plan for what would replace it. Guess what? Nothing ever has. It was a really dull-witted move, which looks very wasteful and short-sighted a few years down the line.
Was there a golden era/decade for modernist architecture in Britain?
We certainly have a legacy of elegant, powerful 1930s buildings, from the Daily Express HQ in Fleet Street to the Penguin Pool at London Zoo. But the mid-sixties to the mid-seventies was definitely something of a golden age, too. Ambitious, optimistic, well-funded public projects produced council housing like Neave Brown’s Alexandra & Ainsworth Estate, or Goldfinger’s Balfron and Trellick towers. There were university campuses like UEA, and of course Lasdun’s National Theatre. Their impact and value – architecturally and socially – are still being thought through, even as some have struggled to survive.
Some of the designs are quite contentious – do you think we fully understand and value modern architecture in this country?
The evolution of taste is a slow and mysterious process, but I’m not sure we’re more conservative than elsewhere. Some people still struggle with art deco designs that others adore. Following on from that, that there’s a great big backlog of architectural styles to get steamed up about: brutalism, high-tech, postmodernism and so on.
What would you say to those critics who find modern architecture brutal and ugly?
Relax, give it some time, loosen up a bit, go for a walk. Don’t be part of the demolish-it-now movement.
Is there a growing affection for concrete?
Yes. In fact, it’s gone haywire in certain quarters. Bookshops are full of beautiful photographic surveys of brutalist blocks, you can get Trellick Tower on a tea towel or a tote bag. This is fine, but it caters to quite a small sector of the population. More widely, I do think full-on concrete is being seen as less alien, less intrinsically unpleasant. It’s partly because what remains is now – finally – kept cleaner and renovated, from the Queen Elizabeth Hall on London’s Southbank to the Fairfield Halls in Croydon. “Everybody wants to build and nobody wants to do maintenance,” says a character in a Kurt Vonnegut novel. It certainly helps if people can use buildings without bits falling off them.
Give us your top ten favourites?
I think I’ll sidestep that by offering a couple that nobody picked, and which, therefore, didn’t make it into the book. John Wells-Thorpe’s Hove Town Hall (1974) — a friendly, modest brutalist building that I walk past every day. And Birmingham Central Library (1974) by John Madin— an amazing upside-down ziggurat, a really triumphant municipal development that seemed like a terrible loss when it was demolished in 2016. Sorry to end on a sad note!
About ‘Best Buildings Britain’
In Best Buildings Britain, Matthew Freedman presents 75 buildings completed after 1918 in Great Britain, each accompanied by a photo and a short text. The selection is based on the top ten lists of renowned British architects and architecture critics, including great names like Norman Foster, Piers Gough, Charles Holland, Jonathan Meades, Alice Rawsthorn and Richard Rogers. From their lists comes a surprising mix of ‘best’ buildings, from applauded contemporary projects such as the London Aquatics Centre, to impressive must-sees such as Highpoint in Highgate (London) or Marine Court in St Leonards-on-Sea, up to brutalist gems such as Preston bus station and the National Theatre. The book also features the full lists with all of each contributor’s ten favourite buildings.
Find out more about Best Buildings Britain here.
When your home moves on wheels, your neighbours are forever changing. Meeting fellow van dwellers is one of the most rewarding aspects of vanlife says Calum Creasey, author of The Culture of Vanlife with Laura Smith. They might be just like you, or wildly different. See if you recognize any…
The Adrenaline Junky
Kitesurfing, mountain biking, climbing. You name it, she does it. Her van is 90% equipment storage, 10% living space. Seriously lean from hiking every trail she comes across. While the rest of us are searching for the slow lane, she is free solo climbing sheer rock faces in the American national parks. Van of choice: Mitsubishi L300 4WD
The Digital Nomad
He runs a start-up, and as a result the van is more rolling office than rolling home. The latest in satellite technology keeps him connected anywhere on the planet, but failing that, he can pick up free Wi-Fi from a McDonalds a hundred miles away. Bouncing between LA and the Oregon coastline, he leads a reclusive lifestyle.Van of choice: heavily modified Volkswagen Syncro T25.
Never has a couple been so in love. They spend their winters in Portugal wearing very little. But who could blame them? Taking snaps, updating their social-media feeds and sipping on cold beers. Life is bliss. He is an aspiring photographer and the tripod is vital for taking the perfect ‘just-woken-up’ shot. The van is stacked with surfboards and even has an envy-inducing herb garden on the dashboard. Van of choice: long-wheelbase Mercedes Sprinter.
The Eco Warrior
Her van interior is made from 100% recycled materials and is a wonder to behold. She spends her time volunteering on organic farms and promoting her type of ‘van feminism’. Trees planted to date: 1,000,000 … Van of choice: beat-up old Ford Transit van.
The New Age Hippies
Their converted horsebox smells faintly of hemp and incense. Shared with five rescue dogs, all of which have a story of their own, it is dimly lit but warm and cosy. Despite the fact that it is slowly becoming a part of the environment and that it may have been a long time since it was deemed roadworthy, this vegetable-oil-burning diesel will go on chugging forever. Does it run on magic? Who knows … Van of choice: converted horsebox truck.
The Golden Oldies
These guys are smart. They took early retirement and spent the kids’ inheritance travelling around Europe having the time of their lives. Their van of choice is a big white plastic motorhome with every mod con. Every single meal requires a full table set-up complete with chequered table cloth. They smile and wave when you pass them in the campsite, but don’t get too close, as ‘Ralph’, their miniature Jack Russell, guards the van with delight. Van of choice: coach-built motorhome.
Extract taken from The Culture of Vanlife by the creators of The Rolling Home Journal, Calum Creasey and Laura Smith. The Culture of Vanlife includes thought-provoking essays, interviews, illustrations and photography. Learn the basics of compact interior design, follow van conversions, and lose yourself in personal accounts of inspiring road trips. Explore the culture, vehicles, people, places and future of vanlife.