With grey skies looming over Smith HQ, our British-summertime thoughts have turned to log fires and four-posters, floor-to-ceiling tapestries and fleur-de-lys cushions; and by that point they’ve turned south and ever so slightly west towards the portcullis-ed palace of pleasures that is Amberley Castle in West Sussex…
Style Moated mediaeval retreat
Setting Scenic Sussex
Why this week? This week sees Verdi’s Macbeth revived at Glyndebourne festival, just a hop, skip and a short drive from our sovereign choice for hotel of the week (though the flawless Amberley hospitality makes this stunning renovated castle-hotel a far cry from the brooding baritones of Verdi’s Dunsinane).
Our favourite bits We love strolling through Amberley’s impeccably manicured grounds, where cypress topiary and thick yew hedges suggest the perfect setting for a honeymoon-worthy romantic tryst with a Mr or Mrs Smith. Roses sprawl over mullioned windows, and nearby are the castle ruins, aging gracefully in picturesque déshabillé. Keep an eye out for Amberley’s most unique resident of all: an albino peacock.
Dine baronially at dusk amid the clinking of heavy silver cutlery in the Queen’s Room, where the sun setting through lancet windows gilds the very spear-tips of the restaurant’s resident suit of armour; or exchange armour for amour, and sup on gazpacho and griottine cherries in Mistletoe Lodge, the tree-house retreat designed exclusively for dining à deux. Pernickety Smiths who kvetch about the castle’s lack of a draw-bridge may be pleased to learn that this arboreal Arcadia can only be accessed by rope-bridge. Finish your evening with a moonlit climb to the castle battlements (the Hertmonceux and Pevensey Rooms each have their own stone spiral staircase to the ramparts). Watch out for something slipping palely under a stone archway or beneath a rose-clad trellis, as white as the Wedgwood china from which you scraped your last crumbs of dacquoise sponge at dinner. It won’t be the hotel ghost (that’s another story).
Mr & Mrs Smith say ‘As we drove up the gravel drive, with the sun sinking to the left in a cloudless sky, a flock of what looked like doves soared across the meadows in front and swooped up over the ramparts. It was so filmic we looked around for someone with a remote control orchestrating it all. We felt suitably period-drama as we arrived at the main gates and swept under the portcullis, ending the scene perfectly.
One of the super-friendly but not in-your-face staff greeted us and pointed us to the reception. We were then politely shown to our room and left to get on with it. It was extremely cosy, with a comfortable sofa, inglenook and voluminous drape above the bed, and once we had consigned a gaggle of cuddly toys to the wardrobe, we were able to spread out and unwind. The Jacuzzi was particularly instrumental in the relaxation scenario, helped along by a selection of delicious-smelling Floris products.
I will confess that I usually have a niggling prejudice against this kind of establishment. When it comes to fitting out English castles as hotels, I can’t help but line up on the side of Mies van der Rohe and his modernist edict, ‘less is more’. The consensus usually appears to be that the more chintzy decoration and furniture you can stuff in, the more authentic and comfortable it will seem. (And if you need a crowbar to get a bit more in, then use it.) However, as we settled into our room, Camber (all are named after Sussex castles), I softened. Even those with a taste for Hempel-like restraint will be appeased by the historical setting, good taste of the furnishings and Amberley’s incredible grounds…’
Compiled by Louise Woods