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Gilpin Hotel & Lake House
Photograph: Courtesy Booking.comGilpin Hotel & Lake House

The 12 best hotels in the Lake District

These charming country houses, low-key inns and luxury hotels are some of the best hotels in the idyllic Lake District.

Written by
Ruth Jarvis
&
Rhys Thomas
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The bewitching glacier-ground landscapes of England’s north-western corner have made it a magnet for lovers of the outdoors ever since poet William Wordsworth wandered here (lonely as a cloud). Already the UK’s most visited national park, the Lake District’s recent UNESCO listing and the fact that domestic holidays will be our best bet for a getaway this year, means it’s likely to attract even more admirers of its natural beauty, picturesque villages, cultural history, plentiful outdoor activities, and distinctive gastronomy. 

You can still escape the hordes on the fell tops – but you can also soothe your aching muscles in a boutique spa. Style and quality are on the up in the region’s hotels and there have been some impressive new openings. The pick of these is the impossibly pretty Forest Side, and the likes of Sharrow Bay, and the Gilpin... there's loads. 

And given this is a prime year for exploring the UK (for obvious reasons) it's worth checking out hotels now, in this nice little lull between summer and Christmas. From remote bivouacs to lakeside luxury, here’s our pick of the best hotels in the Lake District to start booking now. 

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Best hotels in the Lake District

William Wordsworth came to Grasmere for the simple life, and you can still tramp into the fells from here, but the new Forest Side hotel is all about sophistication. A gothic manor house has been transformed into delicately beautiful, eco-friendly lodgings conceived around all things Lake District: Even the carpets woven from Herdwick wool are sourced locally. The Michelin-starred restaurant doesn’t just use Cumbrian ingredients, it grows, pickles and forages them, then confects them into unforgettable tasting menus. So when we say this place's grub tastes like no other, we really mean it. In addition to the wonderful interiors, great location and amazing food – they're dog friendly. What more could you want! 

There’s nothing fancy at this remote and ancient inn in the quieter western Lakes, just great hospitality, great food and great real ales (many of them brewed in the Lakes). Oh, and great walking: Kirkstile Inn is between Loweswater and Crummock Water, bang up against Melbreak crag. Bedrooms are beamed and pretty and the food is traditional pub fare with modern smarts, impeccably sourced and cooked, no foam in sight. Just that good proper good, good, and good good food! There’s a whole menu just for sausages, I mean come on! 

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If quality food and a dose of relaxation sounds just as appealing as rambling through boundless, breathtaking countryside, then in Lodore Falls we’ve found your dream spot. While the main hotel remains mostly traditional, with an elegant British-led dining room and cosy lounges warmed by open fires, Mizu, its recently-opened pan-Asian restaurant, offers first-rate sushi, tempura and rice dishes in a modern setting. Then there’s the brand-new spa (plus 18 adjoining suites). With clean lines, chunky exposed wood and muted tones, the place oozes Scandi chic, and with multiple thermal rooms, luxury treatment services and a heated outdoor pool (which stares right on to stunning Derwentwater), you might not make it out for a walk after all. There's also great afternoon tea, and the spot is dog friendly, so your nan and your pooch can come along too. It's that "fun for all the family" saying except this time, curcially, it's true! 

A guesthouse for over a century (with the visitors’ books to prove it), Seatoller House is a legend among walkers. It’s a combination of hostel and rural retreat, steeped in the culture of the outdoors. Meals are communal (but far from basic), and the location at the head of Borrowdale is a hiker’s dream. Rooms – everything, in fact – are less rudimentary than you might expect, with pleasing white-and-wood decor and their own bathrooms. Beautiful gardens too. They pride themselves on a really nice warm welcome, and it's been going for over a century, so they've pretty much perfected the art in that time. Of course, like all good accomodation, your dogs are very much welcome to come along for the walkies. 

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This Georgian estate has defined informal Lakes luxury for three decades, pioneering ‘boutique’ with its handful of stylish rooms, hideaway location and unstinting personal service. It regularly renews its offer, most recently by adding five gorgeous ‘spa lodges’, each with steam room, hydrotherapy tub and outdoor sauna. Three high-end restaurants, a Champagne bar, a croquet lawn and a no-weddings rule keep it exclusive. Yes you did read that, THREE of them. They also specialise in local cuisines – it's real Lake District luxury. We haven't even mentioned the private hot tubs.

Devotees of the Arts & Crafts movement will love this top-drawer B&B in Ambleside. The house – built by architect Francis Whitwell in 1904 – has been beautifully restored, and each bedroom is individually decorated. All the rooms have antique furniture and up-to-the-minute bathrooms; many have glorious views. There’s a bar and lounge too, with board games available. Any number of walks, long and short, can be embarked on from the house (itself set in a six-acre garden), and guided walks may be pre-booked. Breakfast, featuring local produce wherever possible, will set you up for the day. Basically right, it's a five-star, award-winning, bed and breakfast, in prime Lake District location. It's absolutely everything you'd expect such a phrase to be. 

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This lively hotel is at the heart of thriving Ambleside in more ways than one. First, location – step right out on to the main shopping street or the track up to knobbly Wansfell Pike, which is also the view from the spa. Second, it’s a local institution, knitted into the community and known for the splashiest Christmas lights in town. The Salutation offers good mid-range value but also has some distinctly top-end suites, and its high-standard public areas, restaurant and service reflect this. It's set in a wonderful 17th century building, but it's got everything you'd need for a nourishing and relaxing stay in the 21st century, maybe even beyond! Top walks are on the doorstep, too, so you can't really go wrong. 

A characterful warren of interconnecting rooms, low ceilings and fireside nooks, the Masons has been a favourite among locals for decades. A beer menu as long as the phone book (quality and quantity though it must be said), a capacious heated terrace with heaters and a crowd-pleasing pubby menu haven’t harmed. Its charms have survived the addition of accommodation, which comprises cottages (with an open fire) and suites, attractively done out in contemporary country style. Convenient for Windermere, but pleasantly removed from its tourist traffic. Also, just for the fact: A warren is a network of wild rodent, but also it means an enclosed piece of land set aside for breeding game, historically. It's just rural and charming, alright? 

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L’Enclume is the two-Michelin-star (not one, two) home base of superchef Simon Rogan, and it has 16 rooms in its riverside premises, a stone-built smithy, which share its restrained elegance. Known for its 12th-century priory, Cartmel has recently become a gastronomic destination, with notable cheeseries, bakeries and breweries and another Rogan restaurant. Foodies enamoured of his nature-to-table creed can arrange to tour the nearby farm. If you're more into the food than the walking, Aulis at L'Enclume is well worth the time. It sits six people, and it'll show you the highlights of the test kitchen. Real "into food" stuff. One for the heads. Did we mention how nice the walks in Cumbria are?

Behind the jaunty orange door of this handsome stone house in Keswick is one of its newest and nicest B&Bs. There are just two rooms (doubles or twins), kitted out with organic sheets and Egyptian cotton towels, simply but prettily decorated and spacious enough to have a table. Which is handy, because this is where your groaningly large breakfast will be served (Cumberland sausage and black pudding and bacon). Lots of character and little extras, and super-attentive hosts. Also, in terms of them walks you're probably here for? Yeah, it has them. It has them in spades. Derwentwater, Cat Bells, and Whinlatter Forest Park are very easily accessible. There's also theatre by the lake, if the scenery isn't dramatic enough. 

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A big name in the Lake District country house hotel scene, Holbeck Ghyll hosted Renée Zellweger during the filming of Miss Potter (in the Beatrix Potter suite, naturally). Built as a Victorian hunting lodge, it retains a touch of the baronial, with its panelled hall, inglenook fireplace and the odd four-poster. Its 32 rooms are all individually decorated, from a style palette that runs from trad and tartan via flouncy floral to light and contemporary. The restaurant is known for its sophisticated modern British menu, but, really, the point here is the ravishing view over Windermere to the Coniston crags. It's a lovely spot to call home while looking and walking over them rolling hills and mountains. Also, it's four-stars, like the official ones. There's a spa (using organic products) and wonderful rooms. 

The address of the Lake District’s most remote lodgings might as well be ‘The Middle of Nowhere’ – it’s over two miles from the nearest road, and you have to walk or cycle in. The YHA Black Sail hostel is a barn-like building made of local stone, set at the head of Ennerdale, with fellsides and summits all around. Dinner, breakfast, packed lunch and a warming woodstove are provided, along with dorm beds and private rooms. If you're looking for a stone-walled barn which is serious living on the land tranquility, then don't worry about the other pieces on the list, because this is the one. Home-cooked evening meals, it's just the one isn't it. 

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