Profile: Best Western Lake District Hotels
WHEN I arrived in Ambleside on a glorious spring afternoon the scene that greeted me was as far removed as can be from the cold predicament that faced me and a friend seven years ago, when we almost perished on the slopes of a Lake District mountain after setting out too late and getting trapped in the dark on the way down.
This time, seven years wiser, we decided to return to Cumbria to lay that ghost to rest, and spend the weekend hiking and unwinding with a bit more planning and care.
To that end, we opted for a relaxing rail journey this time rather than drive (less than three hours from London on Virgin Trains) and decided not to stay in a self-catering cottage like the Withnail & I characters who inspired our original journey, but in a pair of hotels of excellent repute in two perenially popular parts of the Lake District.
Our hotel hosts were Best Western, who have almost 300 member venues all over Britain but in this leafy corner of the island they’ve two hidden jewels in their crown.
The first sits in the heart of a busy market town which itself sits in the very heart of Lakeland, a perfect base therefore for exploring the rest of the District. It’s called the Best Western Ambleside Salutation Hotel, which looms up on a raised bank in the middle of Ambleside, overlooking its centre of character pubs and shops bustling with locals and visitors.
As it’s a weekend of rambling I and my photographer friend are here for, we’ve opted for the hotel’s ‘Ramblers Revenge’ package, which includes dinner and breakfast, a range of walking guides in your room and a 30-minute aromatherapy leg massage the morning after. If you’ve a canine friend, they’re included too – they’ll be picked up and taken for a full groom and a play with the other pooches in the paddock.
My accommodation is a Club Room called Fairfield, one of the hotel’s superior rooms with a kingsize bed, spa bath and shower, and this one boasting a sizeable balcony area with table and chairs, perfect for the warmer months.
There are 56 richly appointed rooms in total at the 17th century hotel, which combines both venerable character features and more modern facilities like the on-site Health Club and Spa, featuring a fitness room, sauna and swimming pool with jacuzzi if it’s a rejuvenating wellness experience you’re after. There’s even a Canadian hot tub out in the serenity garden if you fancy a soak al-fresco.
Our leisure activities were primarily going to take place in the next town of Coniston however, where we pootled down to on a local bus after a galvanising Lakeland breakfast in the hotel’s Garden Room brasserie. Heading out with plenty of time on our side this time, we easily conquered the Old Man of Coniston fell which almost conquered us the last time round.
That evening we enjoyed dinner back at the Garden Room, both dining on delicious locally-caught fish, then had a well-earned early night before our invigorating massages the next morning to restore some vitality to our limbs. It’s a welcome touch if you’ve more rambling planned – most of Lakeland’s biggest lakes and mountains are within an hour’s drive from here so you’ll never run out of options.
It was sad to be checking out and leaving such a wonderful spot, but our next hotel was equal to it in every way: the Best Western Castle Green Hotel about 30 minutes’ drive away in the larger town of Kendal, regarded as the southern gateway to the Lake District.
As splendid as the Salutation’s location was, the Castle Green’s grounds are an impressive sight to behold: landscaped gardens, majestic trees and the Lakeland Fells in the distance, as well as flocks of lambs gambolling in the neighbouring farmland. English countryside at its finest, and my homely balcony room offered a panoramic view over it all.
There are also several Luxury Executive Rooms if you want the ‘best of the best’ here. Offering the same garden views, they’re located in the original part of the hotel, with high ceilings and a comfy sofa to relax upon, and a few with four-poster beds for a luxurious night’s sleep.
As with the previous hotel, guests are given complimentary use of its swimming pool, gymnasium and steam room for a nicely rounded weekend experience. There’s also a wide selection of aromatherapy beauty treatments and massages on offer for a more soothing wind-down.
Kendal itself is a thriving Cumbrian town with a selection of shopping arcades, two castles, two museums, and a multitude of pubs and restaurants. Built handsomely in limestone it’s known as the ‘Auld Grey Town’ and is famous for its Kendal Mint Cake, popular among climbers and mountaineers as a source of energy.
The weekend is crowned with dinner at Greenhouse, the hotel’s two rosette-awarded restaurant at which non-residents from miles around come to dine, the lucky ones bagging seats at the floor-to-ceiling windows affording the same views over the grounds as my balcony room. Again, it’s local produce comprising a menu of the best of British cuisine, its highlight being the Executive Chef’s Cumbrian tasting menu which showcases suppliers no more than 50 miles from his kitchen door.
It’s a satisfying end to a quintessential weekend in this beautiful part of the country, where the accommodation truly complements the experience. Importantly, these high-end venues and facilities don’t come with that high-end a price tag – a Ramblers Revenge weekend stay at Ambleside Salutation is only £285 from April to the end of June; meanwhile a luxury break at Castle Green including dinner at Greenhouse and a bottle of Prosecco and Kendal fudge in your room costs only £80 per person, per night.
Those who think luxury can’t be affordable should book their train tickets to these Lakeland treasures while summer time is on their side. And give the Old Man of Coniston a try while you’re there – the view from its summit is unforgettable.
By Kris Griffiths
For more info on these hotels and many more around the country go to www.bestwestern.co.uk
Virgin Trains’ frequent service takes as little as 2.5 hours from London Euston to Oxenholme Lake District, just outside Kendal. Advance First Class fares start from £43.50 – www.virgintrains.com