You wait two years for a mini-break and then two come at once. First a multi-generational gathering in the Cotswolds at the Swan Inn, stone the color of honey and set on the dreamy banks of the Windrush next to an absurdly beautiful bridge. The bartender walked us to our room, which felt like home, only more beautiful – roll top bath, homemade biscuits, window that opened wide on the whole delightful scene. In the morning the rescue hens had laid eggs for breakfast.
The following weekend, Bristol with old friends. A chic hotel for a treat – one of the largest in the city, now run by an international chain that will remain nameless. Okay, I’ll tell you: it was the Bristol Marriott Royal Hotel. Victorian facade, glossy revolving doors, marble lobby with checkerboard pattern.
Impressive, but I soon realized, inescapably corporate, complete with a queue at check-in, £20 parking fee, members only wifi. The pool was closed because they said it “no longer made financial sense” (Marriott generated revenue of $13.86 billion last year). The window wouldn’t open in our stuffy, gray room (twice the price of the inn, by the way) and there were a whopping 10 plastic miniatures in the bathroom. At breakfast I asked where the anemic sausages came from. “From the kitchen,” the waitress explained softly after a short pause.
It’s not that I don’t like a posh hotel. If they get it right (and the luxury hotel industry is booming, more and more five-star hotels are getting more and more fantastic), they can be fantasy wonderlands, every aspect of life just so perfected.
But at the same time, accelerated by the climate crisis and pandemic-induced shifts, the desire to live and travel better has fueled our appetite for small-scale staycations. A wave of coaching inns and seaside cafes is being reinvented by a new generation of savvy young hoteliers, designers and pioneering chefs to satisfy the champagne taste on a beer-bottle budget. And a new kind of gourmet guest house is on the rise – gems like Coombeshead Farm in Cornwall and Glebe House in Devon, run by families with a passion for food, interior design and the planet.
These are places loved by their owners, who have slept in every room and picked every book on the shelves and paintings on the walls, the personal touch of which is delightful at every turn. Where good food is always seasonal and local – from the vegetable garden perhaps, or a neighboring farm, but never, never just “from the kitchen”.
Here are 50 small and beautiful hotels, from coast to countryside, that prove that it is possible to offer a fantastic, unforgettable stay at a price accessible to all.