One thing we’re not short of here in the UK is a stately home. And if you’re anything like me, when you’re wandering around them you wonder what it must have been like to live in one of these beautiful buildings. Well, actually, it turns out you can. I didn’t know this before, but the National Trust actually has three hotels in Aylesbury, Snowdonia and, of course, Middlethorpe Hall and Spa in York.
Situated on the outskirts of the historical city, Middlethorpe Hall, with its mix of traditional interiors and modern facilities, award-winning food, excellent service and tranquil gardens, is the perfect place to indulge in a slow-travel break, away from the pressures of modern life.
Unsurprisingly, given that it’s a National Trust property, Middlethorpe has a story. It was built by Sheffield industrialist Thomas Barlow at the end of the 17th Century. After inheriting the fortune of his late uncle, Thomas decided that he needed a country estate to show off his status, so off he went to get himself a new coat of arms, a new religion (he converted from being a Quaker to Anglicanism in order to be accepted into Yorkshire society) and a new wife. Mary, also his cousin, gave him his required male heir but unfortunately died three years later.
One Grand Tour around Europe later, he set about building Middlethorpe which he enjoyed with his son for just over a decade, when he passed away on another tour of the continent. The house passed down through Barlow’s family until the 19th Century – it spent much of the 1800s as a boarding school and later was passed to other owners including Sir Frank Terry of the famous chocolate-making family (their chocolate orange factory was just down the road) who bought it in 1946 and divided it up into flats.
And most randomly, in the 1970s, the ground floor of the house was used as a nightclub(!) called Brummels before being rescued from all of the platforms, flares and disco music in 1980 when it was acquired by Historic House Hotels who took on the mammoth task of restoring the building and converting it into a luxury hotel that conformed to modern standards while maintaining the special character of the estate.
Patrick and I pulled up to Middlethorpe on a grey October afternoon – we were met at the door by the porter, and entered the cosy entrance hall with its original stone floor and marble fireplace. It was immediately obvious that great care had been taken to decorate the building in a style that fitted with the character of the house.
The hotel has 29 rooms, in both the main building and the nearby courtyard and each one is individually decorated. We reached ours via a gorgeous oak staircase and stepped into a large, bright room, lit by three sash windows that looked out onto the extensive gardens. The four-poster bed was huge (and extremely comfortable!) but there still was ample room for a sofa, dressing table, desk and more.
There were so many beautiful things to look at – the antique tables, the bureau desk with marbled-paper covered desk stationary and an inkwell, a mini shelf of books and freshly cut flowers. And the attention to detail carried through to the bathroom with its period-style fixtures. fluffy monogrammed towels and robes and Floris toiletries.
And there’s no slow-boiling mini kettle and plastic cartons of milk here. Instead, whenever you need a cup of tea, you call reception and quick as a flash, you’re presented with a tray with a pot of tea, china mugs (and perhaps a sneaky scone or biscuit) right to your room. Probably my favourite part of the entire stay to be honest…
After we’d unpacked, we went for a nosy around the other public rooms in the hotel, which turned out to be just as elegant as our bedroom.
We also nipped out to explore the gardens and since Patrick had his drone with him, we took the opportunity to see the hotel and its 20 acres of grounds from above:
Just across the lane from the main hotel building is Middlethorpe’s spa. Facilities here include swimming pool, steam room, spa bath, sauna and gym. They also offer a full range of treatments including facials, massages, holistic treatments, manicures, pedicures and bronzing. I had a Decléor facial (my first ever actually – I tend to choose a massage) and after an hour or so of full-on pampering, headed back to the main building relaxed and ready for dinner.
Dinner at Middlethorpe is a proper event of its own. We got dressed up and headed down downstairs for pre-dinner drinks (G&T for me and a local Yorkshire lager for Patrick) and canapés while we perused the menu. Tasting menus, à la carte and seasonal options were all available so it took a while to settle on what to eat. Decision finally made, we were seated in the hotel’s impressive oak-panelled dining hall next to a roaring fire and were soon served the most delicious food which, as you’ve probably guessed, was as beautifully presented as it was appetising.
We ploughed our way through French onion soup and white bean velouté to start, followed by a seasonal lavender sorbet to cleanse our palate before the main course – here I had Yellowson goats’ cheese ravioli with butternut squash, roast chestnuts and kale, while Patrick’s loin of venison with haggis bon-bons and smoked potato was one of the best-looking main courses either of had seen in a long while.
And heaven knows how we managed it, but we somehow squeezed in a little blackberry cheesecake before rolling back up the staircase to recover in our room before heading back to the dining room the next morning for a Yorkshire breakfast.
The hotel is in a really fantastic location – it’s a short 40-minute long walk into town on a route that takes you past the racecourse and along the river. There’s also a regular bus service that stops right outside the door meaning that you can leave your car and explore York without having to worry about parking.
What we thought
For all of the beautiful building and gardens and amazing food, what really made our stay at the hotel were the staff. They provide a fantastic country house experience without it at all feeling stuffy or pretentious. Everyone we came across was polite and attentive and this really added to Middlethorpe’s grand yet cosy atmosphere.
Middlethorpe is definitely the place to stay if you want to treat yourself to a luxury, relaxing break whilst still being in striking distance of the bustle of one of the UK’s most interesting historic towns.
My stay at Middlethorpe was complimentary for the purposes of review but all thoughts are my own.