London is great but sometimes you just have to get away for the weekend, to kick back and taste a bit of country air for a while. We reckon two hours is about the furthest you want to drive to do this comfortably, and so we've selected some of our favourite places for weekend escapes – cosy boutique hotels, pubs and B&Bs that you can reach in time for an excellent dinner on Friday night and wake up in a lovely room in a superb location. Sounds appealing doesn't it? Read on to find your perfect weekend break...
Great boutique hotel, with 23 guest rooms each individually designed by, well, an artist. A cool and unique place to stay, with a central location adding the icing to the carefully crafted cake.
A mixture of rooms in this 15th-century building right in the heart of Canterbury; or a modern annexe behind. Lovely rooms, great breakfast, five minutes' walk from the cathedral – what's not to like?
This is a very Cambridge interpretation of a boutique hotel, set in a grand Victorian villa whose generous and stylish bedrooms marry style with comfort – plus it has an excellent restaurant. It's not in the city centre, but there's something rather nice about Cambridge being a stroll away, like you have your own secret bolthole to go back to.
A bit of a favourite of ours, because it ticks all the boxes we usually look for in a good country hotel. It's in a fabulous location, right in the heart of the New Forest and achieves a nice balance of feeling a bit special while still being relaxed and informal. It has a decent restaurant too, which will take care of your needs before you stagger up to your well-appointed room.
Smart, boutique-style rooms, children and dogs are welcome – the “Dog House” is a canine-friendly room that comes with its own bowls and doggy bed – and they've got a seriously good restaurant, the Pig (and its various offshoots), which always manages to get the classy yet informal vibe exactly right.
The Wiltshire country retreat par excellence, in a Grade II-listed house that offers ultimate escapism, a great place to loaf about in front of an open fire in the lounge, dawdle over breakfast in lovely gardens, or enjoy the delights of the in-house restaurant and its sensational modern British cuisine.
A warren of rooms in a large, typically Kentish clapboard house and a number of smaller weatherboard cottages across the courtyard. There's also a welcoming small bar and fine restaurant downstairs, a garden at the back, and you can use the spa facilities at their sister hotel, the venerable Wallets Court.
The best place to stay in resurgent Margate, with a great position overlooking the beach. The rooms are terrific – a good size, and contemporary without being too uber-cool; breakfast is top class, and there’s a gorgeous room with big windows looking over the sea that has a lovely bar-restaurant.
This astonishingly elegant manor house, designed by Edwin Lutyens, with a garden created by Lutyens and Gertrude Jekyll, is an attraction in itself, but the good news is that it also hosts eight light and airy B&B rooms, furnished with antiques, as well as an elegant breakfast room and a lounge with a drinks cabinet to which you can help yourself. Downton without the drama, and a perfect place to feel a bit special for a few days.
Our choice in Oxford, with 22 individually designed boutiquey rooms with posh mini bars and super-fast wifi plus a really nice restaurant in the basement downstairs. Bang in the heart of the city too.
A country house hotel par excellence, but not one that makes you feel uncomfortable, with 27 beautifully turned-out out guest rooms and a vibe whose aim is to make you, your kids and even your pets feel as at ease and as at home as possible. Comfort and elegance but not just for grown-ups.
This ivy-swathed old coaching inn is one of our favourite places for a weekend away from London, with rooms that combine Georgian elegance with thoughtful and stylish modern comforts – flatscreen TVs, free wifi, classy toiletries; choose a room at the front of the building so you can sip your tea and gaze out of the window at the abbey ruins opposite.
Woodbridge in Suffolk has been named Britain's place to live in a number of recent polls and if you want to give it a try the Crown is much the best place to do so, with ten double bedrooms, each of them individually designed with a deliberately coastal feel. They call it a 'lazy bolthole', and that about sums it up, with comfy rooms that you won't want to leave, unless it's to amble down to the stylish bar or the excellent restaurant, which also serves a very good breakfast.
Ipswich for the weekend? Don't write it off, because this grand building, part of the excellent East Anglian boutique hotel group Milsoms, is a boutique country house hotel par excellence, with 23 rooms that are sumptuous but not old-fashioned, kitted out with sound systems, flatscreen TVs and free wi-fi, and with a downstairs bar and restaurant that are relaxed rather than stuffy – and serves excellent food. And you know what? Ipswich might surprise you, plus you're on hand for all the attractions of the lovely Suffolk coast.
This 18th-century rectory in the heart of Hastings' Old Town has been tastefully dolled up as a luxurious boutique hotel, with eight quirkily individual guest rooms that charm and pamper at the same time. Breakfasts are locally sourced and delicious, while the rooms are well-equipped with flatscreen TVs and DVD players, robes, Egyptian cotton sheets and all the trimmings.
This grand, curvy-fronted Regency mansion on the Kemptown seafront has stunning sea views, and rooms luxuriously furnished in crisp, contemporary style, from which you can gaze out on the seaside shenanigans below. A really good restaurant too, and a cocktail bar if you really want to get into the Brighton vibe.
One of the first boutique hotels in Hastings, and it still takes some beating, with eight rooms all named and themed after places visited on the owner’s travels. Worth splashing out on a room at the front for the gorgeous sea views – not least "Manhattan”, a loft-style penthouse with a separate lounge and kitchen kitted out with a funky aquarium table, juke box and telescope.
This is the kind of country pub that is difficult to leave, mainly because of its four beautiful upstairs guest rooms, which are eccentric, luxurious, witty and welcoming, packed with vintage pieces, old paperbacks and fresh flowers, offering comfort and style in equal measure. A gourmet breakfast tops it all off nicely.
The Bell describes its rooms as ‘seven trees with bedrooms’, which should give you some idea of what to expect at this idiosyncratic pub with rooms. The team who put this place together clearly had a lot of fun, and the rooms are wonderfully quirky, but this is matched with comfort – handmade mattresses are just one of the luxurious touches, plus the food in the cosy, quirky pub downstairs is great.
This 16th-century coaching inn in Ditchling Sussex is just the sort of place you want to retire to after a long tramp across the Downs, with plenty of candlelit cosy nooks, sagging beams and crackling log fires and four smart bedrooms upstairs, furnished with iPod docking stations and modern bathrooms, and artefacts collected by the owners on their travels to complement the lovely South Downs views.