A convent-turned-hotel in Alnwick proves the perfect sanctuary for Catriona Thomson.
In Hamlet, Shakespeare wrote, “Get thee to a nunnery”. Ophelia might not have been too impressed but I’m delighted to be sent packing to a former religious building, in the heart of Alnwick.
The convent was founded in 1895 when Reverend Mother Evangelist Costello and her four companions came over from Guernsey to teach in the parish school, instruct converts and visit the sick and poor in the area. The Convent of Mercy closed its doors in 2015, after 120 years, when the last sisters vacated the building.
The Grade 2 listed site was then bought and turned into a stunning boutique hotel called the Cookie Jar, which opened in 2017. An eye-watering amount of money has been lovingly spent on renovation resulting in 11 luxurious rooms and suites. Scottish owners, Aberdonian Robert Cook, former chief executive of Malmaison and Hotel du Vin, and his Glasgow-born wife, Debbie, have masterminded its transformation.
Debbie oversaw the refurbishment and her care and attention to detail are visible in every aspect of this grown-up sanctuary. She personally replies to every TripAdvisor review and looks at every booking. The interior was designed by Matt Hulme of Dynargh Design, who has created the interiors of many Hotel du Vins, including Edinburgh. Blue hues are used throughout and fabrics designed by William Yeoward are showcased to calming effect. At the front door there are assorted pairs of Hunter wellies for guests to borrow, should it rain during your stay. It’s that kind of place; thoughtful little touches and wonderful staff make this place stand out. There is even a secure gun room, kennels and a drying room for shooting parties, who can hire the entire place.
Staff always go the extra mile including Brinley Moralee, a butler/concierge extraordinaire, who can calmly deal with any emergency, recommend knowledgeably and is a font of local facts. Debbie admits “he is worth his weight in gold,” as is every member of her team.
Thoughtful little touches and wonderful staff make this place stand out
The Cookie Jar has four room types: cosy rooms, small but perfectly formed; luxury rooms, which are bigger and full of unique features; Mother Superior suites, which all have statement bathtubs – and then there’s The Chapel. That’s where we’re spending a heavenly night and it’s the ultimate romantic penthouse. “Out of this world” is not bad as first impressions go, and it’s hard to decide what to be impressed by most. The room itself, divine airy vaulted ceiling, unique lighting orbs, or the gorgeous period stained glass windows? Did I mention the king-sized bed, walk-in drench showers or freestanding copper bath?
Hi-tech gizmos are seamlessly integrated, with wall-mounted TV screen, superfast wifi and an Amazon Dot. Everything is perfect and we’ll certainly be worshipping at the altar of luxury tonight. Fluffy towels and robes and toiletries from Penhaligon’s are the icing on the cake.
The bedrooms are named after local places; Harehope, Alnmouth, Holy Island, St Cuthbert’s Cave, Bamburgh, Goswick, Bailiffgate, Sweethope Lough, Linhope Spout and Dunstanburgh, almost making a Northumberland To Do list for visitors to check off. Alnwick Castle and Gardens and the fascinating Bailiffgate museum next door are also worth investigating.
We’re dining at the nearby rustic Searcys at The Treehouse restaurant – picture a whimsical Hagrid’s house built high up around a tree. Luckily for us, you don’t need to climb, access is via a wooden-sloped ramp. The wobbly wooden walkways make a magical impression. Inside, quirky furniture, branches and fairy lights create an out of this world wedding venue. The restaurant menu features country house classic fare. Local produce is showcased wherever possible, but the quirky purple heritage potatoes almost had us flummoxed. I sample a Dirty Jane cocktail – a delicious blend of vodka, Chambord liqueur, club soda, fresh lemons and limes. Still, we can’t wait to get back to the Chapel for a good night’s rest, and a free jar of cookies for late-night snacking.
Next morning we give thanks for a great night’s sleep and head to the bistro for breakfast, enjoying delightful views over the garden, while perusing the tasty offerings.
I’m certainly a convert to this place. Although small, this hotel offers bespoke first class service. So far as luxury romantic retreats go, it was an answer to our prayers.
One night in the Chapel at The Cookie Jar (12 Bailiffgate, Alnwick NE66 1LX tel: 01665 510 465, www.cookiejaralnwick.com) starts at £335 for B&B for two people sharing. Other rooms start at £175 including breakfast.
• To book Searcys at The Treehouserestaurant visit www.alnwickgarden.com/hospitality/