If you’re looking for a romantic weekend away in a luxury hotel straight out of literature, then Billesley Manor Hotel and Spa is the place to be. Essentially straight out of a Shakespeare play, the four-star manor house hotel is steeped in history and charm; the Bard is even said to have written As You Like It here in 1599.
Following a £5.6m refurbishment, the beautiful manor has been returned to its former glory and now hosts guests from all over the country who flock to the area for a cultural country retreat. Located just five miles outside of Stratford-upon-Avon, Billesley Manor is a great base for exploring the historic town and the surrounding Warwickshire countryside, but also has lots to offer guests who are happy staying within the walls.
Stone gates mark the entrance to Billesley Manor, with a drive meandering along the sheep-filled fields before opening onto a spacious car park. The house sits amidst 11 acres of private grounds including beautiful formal gardens, gravel courtyards and rolling lawns. Be sure to follow the footpath around the back of the hotel to the beautiful 11th century All Saints Church, now owned by the Church Conservation Trust, which is rumoured to be the church where William Shakespeare married Anne Hathaway.
When you arrive, there are lots of Covid protocols in place to ensure that guests can enjoy their stay and remain safe, and the hotel team has made it easy to abide by the Government’s rules. Clear signs are distributed around the hotel and the receptionist explained all of the procedures as we checked in. A one-way system has been introduced around the busy reception and bar area, and masks must be worn at all times inside the building unless guests are using the spa or are seated at a table.
Communal items such as books and board games have been removed and menus replaced with one-use throwaway sheets to avoid any contamination between visitors. Tables in the bar and lounge display ‘clean’ or ‘waiting to be cleaned’ signs so guests can ensure they use only disinfected areas. While the large signs and floor stickers do take away from the charm and beauty of the building somewhat, it’s a necessity at this strange time and mean the hotel is able to welcome guests and help to make the rules as clear as possible.
We checked in and made our way to our room, one of the hotel’s classic and timeless Garden View Superior rooms. It was generously proportioned and beautifully finished, with a huge traditional window at the centre, framing the fountain view. Decorated with deep, moody blues and dark wooden panelling, the pretty room is finished with an ornate filigree chandelier which drapes from the middle of the high ceiling.
Two high-back, velour armchairs of bright floral patterns give the room a splash of colour and offer a cosy spot to sit with a morning coffee looking out across the lush, green lawns and the tennis courts. A heavy oak door with rustic iron fixtures opens into a bright, ice-white bathroom with grand marble vanity and full-length tub. I got ready for dinner by soaking in a hot bath inhaling the fragrant Gilchrist and Soames products. The toasty towel rail meant the white bath sheet was warm and cosy to wrap up in while deciding what to wear to dinner.
We settled in the grand Great Hall Lounge and Bar for pre-dinner drinks, settling on a cosy sofa among the hustle and bustle of clinking glasses, laughter and chatter. Due to Covid restrictions, guests must book dinner and breakfast times upon check-in so we selected our slot and waited in the bar to enjoy an aperitif in the ritzy 1920s-style bar, which is housed in another oak-panelled room emblazoned with intricately-painted crests and oil portraits, finished with shiny gold trim and a stone fireplace. The double-height room feels very grand with its sweeping staircase leading up to a galleried balcony above, like something out of Romeo and Juliet.
We followed the maître d’ through to our table in The Stuart Restaurant; an intimate and romantic setting for two in front of the grand fireplace and perused the menu. While it seems simple at first glance, simplicity does not mean plain here. I opted for the heritage tomato salad and goats’ cheese crottin which was packed full of fresh flavour and vivid colours, while my husband chose the chicken terrine which was beautifully presented and rich.
The seasonal menu is varied and offered me lots of vegetarian options which were exciting and different, like the sweet potato and harissa croquettes with tenderstem broccoli, squash puree and herb dressing for the main course. The modest and unassuming dish was flavoursome, colourful and very filling. My husband was also impressed with the options and eventually decided on duck breast with fondant potato and red wine jus.
Despite a few hiccups with service – which seemed a little chaotic – we finished our two courses and took a look at the dessert menu. It was rather lacking in chocolate options for me (a self-confessed chocoholic!), so I opted for the passionfruit crème brulee but was, unfortunately, too late to the party and missed the final dish. Second choice was the vanilla and raspberry cheesecake which was surprisingly light and sweet. After all of that food, it was time to crash out in our exceptionally comfortable bed.
The following morning, we had a lazy start and headed for an early morning work-out at the As You Like It health club and spa, just a short walk through the hotel’s maze of corridors or outside and through the stunning Victorian-era topiary garden where pretty flower beds and gravel paths lead to a white wedding pavilion nestled in groomed hedging. The health club has brought in some new rules and restrictions with some areas – such as the steam room, sauna and changing room showers – closed for use.
Swimming must be booked in time slots to avoid overcrowding and it made getting an available spot difficult so, unfortunately, we couldn’t swim when we wanted. However, checking in at 9am meant it was quiet and calm in the spa when we visited. Spa treatments are available by appointment and a full gym is also open to guests.
We had a late breakfast slot so sauntered back down to the dining room at 10.15am, which meant our rumbling stomachs were looking forward to trying a little bit of everything! The hotel has waived room service charges so guests can make the most of eating in their room to avoid the busy restaurant if they choose. However, we wanted to go down for breakfast and enjoyed sampling the small buffet offering cereal, juice, pastries, yoghurt and fresh fruit. Hot drinks and cooked breakfasts can be ordered from the table, so I chose the vegetarian breakfast and the husband went for a classic fry-up.
After breakfast, on a wet and grey day, there are lots of hidden spots and quiet spaces around the hotel to relax in. If you fancy playing chess or reading the paper, head to the library; a quaint room tucked away from the bustling areas of the hotel for those guests seeking somewhere quiet to unwind.
The bay windows look out onto the gardens and cosy sofas wrap around coffee tables and chessboards. But the key feature of this room is a striking art installation featuring an explosion of books cascading out of the shelves and climbing up and cross the ceiling, in homage to William Shakespeare’s play penned here all those centuries ago. It’s easy to see how this beautiful setting could inspire such a funny love story – and is sure to inspire many wonderful getaways.
In a nutshell
Billesley Manor’s luxury comfort, beautiful setting and connection to the renowned playwright himself will keep guests flocking to the manor house – and they won’t be disappointed when they arrive.
Double rooms cost from £190 on a room only basis or £210 for B&B.
Address: Billesley Manor Hotel & Spa, Alcester Rd, Alcester B49 6NF
Phone: 01789 279955