The best time to test the mettle of a hotel that claims to be the height of luxury is when the weather is cold and wet. Thus, after a drive through hill mist so thick we had to crawl at a bicycle's pace over one of the Lake District's mountain passes, we descended into a soggy Windermere in search of Linthwaite Country House Hotel.
Windermere is one of Cumbria's least appealing towns, having sold its soul to the day-tripper trade. It's easier to buy a furry key-ring here than a copy of Wordsworth's poems, and despite the tranquil beauty of the lake, a blanket of fog would have been rather welcome.
But as we negotiated the – to us – tricky business of finding the high road to Bowness on the outskirts of Windermere, where the hotel sits on a hillside, the tat evaporated. As we soon discovered, one of Linthwaite House Hotel's claims to distinction is that while on a clear day it has a charming view over the lake and the fells beyond, the town below is hidden.
Nothing is more heart-warming than the sight and smell of a real fire, and the crackling hearth in the hotel's entrance hall was a perfect greeting for a chilly afternoon. So too its comfortable arrangement of lounges and living rooms where artfully mismatched sofas and armchairs encourage sloth. Styled in the manner of a family country house, with old packing cases turned into coffee tables, and battered leather suitcases offering a hint of Brideshead Revisited glamour, the public rooms of the hotel could not be more comfortable.
Our bedroom was less characterful, more city-centre chic than country cosiness, but it had everything one could ask for – or almost. The state-of-the-art bathroom had a magnificent shower big enough to share with a bus-load of friends, but the lack of a bath was a disappointment. Luxury, for me at least, includes the chance to take a long soak.
Outside, of course, that was not just possible but unavoidable. Yet the constantly changing landscape of clouds, smirr and moody sunlight is a large part of the Lake District's appeal. The hotel's vestibule, with its pigeonholes of Wellington boots in rainbow colours, and all sizes, plus umbrellas for guests to borrow, made an imaginative virtue of necessity.
Close by, however, some were relishing the damp. At the top of the hotel's attractively wooded grounds there's a tarn, with a quaint fisherman's hut where one could enjoy a stylish seat out of the rain. When we were there, hopping, diving and mating frogs were having a ball, as was a hard-working woodpecker that remained tantalisingly out of sight. In a sunny summer, this would be a delightful retreat for reading, afternoon cream tea, or a glass of prosecco before dinner. Alternatively, one could head for the snug, one of the most charming bijou hotel bars I've ever been in.
Throughout, the staff were unfailingly friendly and professional, and helped create a relaxed but classy atmosphere. The dining room was hushed, and the waiters attentive – if anything, too much so.
There were two menus on offer, one rich in meat and fish, and one for vegetarians, which was creative, artistic and delicious. Breakfast, however, was the high point, with a wealth of cooked options, and even the offer of a mini Bloody Mary or a Bucks Fizz to kick-start the day. That, for many, would be the very definition of luxury. And certainly, on almost every front the Linthwaite Country House Hotel delivered handsomely – but at a cost.
Exclusive locations, and first-class service come at a price as steep as the Honister Pass. Watch out, then, for their regular special offers.
Linthwaite House Hotel is in Crook Road, Bowness, Windermere. Rooms start at £171 per night, B&B, and include suites ranging from £283 to £554. Rosemary Goring stayed in a Preferred Room, which starts at £240 per night. A four-course dinner with canapes costs £52 per head. (For short-break offers, rooms start at £129, and prices include dinner.) Visit www.linthwaite.com or call 015394 88600.
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