Five heavenly country house hotels

From a 16th-century castle in the Austrian Alps to a rustic hideaway on a Tuscan hillside, escape the city heat at these secluded summer bolt holes.

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.

Among these 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.

Dinner is 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
The prince 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.

The castle 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 sauerkraut.

A definite 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
An 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 here.

The house 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 Sebastián.

The article 'Five heavenly country house hotels' was published in partnership with Lonely Planet Traveller.