Review: What We Thought of One of the Lake District's Best Hotels
We head to Rothay Manor in Ambleside to enjoy what has become one of the Lake District’s leading hotels
Pulling into the car park you can’t help but notice the most recent addition to what is a traditional, Regency style country house hotel. Eight new luxury suites in the architect-designed Pavilion, which sits within the hotel’s grounds, are built almost chalet-style. The suites (we later discover) are large private spaces, many with their own private terrace.
The Pavilion is just the latest part of an extensive refurbishment by Rothay’s co-owners, husband and wife duo Jamie and Jenna Shail, which has seen a reimagining of the 15 bedrooms in the pretty whitewashed main house, together with the addition of a new drying and boot room and luxury dog wash – both pretty useful given the outdoorsy activities guests are likely to undertake when staying here.
We had arrived a touch early so headed to the terrace for a coffee while we waited for our room, and sat in the unseasonably warm garden just soaking up the views over the surrounding fells, but it wasn’t long before we were shown to our room in the Pavilion. The generous bedroom had floor-to-ceiling glass windows overlooking our private terrace on two sides, and a hot tub tucked away in the corner. Rich jewel colours in the bedroom and sophisticated dark green in the adjoining (substantial) ensuite with walk-in double shower and roll-top bath made it feel cosy, despite the daylight streaming in and with a sofa, desk and armchair there was still plenty of room to relax.
It’s worth emphasising at this point that this place is canine compliant and dogs are hugely welcome. A big dog bed, treats and a towel were laid out for inspection by LN office dog Winston, together with rules laid out clearly by the owner’s own pup, but we can confirm that the place scores brilliantly for dogs. That said, if you think this might detract from the hotel in any way, please don’t be put off for one moment.
With encouragement from our hound we head out for a late afternoon walk, along the riverbank next to the hotel and through slightly soggy meadowland to the tip of Lake Windermere. Looping back we take the opportunity for a great soak in the bath before heading into the hotel to the bar. A crisp Chardonnay and a really excellent local ale hit the spot and gave us a chance to examine some of the menu.
The (dog-friendly) sitting area was busy with guests and there was a great atmosphere as stories of the day’s adventures were swapped enthusiastically. The room itself is a mix of bold wallpaper and antiques, the thick rugs giving it a far from formal feel. The bar itself is small and discreet, tucked away in a second sitting room, but the service is both friendly and swift, without being rushed. I hope you’re getting a sense of the incredible attention to detail that runs through Rothay Manor and you will be pleased to hear that the same can be said of the food offering too. With the pup still in tow we were shown to the adjoining area behind the main dining room, but please don’t think we were castaways – far from it – just a touch away from the main event but far from left out in the cold. Less formal than the neighbouring dining room, the staff were quick to supply a rug for Winston to keep him warm on the wooden floor and for us, warm bread with delicious flavoured butter.
I don’t want to ramble on too much about the food but it is without question some of the very best we have enjoyed for a long time, and I would go so far as to say if you are staying anywhere in the Lakes and you enjoy good food make sure you try it – but do book well ahead. In a nutshell, Dan McGeorge, who has a glittering CV, brings a host of flavours with twists aplenty. The local larder plays a welcome part and the tasting menu is a fine-dining experience which includes plenty of amuse-bouche, and there are lots of Japanese and Scandinavian influences running through the dishes. Luckily there was just enough room at the end for some delicious local cheese from the cheese trolley, and I should mention all of this was accompanied by an excellent Rioja from the comprehensive wine list.
The following morning sunshine had replaced the heavy clouds and the playful shadows drifting across the surrounding fells came into their own, tempting us out. But not before breakfast. I feel somewhat guilty now chatting about more food but to miss the Rothay breakfast would be a sin. It’s a delight, with homemade compote, granola and yoghurt all presented in their own little pots to allow you to make your own concoction to taste, accompanied by a platter of fresh fruit and pastries, and followed, in my case, by the full cooked Cumbrian breakfast… oh my word, it was a glorious way to start the day.
Having taken on that sort of fuel a decent walk was not only desirable but essential. There are so many options, many starting from the hotel, but we headed to nearby Elter Water, in the Langdale Valley. It’s a relatively straightforward walk, following the water and then heading up into the woods in another loop, although we did manage to get lost at some point before finally arriving (several hours later) back in the village for a rewarding beverage at the local inn (beware the local car park however, as they want you to pay by phone – only there is no phone reception!).
'The generous bedroom had floor-to-ceiling
glass windows overlooking our private terrace
on two sides, and a hot tub tucked away in the corner'
On our return to Rothay Manor there were two options, firstly to have a brief snooze or secondly head into the hot tub. I’ve never really seen the huge attraction there and was rather hoping that it might be technically beyond me, but actually it was really easy to use and (don’t tell my kids) fun too, especially in the light Cumbrian drizzle! We wandered into town for supper where there are plenty of options (it is worth booking ahead if you know where you want to go as the town is always busy) but were soon back for night-cap before heading to bed. Breakfast (luckily) was a repeat of day one, and we were sad to have to pack up and leave this special lakeland oasis.
Cumbria has a fabulous supply of outstanding accommodation but if you’re looking for something really special Rothay Manor will not disappoint. It’s a credit to owners Jamie and Jenna, and the engaging, helpful team they have gathered around them, that it stands out amongst the many. If ever a hotel seems to be investing solidly in the future this boutique beauty has to be it – and it gets top marks from Winston too.
Rothay Bridge, Ambleside LA22 OEH