There are few things more relaxing than escaping to the countryside. From historic mansions to rustic retreats, here are a few of the best secluded summer bolt holes.
The luxury one: Pool House, Scotland
Located in Poolewe village on the edge of a sea loch in the northwest Highlands, Pool House is surrounded by stark beauty: glassy water, windswept heath, and rugged hills upholding the occasional weatherworn village or castle. Landscapes are so wild that during WWII, soldiers spent winters here training for the front line.
More recently, this erstwhile boot camp has gone over to serious opulence. Its owners have transformed the interior with curios from around the world, and, depending on the room, a visitor might feel like they’ve stepped into a French aristocrat’s chamber or a maharaja’s palace. Each is a world of its own: from a duck-egg blue suite with grand furniture to an Indian boudoir with carved pillars and bright, hand-painted walls.
Dinner at the house is similarly refined. A five-course affair, it takes place in a nautical-themed dining room which looks onto the loch just feet away. As guests tuck into artistic plates of locally sourced food such as saddle of venison, they may see otters and seals outside.
On the doorstep are the beaches, bays and mountain landscapes of the Wester Ross region. From nearby Gairloch, cruises head out to sea to observe minke whales, dolphins and seals.
The forest one: The Pig Hotel, England
The New Forest is one of the biggest misnomers in the land. It was given its name in 1079, when William the Conqueror annexed it for a royal game park; he called its patchwork of woodland, pasture and heath ‘forest’, which then meant ‘hunting ground’ rather than a place with an abundance of trees. While unfortunate for local deer, his decision to fence it off means that today’s not-so-New Forest is one of Europe’s best-preserved areas of ancient countryside.
Deep in the park near the village of Brockenhurst, The Pig itself is considerably newer – it opened in 2011 – but shares the peaceful, old-world feel of its surroundings. Enclosed by manicured lawns and towering oaks, it occupies a grand, ivy-clad country pile that started life as a Georgian shooting lodge. As a self-styled restaurant with rooms, it’s more laid-back, mixing bold furnishings – statement wallpaper and four-poster beds – with rustic touches, such as milk churns and mismatched cutlery.
What marks The Pig out, however, is its food – essentially the New Forest on a plate. Chef James Golding works with a resident forager and kitchen gardener to create a ‘25-mile menu’ sourced from nearby suppliers and from the extensive gardens in the grounds. The result is an ever-changing selection of simple, well-cooked dishes, from pheasant breast with chestnuts to salads made with leaves picked that morning. They’re served in the busy dining room, a Victorian conservatory laden with trellises, pots of herbs and weathered tables.
Beyond the satiating haze of mealtimes, guests can also seek out the region’s edible bounty in the wild with the resident forager, finding wild mushrooms in the forest or harvesting seaweed and shellfish from the Hampshire coast. The Pig is in the midst of a network of walking and cycling trails, ideal for exploring countryside roamed by wild ponies and deer, or visiting picturesque villages such as Beaulieu and Buckler’s Hard.
The farm one: Podere Conti, Italy
For all its well-loved acres of countryside, there are still corners of Tuscany that seldom get visitors. Its northern tip, the Lunigiana region, is one. Bridging the Apennine Mountains and the coast, its thickly forested hills are studded with medieval towns and ramshackle old farms, quiet places where life proceeds at a leisurely pace.