ONLY a mile and a half from the bustling, history-rich city of York, the National Trust’s Middlethorpe Hall Hotel, Restaurant and Spa, is set in 20 acres of park and gardens near York racecourse.
The stately William and Mary red-brick, country house was built in 1699 for Thomas Barlow, a master cutler, and is topped by a stone eagle, his family crest.
Later, it was bought and restored by Historic House Hotels. In September 2008, Middlethorpe became the property of the National Trust, by donation. The 29-bedroom hotel, rich in antiques and fine paintings, was named Hotel of the Year in 2012 by Visit York.
BUDGET OR BOUTIQUE
Definitely boutique, m’lady. Next to us was the flagship suite – the Duke of York, named following Prince Andrew’s stay. Also on our floor was the Lady Mary suite. Other famous guests have included Gwyneth Paltrow, Russell Crowe and John Major.
A handwritten welcome card from Lionel Chatard, director and general manager, greeted us after we climbed the superb oak staircase to our exquisite room, facing the south lawn. We felt even more special knowing that previous guests include Princess Anne and Frankie Dettori. The four-poster bed was three pillows wide, elegantly dressed and comfortable. In the en-suite, I relaxed in a full-length bath, enjoying Crabtree & Evelyn goodies. Cosseted in a soft, white bathrobe, I padded to the hospitality tray of fruit, homemade biscuits, chocolates and triple-purified water.
WINING AND DINING
We loved Middlethorpe’s Burns’ Night celebration – a whisky tasting with Antonia Bruce from the Adelphi Distillery, Argyll, and a sumptuous three-course, silver-service dinner created by head chef Nicholas Evans.
After our initial glass of whisky in the drawing room, we went down to one of Middelthorpe’s three dining rooms, where guests enjoyed smoked haddock; barley, leek and potato broth; roast loin of venison; haggis, kale and swede; followed by whisky-flavoured creme brûlée, toasted oats, raspberries and whisky sabayon. Non-meat-eaters didn’t miss out, with hake on mushrooms and potatoes, and a dairy-free soufflé.
The food was beautifully prepared and presented – fresh produce from Middlethorpe’s gardens and orchard is used wherever possible. After impeccable service, we whisky-warmed guests made it up the stairs to relax in the fire-lit drawing room for coffee.
WORTH GETTING OUT OF BED FOR
It was tough leaving the four-poster bed, but York beckoned. We headed to the National Railway Museum, the largest in the world, to view royal carriages and climb aboard the Japanese bullet train. Then we glanced at Clifford’s Tower, before heading to our favourite venue – the York Castle Museum, with its reconstructed Victorian street and prison. Our York Pass was excellent value (www.visityork.org).
Next morning, we met Martin Johnson from SortYork at the Visitor Information Centre (01904 550099) on Museum Street. He guided us expertly through the city’s history and regaled us with gory stories. After negotiating the Snickelways, the Shambles and Whip-Ma-Whop-Ma Street, we cosied up in the haunted 17th-century Black Swan, Peasholme Green, for some folk music. Though York is Europe’s most haunted city, be warned about something else scary – it’s still legal to kill a Scotsman with a longbow or crossbow in the Eye of York. But you’re safe on Sundays – unless you’re drunk.
Middlethorpe Health and Fitness Spa, complete with pool, gymnasium, sauna and steam room, is in a pair of Edwardian cottages opposite the hotel. On offer were massages and a range of beauty treatments. Ron sampled its pool, but the crisp Yorkshire bite kept me relaxing on the four-poster. Five rooms are licensed for weddings – we favoured the converted 17th-century Dovecote, accommodating up to 24 people, with an optional string quartet playing on the gallery. Originally used to store meat for the house, the building now houses some of the 200 bins of wine on Middlethorpe’s list.
We felt like Yorkshire nobility, enjoying a country house and looked after by friendly staff.
• Middlethorpe Hall, Bishopthorpe Road, York (01904 641241, www.middlethorpe.com); dinner, bed and breakfast costs from £129 per person per night