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Luxury Travel Guide: The best hotels & restaurants in the Lake District

Travel writer Leanne Kelsall searches out the top hotels and restaurants in the Lake District to give the ultimate guide to lapping up luxury in The Lakes.

The Lake District is one of the UK’s most idyllic holiday destinations. Its picture-perfect lakes, dramatic fells, snow-capped mountains and forests fit for a fairytale make it truly mesmerizing. It’s no wonder over 18 million of us escaped here last year.

The Lakes are dotted with A-list luxury too – if you know where to find it. So if you’re looking to relax in splendour at the UK’s largest National Park, my luxury guide has everything you need to know.

From chic, boutique B&Bs to dreamy country houses and Michelin-starred restaurants – whatever your style – there’s something for everyone.

Visit the ultimate foodie’s retreat – the Forest Side

The Lake District is a foodie’s paradise and the Forest Side is one of its top attractions.

This boutique hotel and Michelin-starred restaurant once served as a Victorian mansion before being sympathetically restored to the bolthole it stands today. It’s within walking distance of cutesy Grasmere, where you’ll find the former home of literary legend William Wordsworth and Sarah Nelson’s world-famous gingerbread shop.

The décor is countryside chic with a touch of quirkiness, with inspiration taken from the Cumbrian landscape. The twenty bedrooms (some pet-friendly) are minimalist, with calming white and pastel colours, designer furnishings and insanely comfy beds. One of the things that makes Forest Side so special is the genuine warmth that you get from everyone who works there. They’re a passionate, close-knit team who treat every guest like a VIP.

Rooms are decorated in pastels with quirky touches

The restaurant is outstanding, with a Michelin star and four AA Rosettes. The kitchen is headed up by culinary creative Kevin Tickle (previously of the three Michelin-starred L’Enclume) who has a lifelong passion for foraging. Impressively, 90% of the ingredients are sourced within 10 miles of the restaurant.

Some are picked from the kitchen garden and its vast supply of herbs, veggies and exotic flowers, while the larder is stocked with infusions, preserves, pickles and cured meats for the team to experiment with.

We enjoyed the extraordinary 10-course tasting menu (the ‘Grand’Un’) with wine pairings. There are shorter menus and an a la carte option too. Whichever you choose, you’ll be in for an unforgettable experience.

The dishes are experimental yet flawless, with explosive flavour. A roast ‘tatie’ kicked things off with a punchy cheddar sauce. Next up was a venison pastrami looking like a work of art. It was topped with a thin layer of Cáis na Tíre with holes punched through, wood sorrel and smoked juniper yoghurt.

The ‘dashi onions’ – a colourful pile of leaves and petals with fragrant sage stuffing and sweet black garlic – tasted unimaginable. The Herdwick Hogget loin was another highlight. Wonderfully tender, it was accompanied by ‘Charlie’s Garden Shenanigans’ – a selection of zingy leaves and greens which complimented the saltines of the meat.

Even the bread was sensational; a chewy sourdough served with a florescent green pea butter and scarlet red petals. We finished with an absolutely divine rhubarb and duck egg dessert.

Wines came from an exclusive list of independent organic and bio-dynamic producers, meaning they’re free from nasties like sulphate. Our charming sommelier took us on a journey with some surprises along the way. We started with a luscious ‘La Justice’ Chardonnay from the Loire Valley, with zingy tropical notes.

He planned a break from the wine midway, with a perfectly paired ale which had been brewed from a local fell. The unusual 2015 Moroccan ‘Tandem’ took my love of Syrah to new places. Peppery, fruity, majestic…this was a wine (and a meal) to remember.

Address: The Forest Side, Keswick Road, Grasmere, Cumbria, LA22 9RN

Phone: 01539 435250

Escape the crowds at ultra-luxe Threshing Barn

What could be more luxurious than a stay in your own converted countryside barn?

The 18th century Threshing Barn has been lovingly restored by Anna and Mark Aston, who live in the property next door with their three children, pets and livestock. Once a derelict farm, up to eight guests can now enjoy exclusive use of the barn, located in the quiet village of Stockdalewath near Carlisle. (A quick tip; if you’re driving from the south, take the route via the Kirkstone Pass, one of the country’s most beautiful roads.)

The open plan living area. Image  Credit: Beech House Holidays

At 30-40 minutes’ drive from the barn, the northern Lake District is easily reached and there’s also Hadrian’s Wall very close by. Two decent-sized supermarkets are a short drive away, as well as some great local pubs.

Threshing Barn is a passion project for Anna and her family who run it for the sheer love of looking after people (how lovely is that?). Anna, a former PA, provides the kind of hosting you’d get at a boutique hotel, which she does while juggling family life.

You’ll meet Anna when you arrive and she can suggest pubs for dinner (even book you a table) as well as local events and activities – or leave you to it if you prefer. There’s also her Simple Supper service which she prepares from scratch, including a hearty main dish, wine and cheese.

To put the barn to the test I took my family along and as we discovered, it balances style and practicality perfectly. There are four double bedrooms, each with an en-suite. The largest upstairs bedroom is sublime with a freestanding bathtub, while two of the downstairs bedrooms are in a private wing, so you can put the little ones to bed and enjoy some undistributed YOU time.

On the first floor the open plan kitchen and dining area is set up for big groups, with plenty of space to socialise. I found the state-of-the-art kitchen a dream to cook in with its high-tech double oven, spacious induction hob and two separate sinks, one with a boiling water tap.

I couldn’t stop swooning over Anna’s interior design skills. She explained her aim for the barn was to design a space that’s ‘minimalist’ and ‘relaxing’. Original features are complemented with designer furnishings and local artwork that she chose herself.

You’re spoilt when it comes to luxuries too. The rooms feature uber comfy beds with Hungarian goose-down duvets, XL televisions, rain dance showers, GHD straighteners, fluffy robes, bottled water and ribbon-tied fudge on the pillows.

Attention to detail is a big thing for Anna and Mark so they’re constantly chipping away to keep the grounds tidy, though you won’t notice them. When chatting with Anna about her passions for Threshing Barn, she said: “When a family says ‘I don’t want to go home’, that’s the ultimate reward.”

Well, we definitely didn’t want to leave.

Address: The Threshing Barn, Beech House, Stockdalewath, Dalston, Cumbria, CA5 7DN

Phone: 01697 476725

Dine in splendour at Holbeck Ghyll

Holbeck Ghyll is one of the best restaurants in the north of England which just so happens to have one of the most scenic views too. Its blissful hillside setting overlooks Lake Windermere and the fells beyond.

This former hunting lodge is now a sublime country house hotel, with 32 luxuriously cosy rooms and suites and a fine dining restaurant. It’s loved by foodies and A-listers, and was recently featured on BBC2’s ‘The Trip’.

Sea Trout at Holbeck Ghyll

Dining here is extremely affordable. You can enjoy a two-course lunch for £35 which surprised me considering the caliber of food. The cuisine is classic British with some modern flair and there’s a focus on sustainable ingredients.

The style of cooking has become more contemporary recently, with the appointment of head chef Jake Jones (one of the country’s best young chefs) who’s already bagged the restaurant some awards.

As we sat down for lunch (after soaking up the glorious views outside) the onion broth starter I’d ordered filled the room with heavenly aromas. It was mouth-wateringly rich and elegant. Sweet caramelised onions and edible leaves were piled up in the centre of a glassy broth. Who knew so much flavour could be extracted from a humble onion?

I chose sea trout with wild garlic for my main. It was served the sweetest, fluffiest Jersey Royals I’ve ever eaten, and tiny foraged mushrooms and peas that were bursting with flavour.

Struggling to choose a dessert (they all sounded delicious) our waiter suggested we try one of the much-loved puds from the dinner menu. It was a lovely summery strawberry and white chocolate dessert with the sweetest French strawberries that are only available during a couple of weeks of the year, and chunks of aerated chocolate – 10/10.

Address: Holbeck Ghyll, Holbeck Lane, Windermere, LA23 1LU

Phone: 01539 432375

Unwind in a secluded five-star forest suite

If boutique hotels are your thing, be prepared to fall for Brimstone.

This adults-only retreat is set on the 35-acre estate in the Great Langdale valley. It’s a walker’s paradise with its rugged terrain, cascading streams and breathtaking valley views. We discovered a fantastic walk 20 minutes by car from the hotel at the National Trust-owned Tarn Hows.

Brimstone’s bold, contemporary décor sets it apart from the many traditional (and somewhat chintzy) hotels in the Lakes. It couldn’t be more romantic, with 16 chalet-inspired suites nestled in the pines. Each bespoke-designed suite boasts stylish furnishings set against a soft, cosy colour scheme.

Natural elements abound in the Brimstone’s chalet inspired suites

Elements of the outside are brought in like stone feature walls, and creature comforts come in the form of statement bathtubs, log burners, fully-stocked mini bars and artisan toiletries. We stayed in the mezzanine loft suite; a spacious double-story apartment with folding glass doors that opened onto a private balcony.

You’ll benefit from lots of little touches at Brimstone, like the tweed-dressed ‘hosts’ who are at your service for pretty much anything you need and the Reading Room with complimentary alcohol, soft drinks, tea, coffee and artisan nibbles. There’s also the Boot Room stocked with top-notch walking gear.

There’s plenty to do on the estate which is shared with the sister Langdale Hotel. As a guest, you’ll also have access to Brimstone spa with no less than seven thermal ‘experiences’ and a heated outdoor pool.

We enjoyed dinner at the hotel’s fine-dining restaurant, The Stove. Expect simple, locally-sourced fare and portions big enough for two. Highlights included the smoked cod loin served with colcannon mash, a runny egg and a creamy mustard sauce, as well as a tender lamb rump served with a perfectly-cooked chunk of polenta and tangy sweet and sour peppers.

Address: Brimstone Hotel, The Langdale Estate, Great Langdale, Ambleside, Cumbria, LA22 9JD

Phone: 01539 438062

Eat the world’s finest sticky toffee pudding

People travel from across the pond to visit the enchanting Sharrow Bay hotel and these three little words are the reason why: sticky toffee pudding. It was invented here by Francis Coulson, one of hotel’s co-owners. Sharrow Bay was also one of the first (if not THE first) country house hotels. Plus, it has possibly the most picturesque view in the Lake District. How’s all that for a reason to visit?

Sharrow Bay is a traditional hotel with stunning views

It’s incredibly tranquil – there’s nothing to here except to sit and listen to the tide lapping over the pebbles or get lost in a good book at the bottom of the well-kept gardens. (Of course there’s always hiking, fishing and swimming if you’re feeling energetic.) It’s your chance to switch off with that special someone.

The hotel is charmingly British. Having opened back in 1949, much of the décor remains the same so as not to take away from the original style, with a few additions like expensive televisions and freestanding baths.

The great thing about Sharrow Bay is that it hasn’t lost its character. Yes, it’s chintzy and a little twee but it’s what makes the hotel so unique. The passionate staff help to bring that magic to life. They’re attentive without being overbearing and make sure every guest feels at home.

On first glance Sharrow Bay may look old-fashioned but behind the scenes the team are constantly drumming up ways to be forward-thinking when it comes to amenities. For example, the hotel has a state-of-the-art dog shower which has more bottles of shampoo and conditioner than I knew existed for pets.

We popped into the hotel for lunch (and to try that sticky toffee pudding) but we left wishing we were staying. Head chef Mark Teasdale serves up British classics in that nostalgic Sharrow Bay style. We tucked into three sublime courses in the opulent dining room with lakeside views.

The ‘Icky Sticky Toffee Pudding’ didn’t disappoint – we ordered two (sorry waistline). It’s gained quite a reputation in the Lakes with the original recipe still used today. It’s locked away in a vault at the hotel and anyone who works at Sharrow Bay must sign an agreement never to share it. It’s served with ice cream AND cream and I can confirm, it’s well worth the journey.

Address: Sharrow Bay, Ullswater, Penrith, Cumbria, CA10 2LZ

Phone: 01768 486301

Practice pinky lifting at 18th century Storrs Hall

The Grade II* listed Storrs Hall is in prime footing for the most popular parts of the Lake District. It’s set on the shoreline of Lake Windermere and as we discovered, its scrumptious afternoon tea is the perfect pit stop on your way to or from the Lakes.

Lake Windemere provides a picturesque backdrop for dining

Built in the 1790s, the hotel blends period features and centuries-old antiques with modern-day luxuries, like plush velvet sofas and bespoke artwork. It’s a popular wedding destination too, being so beautiful and secluded.

On first impression, Storrs Hall appears very grand and imposing but as you settle in with the small and dedicated team on hand, you’ll soon be treating this place like home.

The recently-refurbished bedrooms feature arty wallpapers, roll top baths and luxury furnishings – many with fabulous views of Lake Windermere. Each room has been bespoke-designed, so no two are the same.

The afternoon tea is divine. There are three tiers of deep-filled sarnis, fluffy scones and delicate pastries for you to tuck into. We enjoyed it with a pot of loose leaf tea but there’s fizz too if you prefer.

Address: Storrs Hall, Bowness-on-Windermere, Cumbria, LA23 3LG

Phone: 01539 447111

Be pampered at quintessential Armathwaite Hall

The Lake District is home to some of the UK’s finest country house hotels. Perhaps the most tranquil of them all is the family-friendly Armathwaite Hall with its award-winning spa and superb setting in one of the quieter areas of the Lakes. The peaceful pebbled Bassenthwaite shoreline is within strolling distance and charming Keswick town is a short car journey away.

The hotel is brimming with character, with its sweeping staircase and period fireplaces. The rooms are traditionally styled and many boast unbeatable views over the grounds and fells. There’s some room for improvement; there’s no fresh milk in the rooms and the furniture is a tad fusty but all is forgiven when you take into account all there is to do at Armathwaite, considering there are only 46 rooms.

Armathwaite Hall Spa

The award-winning spa has two floors of facilities for R&R-filled afternoons. There’s a thermal spa with a modern sauna and steam room, a hydrotherapy pool and several futuristic showers. Outside there’s a lovely terrace to sunbathe on, an infinity pool and a hot tub overlooking the luscious gardens. The treatments are top-notch and you have a choice of scandi-inspired relaxation rooms with snuggly beds to nod off in.

There’s also 400 acres of gardens and private woodland to explore, a croquet lawn, tennis courts and free access to the Lake District Wildlife Park as a hotel guest.

The Lake View restaurant offers a fine-dining experience and celebrates the best of the Cumbria. There’s a smart dress code – a nice excuse to get dressed up. Highlights from our meal included a miniature Cartmel quail drumstick served with a parmesan croquet and hazelnut mousse. The minted spring lamb was beautiful and to finish, a decadent lemon tart with a generous scoop of clotted cream really hit the spot.

Address: Armathwaite Hall, Keswick Road, Grasmere, Cumbria, LA22 9RN

Phone: 01768 776551

Grab an unforgettable lunch at the pub locals love

There’s no shortage of craft and gastro pubs in the Lake District but we came across a hidden foodie gem in the southern Lakes, just outside Kendal, which deserves a special mention.

The Hare and Hounds pub is a homely 16th Century coaching inn loved by locals and Lake District visitors. The main area in the pub offers diners a relaxed experience with a friendly village pub feel and there’s also a dining room that’s dressier, so you’ve got the best of both worlds.

The menu features gourmet versions of pub classics, with a focus on locally-sourced fare. The team are really passionate about working with independent and boutique suppliers when it comes to their food and drink.

We ordered one of their popular hand-stretched pizzas – no cheating with machinery at this pub. They say it gives the base a more authentic flavour and I definitely agree. Our seriously tasty tikka-inspired pizza was topped with zingy raita, rustic bhajis and fiery chicken pieces.

The Hare and Hounds offers gourmet versions of pub classics

The homemade burgers caught our eye so we opted for cheese and onion. A classic. But this was no average pub burger. It was enormous. The beef was mouth-wateringly juicy and you could taste the quality of the meat. It was topped with caramelized onions and cheese which oozed out on every bite. We left the pub in food heaven.

Address: Hare and Hounds, Levens, Kendal, Cumbria, LA8 8PN

Phone: 01539 560004

*Main image credit – Storrs Hall