With winter creeping up to the door, it’s time to make a dash to one of these lavish autumnal boltholes for a weekend of cosy decadence. By Alex Doak
The Home From Home:
THE PIG ON THE BEACH, DORSET
Threading your way around the pocked battlements of Corfe Castle, down towards Dorset’s spectacular Jurassic Coast, The Pig on the Beach is a blink-and-miss-it gem – a recently renovated country retreat set in the impossibly quaint, thatched paradise of Studland village. (So quaint, in fact, that it is rumoured to have inspired Enid Blyton’s Toyland.)
Billing itself – somewhat unfairly it might be said – as a “restaurant with rooms”, the 23 rooms themselves are a joyful mix and match of rustic chic, shabby chic, and just plain chic. But away from the decadent high-thread-count bedsheets, exclusive dovecote cottages and plentiful kitchen garden, it’s all about the view here. The Pig’s sweeping lawn draws the eye across Studland Bay towards Old Harry Rocks, whose National Trust pathways take you right to the precipitous edge. It’s then a brooding, romantic walk worthy of a Brontë novel, along the cliffs, over the blustery fields, and back to the snug bar for a restorative cocktail.
From £135 per night; thepighotel.com/on-the-beach/
The Ultimate House Party:
FASQUE CASTLE, LAURENCEKIRK, SCOTLAND
If you’ve ever dreamed of hosting one of those rambling Peter’s Friends lost weekends somewhere remote yet stately, Fasque Castle exceeds even that – a baronial mansion of 19 bedrooms, in the deepest Scottish Highlands, all for your exclusive use. And just 50 minutes’ drive from Aberdeen, at that.
The family of four-time Prime Minister William Gladstone bought the present house in 1829, twenty years after its completion. Son William was a frequent visitor to his childhood idyll, using it as you can now: a perfect respite in adult life, and a home away from the formalities “down in town”. Now owned and operated by Inverlochy Castle Management International (icmi.co.uk), whose portfolio boasts a host of other beautiful Scottish estates, you can draw on their network of hospitality partners to throw the most lavish, or the most low-key few days with your loved ones. Flowers, Range Rovers, pampering, fireworks, even a helicopter… it’s all here for you.
From £6,000 per night, inclusive of all 19 bedrooms and public areas; fasquecastle.com
The Regal Retreat:
BALLYFIN, COUNTY LAOIS, IRELAND
Sitting at the foot of the Slieve Bloom Mountains deep in the centre of Ireland (yet only 90 minutes’ drive from Dublin) Ballyfin is at once magnificent, yet homely; a place of history, romance, tranquility, surrounded by extraordinary natural beauty.
The house has been long-admired as the most lavish Regency mansion in Ireland – its interior décor among the finest of the country’s Neoclassical and Empire periods. Conceived on a generous scale in the 1820s for receiving guests, things eventually went into decline. After nine years of sorely needed, painstaking restoration (longer than it took to build originally), Ballyfin re-opened in May 2011 as a 5-star country house hotel like no other. For a start, there are only 20 rooms in this 614-acre estate, so a morning’s wander round the herbaceous borders or an afternoon curled up on a chaise longue in the drawing room is unlikely to bump you into another guest.
And if it’s one of those gorgeous, hazy autumn days, here’s a tip: venture into the library, and feel your way round the bookshelves. Eventually, a secret door will yield, taking you into the sun-drenched conservatory.
From €360 per night; ballyfin.com