Travel: An escape laced with armour

Romantic breaks: Cliveden House in Berkshire. Picture: PA Photo.Romantic breaks: Cliveden House in Berkshire. Picture: PA Photo.
Romantic breaks: Cliveden House in Berkshire. Picture: PA Photo.
Treat your loved one to a naughty - or nice - weekend away this Valentine’s Day.

Sarah Marshall rounds up the UK’s top love nests.

:: Fall in love with food, as well as each other, in the Michelin-starred hub of Berkshire, says Claire Spreadbury

There’s an area of Berkshire that’s turning into a foodie paradise.

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The Roux family kicked it all off back in 1972 with the Waterside Inn, then Heston Blumenthal launched the infamous Fat Duck, both in Bray, and nine miles down the road in Marlow, Tom Kerridge opened Hand & Flowers, the first pub ever to receive two Michelin stars.

And now, the latest chef to pop up in the rolling hills of the beautiful Berkshire countryside is Andre Garrett. Already a Michelin-starred chef, it’s just a matter of time before he garners awards at his new home in the relaxed splendour of Cliveden House.

His menu is mouth-watering, from the vegetarian dream that is sneakily undersold as a ‘salad of roast winter vegetables and leaves’, to the fillet of Cumbrian Longhorn beef, complete with smoked bone marrow with oxtail, roast carrots and pommes mousseline.

But perhaps what’s even more eye-opening is the fact that at lunchtime, you can opt for a £28 three-course Market Menu. Even on a Saturday.

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As for the rest of Cliveden, you couldn’t ask for more grandeur. The privately owned five Red Star award-winning hotel oozes old-time sophistication. Originally built back in 1666 as a hunting lodge for the Duke of Buckingham, it’s played host to pretty much every monarch since George 1.

Wall-to-wall wood panelling teams up with ceilings so high, Cirque du Soleil could practise their backflips inside. And stepping into the bedroom, don’t be surprised if you feel ever so slightly like a Borrower. The bed is so tall you actually have to climb up into it.

Fans of the walk-in shower will need to step back in time and instead, recline in the enormous marble-top bath (big enough for my 6ft 2” husband to lie almost flat).

The grounds, owned by the National Trust, are sprawling. The spa, with both indoor and outdoor pools, Jacuzzi and hot tubs, is not to be missed. And staff, at every twist and turn of this elegant establishment, are welcoming and wonderful. I couldn’t recommend it more.

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:: Doubles from £252 per night with breakfast. Book with Mr & Mrs Smith (; 0845 034 0700) for the best available rates, money back with every booking and a free extra on arrival.

:: Sarah Marshall has grand expectations of a romantic retreat in the capital

My boyfriend and I are not talking to each other. In fact, we haven’t exchanged a word for the past 45 minutes.

But there’s not a whiff of tension in the cedarwood-scented air as we sink into a cavernous pool of pummelling water jets, before relaxing on heated stone beds, illuminated by a strip of low-rise flickering flames.

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We’ve been stunned into silence by the opulent four-floor ESPA Life spa at London’s five-star Corinthia hotel, where minutes can very easily turn into hours as both time and stresses easily evaporate.

Like moles burying our way into a sleek, monochrome marble burrow, we have little intention of returning to the outside world anytime soon.

Perhaps it’s in the fabric of the Thames-side building, which was once used as offices by the Ministry of Defence, but this historic property is a master of discretion - which probably explains why A-listers such as Johnny Depp and Rihanna make this their pit-stop when visiting the capital.

With two excellent restaurants on site - Massimo, which specialises in simple but excellent Italian food, and the Northall, where Garry Hollihead has created a menu of fine British fodder - there’s little need to leave this comfortable enclave.

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We head to the David Collins-designed Massimo - a glorious emerald green and gold Art Deco-inspired space, where a sharing platter of crudo (raw seafood) and oysters is followed by wild seabass served with a lemon sauce, carved up at our table.

Our meal ends with a nightcap in the Bassoon bar, an elegant take on the clandestine, underground jazz haunts of old, where cocktails have been inspired by musicians and composers.

When we leave, romance is definitely in the air - but it’s the Corinthia that’s become the new object of my affections.

But of course, I haven’t said a word to my boyfriend.

:: Doubles from £335 with breakfast. Visit or call 020 7930 8181.

:: Find peace and quiet in Yorkshire, says Susan Griffin

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There’s not another soul on the roads as we wind our way through the narrow country lanes of north Yorkshire looking for our hotel. Darkness descended a good while ago and a light mist now swirls above the road in front of us.

Finally, we spot the sign for Middlethorpe Hall & Spa. We’re met by the inviting sight of an orange glow emanating from the red brick exterior of the grand 17th century country estate voted York’s best hotel in 2013.

The interior’s as impressive as its accolade suggests but, as there are only 29 rooms and it’s owned by the National Trust, don’t expect much bustle. In fact it’s so quiet the only sound that can be heard is the ticking of a clock when we check in. It feels more like we’re staying in the private home of landed gentry than a hotel.

Our bedroom, like the rest of the house, has been decorated tastefully to evoke the 18th century. We wake the next morning to glorious views of the impeccably kept 20 acres of parkland bathed in milky winter sunlight.

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After a sumptuous breakfast in the panelled dining room, we take a walk through the manicured gardens before heading into York, which is only a short bus ride away (the stop is directly outside the hotel).

Middlethorpe’s spa is discreetly hidden behind what looks like Edwardian cottages, and we decide to enjoy a dip in the pool and a blitz in the sauna and steam rooms, which we have entirely to ourselves.

Impeccable service aside, it’s the peace and quiet, so scarce these days, which makes Middlethorpe the perfect place to escape with a loved one.

:: The hotel’s 30th anniversary package costs £129pp per night and includes a three-course dinner (£43 food allowance per person), full Yorkshire breakfast and use of the spa. Visit or call 01904 641 241.

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:: Seaside seduction brings Abi Jackson to Devon’s South Sands

Maybe it’s the bracing sea air, or the sense of fun the seaside evokes, but there’s something wonderfully romantic about a weekend on the coast - especially when you’re holed up somewhere as picturesque as South Sands Boutique Hotel.

The promise of top quality seafood and gorgeous scenery entices my fiance and I to this secluded corner of Devon, tucked onto the edge of South Sands bay, a couple of miles from Salcombe.

The hotel opened in 2010 and still feels fresh and new. The decor’s bright, contemporary and awash with nautical charm, and the atmosphere’s relaxed.

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When it’s warmer, diners can eat on the terrace overlooking the bay. But right now, the log fire in the bar’s more inviting and we enjoy a cosy drink before tucking into a delicious meal of king prawns and fish pie for me, and an “incredibly tender” steak for him.

There’s also lots to explore in the surrounding area. The South West Coast Path, described as one of the UK’s most stunning walks, can be joined just half a mile away, and there’s also a Blue Flag beach nearby.

We spend the morning pottering around Salcombe, a quirky seaside town full of pastel-coloured terraces and assorted shops and cafes. The obligatory cream tea and some local fudge are the perfect final sweet treat for the weekend, before catching our train home, rosy with sea air and amour.

:: Doubles from £150 per night with breakfast. Visit

:: First Great Western trains run direct services from London Paddington from £17.60 each way. Visit or call 03457 000 125.

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