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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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
is Podere Conti, a 16th-century farm with panoramic views over
the valley. Its restored stone buildings bear the kind of touches you might
expect of a Tuscan agriturismo, from luxurious beds to clawfoot baths; just
beyond, a swimming pool overlooks the mountains. The grounds, however, are
still gloriously wild: heading through a garden scattered with flowers, you
might find yourself following an old donkey track through groves of acacia and
olive trees before stumbling on a tumbledown old villa.
served on the terrace and includes local specialities such as porcini mushroom
pasta and grilled Zeri lamb. Podere Conti produces its own honey and olive oil
and also runs cookery classes. Beyond the boundaries of the estate, guests can
explore castle towns like Pontremoli, a 10-minute drive away. It’s also just an
hour to the steeply sloping coastal villages of the Cinque Terre.
The lakeside one: Schloss Prielau, Austria
who built Schloss Prielau in 1560 clearly knew a good spot
for a holiday home when he saw it. His castle, with its slender turrets, sits
in the middle of a deer park on the north shore of the vivid blue Zeller See,
in the Austrian Alps south of Salzburg. A short stroll from the castle over
manicured lawns is a private beach, where loungers overlook the lake, inviting
a refreshing dip in the summer months.
itself makes a fine place to enjoy the lake views at leisure: its rooms are an
elegant mix of rustic furniture and luxury touches, and its restaurant,
Mayer’s, is one of the best in Austria, awarded two Michelin stars for its
adventurous dishes, such as pheasant roulade with grapes, potatoes and champagne
trip highlight, though, is to explore the wider area. Boat trips and cycle
rides around the leafy perimeter of the lake beckon, while beyond is Hohe
Tauern National Park, a vast expanse of mountain wilderness, lakes and waterfalls.
It’s home to Grossglockner, Austria’s highest peak, and the scenic but
vertiginous and twisting Grossglockner High Alpine Road.
The budget one: Casona de Quintana, Spain
18th-century manor house perched in the mountains of Cantabria in northern Spain,
Casona de Quintana was once the home of a local noble dynasty.
Its period furnishings and warm atmosphere still evoke this feudal heyday,
except now you don’t need anything approaching a lordly budget to set up base
is as evocative and elegant as you might expect from a place restored by a pair
of antique dealers. Rooms are framed by stone walls and oak beams, and are
lined with antiques, from grand beds to old drawings and embroidered cushions.
There’s an array of creature comforts on offer (there’s even a pillow menu) and
a general air of conviviality. The ground floor is given over to a communal
lounge, where guests can sink into armchairs and chat by candlelight over a
G&T or glass of rum from the adjacent bar. Co-owner Nuria also serves up
hearty food in the dining room and terrace, which look over the house’s dappled
gardens to tiny Quintana town and the meadows and mountains beyond.
It’s an area that’s well worth exploring, with
the hiking and cycling trails of the tranquil Collados del Asón Natural Park
just a mile away. And for all the area’s seclusion, it’s only around an hour
from the cultural riches of Bilbao and the beaches and fine food of San
The article 'Five heavenly country house hotels' was published in partnership with Lonely Planet Traveller.