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 is 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. But the Lakes virtually invented the country-house hotel, and the likes of Sharrow Bay and the Gilpin won't be easily eclipsed. There's also a strong showing from proper pubs with rooms. From remote bivouacs to lakeside luxury, here’s our pick of the best hotels in the Lake District.
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.
There’s nothing fancy at this remote and ancient inn in the quieter western Lakes, just great hospitality, great food and great real ales. 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. There’s a whole menu just for sausages.
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.
To visit Sharrow Bay is to experience hospitality history. When founder Francis Coulson was asked in the 1940s to describe his new venture, he replied: ‘It’s a country house that’s a hotel’. And a genre was born. It’s still one of the very best, gracious in style and service. Its grounds include orchards, beehives and the original Victorian glasshouses. Much of the produce grown here is served at the fine-dining restaurant, where it competes for attention with views of Helvellyn.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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, 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.
Splendidly isolated in open country on the quieter side of Windermere, the weathered old Drunken Duck has never forgotten that it's a pub at heart. It welcomes all and sundry, boots and all, and is known for its excellent ales, some of them brewed on the premises. That said, the 12 rooms are at the deluxe end of rustic, with underfloor heating and the odd claw-footed bath, and the menu's pretty fancy, too, in a good way.
L’Enclume is the two-Michelin-star 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.
From the people behind Cornwall’s landmark Watergate Hotel, Another Place favours contemporary style, facilities and service over cosiness and tradition in its reinterpretation of the country-house hotel. It offsets this step away from Lakeland character by locking right into the landscape, with terrific views from its location right on Ullswater, a glass-walled swimming pool with outdoor hot tub and lots of lake-based activities, including guided wild swimming. Good family facilities.
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.
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.
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.