PHOTO BY ED PARRISH
Does this month’s Downton Abbey movie have you dreaming about leaving behind modern city life and retreating to a world of butlers, walled gardens, and afternoon teas? We found five new British countryside hotels—from a Victorian coaching inn in the Scottish Highlands to a house on a biodynamic farm in Jane Austen country—where you can channel your inner Crawley.
THE FIFE ARMS
When Prince Albert bought Balmoral Castle as a gift for Queen Victoria in 1852, it set off a tourism boom in the Scottish Highlands; four years later, this imposing granite lodge opened to meet the onslaught. Last December, Swiss gallerists Manuela and Iwan Wirth saved it from its more recent fate as a dusty bus tour pit stop, turning it into a magnet for art lovers.
Imagine if Gaston from Beauty and the Beast
had a master’s in art history. The Fife Arms has all the Highlands lodge trappings, but everything is gleefully off-kilter. The taxidermy deer in The Flying Stag pub is fitted with ptarmigan wings; the chandelier is a jumble of neon antlers and bagpipe parts. Throughout, the Wirths have amassed a museum-worthy collection: a Picasso here, a Lucian Freud there, a Bruegel in the restaurant, a Louise Bourgeois spider in the courtyard. Keep an eye out for a watercolor stag by Queen Victoria herself.
Set among the moorlands of Cairngorms National Park, Braemar is a tight-knit village that hosts the Braemar Gathering leg of the Highland Games, which Queen Elizabeth II has attended nearly every year since 1952. Watch for golden eagles and grouse on a wildlife drive with Braemar Highland Experience, or take a stroll through the village with forager Natasha Lloyd, whose botanical finds show up in the cocktails at Elsa’s bar and dishes at The Clunie Dining Room, the hotel’s all-wood-fired restaurant.
The Araminta Campbell–designed staff uniforms. True to the hotel’s maximalist vibe, the custom tartan includes six colors, the most allowed under Scottish tradition. From $325, thefifearms.com
THE LANGLEY, A LUXURY COLLECTION HOTEL
Opened this June after six years of restoration, the Langley occupies the third Duke of Marlborough’s former hunting lodge, a honey-colored Palladian estate built between 1756 and 1760, as well as the adjacent landmarked Brew House. (If your tastes run similar to the Duke’s, his historic fishing retreat in the bucolic Thameside village of Bray was also transformed into a luxury hotel, Monkey Island Estate, earlier this year.)
The best way to experience the Langley is to step into a pair of concierge-provided Aigle wellies and go for a trek in the manicured countryside, much of which was designed by 18th-century landscape starchitect Lancelot “Capability” Brown. You’ll encounter a small herd of Jersey cows that may follow you around like puppies and a pond full of swans that are decidedly less friendly. After you’ve worn yourself out exploring the arboretum and garden, book a treatment at the 17,000-square-foot subterranean spa, which features a marble swimming pool, a juniper-wood sauna, and a gym designed with the help of celebrity trainer Matt Roberts.
Looking at your idyllic Langley Park surroundings, you’d never guess you’re only 20 minutes from Heathrow Airport and Windsor Castle. Even closer—as in, literally across the street—is the legendary Pinewood Studios, where Bond 25 is currently filming.
The Churchill Bar, which features cognacs and rare cigars and is named for the Duke’s famous great-great-great-great-grandson. From $508, thelangley.com
Built between 1701 and 1725, this Georgian estate was home to the noble Hill family—which included baronets and cavalry officers who fought at the Battle of Waterloo—for two centuries. It spent much of the 20th century as a Catholic seminary and pastoral retreat before becoming a hotel in May.
Don’t let the grandiose Corinthian columns fool you: There’s a surprisingly fun-loving streak to the decor, which leans more toward Art Deco glamour than Georgian austerity—as if the Crawleys spruced up Downton Abbey. Guest rooms include vintage-inspired Roberts Radios, blingy chandeliers, and sleek bar carts stocked with gin. Appropriately, the place is often filled with revelers: Thanks to its chapel (added in 1932) and 88 acres of lily ponds, orchards, and walled gardens, Hawkstone Hall is a popular wedding venue
Tucked inconspicuously along the border with Wales, Shropshire is one of England’s most under-the-radar counties; the sweeping views of the Welsh mountains from the top of the hotel’s mile-long private drive will have you wondering why.
The restaurant’s gorgeous gilded ceilings and intricately detailed molding. From $220, hawkstonehall.co.uk
The 1790 red-brick Georgian mansion was long the home of the Lefevre family, which included a speaker of the House of Commons. Since 1817, the Dukes of Wellington have lived next door; make a reservation to take a lesson at the world-class Wellington Riding equestrian center, on the current titleholder’s estate.
Harry and Meghan babymooned at Heckfield
Place—a fitting setting for two royals who notably try to maintain a level of commoner normalcy. At its heart, this is a working farm, home to hens, lambs, pigs, and honeybees, with dairy cows coming soon; the gardens, meanwhile, supply produce for the two restaurants and the complimentary in-room snacks and cordials. Rooms feature a cozy mix of linen, cashmere, and sheepskin, plus locally thrown pottery and woven river-reed rugs and headboards.
The 400-acre Hampshire estate sits smack in the middle of Jane Austen country; Chawton Cottage, where she worked on six novels, is 18 miles south of here. If you want to recreate Colin Firth’s famous wet-T-shirt scene from the BBC’s Pride and Prejudice miniseries, there’s a water-lily-filled swimming pond on-site.
The bespoke Wildsmith toiletries, which are named for the estate’s historic horticulturist and come in earthenware jugs. From $438, heckfieldplace.com
Ripon, North Yorkshire
This 17th-century Palladian mansion was home to lords, barons, Parliament members, and a shipping magnate before it became a convalescent home during World War II and, finally, a hotel this July.
Grantley’s backyard is Yorkshire Dales National Park, a wide swath of green valleys, limestone caves, and quaint villages. Just three miles away are the UNESCO-designated ruins of Fountains Abbey, a Cistercian monastery built almost 900 years ago.
Owner Valeria Sykes, who was born in the South Yorkshire town of Barnsley, filled her passion project with thoughtful regional touches, from locally distilled damson gin in the guest rooms to wool-stuffed mattresses from Leeds-based Harrison Spinks. Chef Shaun Rankin—who grew up in the area before earning a Michelin star at Bohemia, on the island of Jersey—gets nostalgic with his A Taste of Home menu, which features old-meets-new creations such as lamb scone canapés and bone marrow beef tea.
The Japanese gardens, which were among the first in England when they debuted in 1910. From $315, grantleyhall.co.uk