Travel review: Under-stated touches made our stay in the Lakes special
A hilltop hideaway in the Lake District is how its new owners describe the Linthwaite House Hotel, and subject to the qualification that the hilltop in question is not some misty fell but merely the modest elevation necessary to afford a splendid view of the yachts on adjacent Windermere, we could not agree more.
Linthwaite is the sort of hideaway everyone wants and needs, and now it has reopened again after a period of refurbishment it is more delightful than ever.
The new owners are the Leeu Group, noted for a collection of boutique hotels dotted around South Africa – leeu is Akrikaans for lion – but now branching out further afield.
A luxury hotel in London’s Fitzrovia is planned for next year, but for now the Linthwaite is Leeu’s first and only statement hotel in this country.
Quite a statement it is too, with some new leonine statuary in the well-manicured gardens and an array of striking artworks in and around the hotel.
Quality and freshness appear to be Leeu watchwords, and anyone worried that Linthwaite’s charm and individuality might have been sacrificed in the name of modernisation can rest easy.
After looking around to find a property with potential in an attractive area, the Leeu Group are clearly not going to make the mistake of trying to turn such a lovely and highly-regarded hotel – four AA red stars, no less – into something else.
Rather they have invested in excess of Â£10m in the quality it already possesses, making subtle but necessary improvements to bring the windows and interior décor up to date.
Nothing drastic, just an all-round upgrade, so that everything guests might come into contact with looks and feels brand new, because in most cases it actually will be.
Talking of guests coming into contact with hotels, we returned to our room after breakfast one morning to find the Linthwaite odd-job man touching up the paintwork in the corridor, applying a fresh coat of paint to spots where close encounters with heavy suitcases had marked the wall.
It takes a certain amount of effort and application to keep up a permanently box-fresh appearance.
The same is true of the rooms, which are generously sized and stylishly furnished. We won’t go on about the fluffy towels, the robes and slippers or the Molton Brown toiletries because those are expected in hotels of a certain standard.
But if you order a newspaper you find it hanging from your door in the morning in a canvas bag designed for the purpose. If you switch on the television you notice the audio clarity that comes from a Bose soundbar.
Linthwaite goes the extra mile, in other words, with the sort of understated yet thoughtful touches that can elevate a guest’s stay into something special.
The Leeu Group’s mission statement mentions a commitment to sophisticated escapes and unique travel experiences, which without straying too far into the realms of pretentiousness is an aim close to being realised here and not just the usual marketing fluff.
You only have to pull up outside the hotel to realise you have reached a fairly delectable destination, and it is no exaggeration to say Linthwaite on the inside lives up to the promise of its exterior. Log fires, cosy lounges, unspoilt views, everything the discerning Lake District lover could wish for is at hand.
Being critical, perhaps the restaurant which is at the heart of the Linthwaite operation, named Stella, is not yet the star of the show it strives to be.
Prices are on the high side and we felt our evening meal was insubstantial rather than the promised innovative.
Yet the dining room itself is truly lovely, all clean lines, light and space, with charming views of the gardens and grounds through the bright, uncluttered windows.
At breakfast time it is the perfect place to check the weather and contemplate the day that lies ahead, in fact of all the hotels in which we have stayed in the Lake District, and that is quite a list, we both agreed Linthwaite would win hands down in the breakfast stakes, for setting, service and irreproachable standard of fare.
As you might expect by now, you don’t get those little pots of jam and marmalade here, nor plastic individual packs of butter.
Everything is fresh and out on the buffet table, with individual bowls and sideplates to allow guests to help themselves.
That’s in addition to a riot of fruit, cereals and pastries, and before the waiter even arrives with a cooked breakfast menu that includes everything from French toast to a full English, and even offers the option of a steak sandwich.
We were, in short, impressed. Linthwaite doesn’t seem to have changed much over the years, which is a good thing, yet even good things can be improved and that is what the hotel is doing.
Still doing, in fact, for there are lodges being built in the grounds and landscaping going on around the hotel’s private tarn. When the Leeu Group take on a job, it seems they make sure it is done properly.
But don’t just take our word for it. A couple of Americans were checking out just before us, and though tradition has it that tourists from that country have nothing but scorn for English hotels, these two were delighted. “How was everything?” the receptionist asked.
“Everything was excellent, just excellent,” the lady of the couple replied. “This place is a dream, isn’t it?”