Great British Boltholes: Laura Ashley Hotel The Belsfield, Bowness-on-Windermere, Cumbria

Tracy Ramsden discovers fine dining and stylish interiors in the heart of the Lake District

Tracy Ramsden discovers fine dining and stylish interiors in the heart of the Lake District

Why go? Everybody knows that Cumbria is all about the great outdoors, rather than spending all your time cosying up in a hotel room. The panoramic views, the vast countryside, the walking, the cycling, all interspersed with stop-offs at authentic village pubs serving real ale and scotch eggs. But in recent times, Cumbria has upped its hospitality game so it’s no longer solely about rustic cottages and hearty grub. At no compromise to Cumbria’s heart and soul, there’s been a wave of more stylish, boutique offerings. And none more so than Laura Ashley Hotel The Belsfield, situated on the water’s edge at Lake Windermere.

Lake land: the stunning view from The Belsfield’s centrepiece – a beautiful, glass-cubed reception

Best for: Stylish luxury in the heart of Windermere. If you’re lucky enough to nab one of the 25 lake view suites (from £159 per night) then early summer sunrises are something worth waking up for. Situated on top of a rolling hill overlooking the ‘Belle Isle’ on Windermere’s eastern shore, the area has a seaside feel – all small fishing boats, ice cream stands and duck-feeding – the picture perfect backdrop of Cumbria’s most celebrated lake never gets tiresome. On a clear day, you can see the sometimes snow-capped Langdale Pikes and Fairfield Horseshoe. Within slow rambling distance of the town centre, harbour and some nearby challenging terrain for more serous hikers and cyclists, it’s an ideal something-for-everyone base.

Think green: Lake Windermere, as seen from The Belsfield

The look: Now this is the best part. Some genius decided the best way to refurb a grand but tired Grade II listed Belsfield Hotel was to join forces with the interiors pros behind Laura Ashley. The result? A seriously sleek redesign, with a central focus on the beautiful glass-cubed reception area that floods the building with sunlight. Each room is kitted out with the characteristically muted tones, grand mirrors, heavy armoirs and luxury soft furnishings that have made the Laura Ashley brand a go-to. Everything in the hotel is available from the catalogue so, for an interiors junkie like me, it’s like being Charlie in Wonka’s chocolate factory for a weekend. And it totally works – we left with the name of the paint shade in our beautiful, lakeside suite (dove grey, if you’re interested) and have just redecorated a bedroom in homage to our time at the hotel.

Laura with flora: book a lake view suite overlooking Windermere

I’m hungry: Food at The Belsfield restaurant is very good. Unfussy, tasteful and lacking in pretension. The local steak is particularly good. There’s also the more informal option of the Brasserie, great for a sunshine soaked breakfast. For special occasions though, Cumbria’s best-kept foodie secret is tucked away upon a hilltop just outside of Bowness-on-Windermere. It is impossible not to get caught up in the enchanting surroundings of Holbeck Ghyll (holbeckghyll.com). From the winding driveway that seems to go on forever, what emerges at the top is a Tim Burton-esque, Victorian hunting lodge that feels like stepping into Hogwarts, all open fires, creaky heavy doors and opulent furnishing. It’s pretty special, and that’s before we’ve even eaten. A credit to head chef David McLaughlin, the locally sourced and imaginative menu (especially the ham hock starter with pea purée) is utterly delicious and ridiculously flavoursome for such a small plate of ingredients. The meat is generous and succulent (we went for the lamb) but it’s the dessert that looks and tastes like it may have come from another planet. The poached rhubarb and oat crumble is pretty unforgettable.

Peak viewing: Stretch your legs in the Lake District © Dave Wills courtesy of golakes.co.uk

While you’re there: Make sure you top off a spectacular lunch at Holbeck Ghyll with a spa treatment. The Deluxe Full Body Massage (£85) is 80 minutes of pure bliss. It’s no wonder that a bridal party were helicoptered in to the hotel while we were mid-lunch. It really is that kind of place. Just don’t tell too many people about it. Afterwards, take a slow meander through the town at Bowness-on-Windermere, stopping at Macdonald Old England Hotel (macdonaldshotels.co.uk) for a cold drink on the lakeside terrace. Swing by The World of Beatrix Potter Attraction (hop-skip-jump.com) if you want to do some touristy gift shopping. If you’re an outdoorsy type, hiring a two-man kayak from Windermere Canoe Kayak (windermerecanoekayak.com) and paddling out over Windermere is a great way to work up an appetite. But only in fair weather, mind. Warning: it’s freezing unless in peak summer or a very generous springtime. You’ll be glad of the Laura Ashley bedsheets on returning to The Belsfield after a seriously satisfying day.

Book now: Laura Ashley Hotel The Belsfield, Kendal Road, Bowness-on-Windermere, LA23 3EL (0844 736 8604, lauraashleyhotels.com). Double rooms, including breakfast for two, start at £150 per night in the summer season, with deals available from the autumn. The hotel is 1.5 miles (around £12 in a cab) from Windermere railway station.

Info: Top 10 England’s Lake District (£7.99; DK) covers the region, and see golakes.co.uk

Lead image: © Stewart Smith courtesy of golakes.co.uk

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