Martin's Six of the Best – June

I've spent quite a bit of time on the road this month, hence only sitting down to write about it now, and I have to say conditions have been a little, er, changeable. But then I was in Lake Como at the weekend and the weather there was frightful too!  As I write this, though, it really does feel as if summer might at last be with us. Fingers crossed it lasts, so we can all get out an about and explore some of the UK's hidden corners...

North Wessex Downs

This month I’ve been travelling through a part of England that is surprisingly beautiful but difficult to describe – the intersection of the 3 counties of Hampshire, Berkshire and Wiltshire, that happens to be home to the North Wessex Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. No, it wasn't on my radar, either. It's a peculiarly British landscape of rolling hills and farmland, interspersed by ancient villages, strung between the towns of Marlborough, Hungerford and Newbury, and it can feel gloriously unspoilt, despite being within an hour of London. You see all three counties from the heights of the ancient Ridgeway path, which runs all the way from the standing stones of Avebury to the commanding heights of Ivinghoe Beacon in the Chilterns. Walking its entirety is tempting but I decided this was for another day, and instead took a detour to the spectacular landmark of Combe Gibbet, where the views more than compensate for its gruesome history (though in fact there was only ever one hanging here). Here you can breathe in pure air and watch skylarks hovering before descending to the excellent Crown & Anchor, at the bottom of the hill in the tiny village of Ham, or to the superbly refurbished Hare & Hounds on the outskirts of Newbury. Both serve excellent 2 AA-rosette food and have beautifully decorated rooms to tempt you to stay overnight.

London Calling?

I live in the capital and don’t get to stay in London hotels very often. Most are in any case eye-wateringly expensive identikit chains, so not really of interest (to me at least!), but I have recently unearthed a few places that would make a terrific and affordable place to stay if you fancy a weekend in the capital – and, let’s face it, who doesn’t? Most of them are in neighbourhoods on the fringes of the centre and consequently much more affordable, but  without sacrificing any of the style or amenities we all crave – indeed it’s arguably nicer to live like a local even if it’s only for a day or two. West London’s Aragon House in chi-chi Parsons Green, is a terrific pub with boutique rooms, and Brama is a super-cool new hotel in the south London suburb of Bromley – both have rooms for not much more than £100 a night. In North London, Mason & Fifth, on the borders of Camden and Primrose Hill, has very cool rooms with kitchenettes for just over £200 a night, while Batty Langley's in uber-cool Shoreditch, east London, has sumptuous rooms for around £300 a night – not a fortune by London standards, believe it or not.

Pub Rescue

This week I wrote a piece for the Telegraph on one of my favourite subjects – pubs! Not just any old pubs but ones that have been saved from oblivion either by hospitality groups with an eye for a good location or former locals with deep pockets who can’t bear to see their favourite boozer turned into flats. They've added rooms, revamped the food and generally instilled a more up-to-date identity in what are often historic and much-loved landmarks. You can read more about them here, and raise a glass or two in some of them yourself.

English Wine Week

The annual shindig of English Wine Week has just concluded but the days of English wine being a bit of joke have been well and truly over for years. Indeed there are now over 900 vineyards in England and Wales and the industry is going from strength to strength, with the UK is growing faster than in any of the top 20 wine-producing countries (though of course it's still something of a minnow by comparison). I visited one of the first English vineyards recently –  Denbies in the Surrey Hills, which formerly a pig farm that just happened to have the perfect soil for growing vines. It's now the largest English single estate vineyard – and was one of the first to offer overnight accommodation. It produces classy whites and sparkling wines, some of which I sampled on a recent visit, along with guest rooms that look out over the rolling rows of vines which march picturesquely up the surrounding hills – pinch yourself and you could be in France! It's dog-friendly too, and home to multiple country walks, trails and bike rides right from your door (with bike hire on site), and less than an hour from London. Other wines – and vineyards – are of course available; most of them do tours and some have rooms – check out our selection here.

Cool Place of the Month

While we're on the subject, the Isle of Sheppey is another island you can reach by road. Situated off the wild and slightly forlorn North Kent coast, it doesn't always come with the best press, but stay with me here – it's not only home to the country's only privately owned nature reserve in Elmley Nature Reserve, you can also stay overnight., Choose between a the luxury self-catering of its Farmhouse and Lodge and a series of shepherds huts and spectacular glass-fronted cabins that look out over the heart of the reserve. Hot tubs are are all the rage, and cold water swimming is naturally gaining traction, but there's really nothing like an outdoor shower or even better an outdoor bath, and this is one of the best places to take a bath outdoors that I can think of – while gazing out at the lapwings and short-eared owls that abound here. It's a magical place – and another one that's (yes!) just an hour from London.

Hot Deal of the Month

We have loads of great deals this month but one of the best is the chance to get 20% off the fabulous lodges at the Mole Resort in Devon on all bookings up to the end of this year. These lodges are luxurious, open-plan spaces with amazing outlooks, a private hot tub and a spacious, decked balcony with outdoor dining. All are dog-friendly, and there's also a pooch and bike-wash point at each lodge, plus cycle racks, umbrellas, torches, and even safety glassware for the hot tubs. Only thing is you have to book by the end of June, so don’t hang about!

What Customers say about Cool Places

Everything I needed for a stay

I'm already looking forward to going again and would highly recommend this hotel to anyone visiting the area. It definitely deserves a five star rating!

Nathan, Verified Customer

6 out of 5!!!!

This place was amazing… I could not recommend this place enough, I’ll be singing their praise for many years to come and we are going to book again soon.

Barbara, Verified Customer

Easy to navigate

Great site that offers a really broad range of places to stay across the UK. Easy to navigate and book holidays.

Patrick, Verified Customer

Such a great variety of properties

Found this website when looking to book a staycation for later in the year. Such a great variety of properties and the website is really easy to use. Already shared with my family and friends.

CT, Verified Customer

Great, simple, straightforward

Great, simple and straightforward. I will definitely be using Cool Places again.

SM, Verified Customer