By Jane Wilson, editor of The Wellness Traveller
Where art thou? Words permeate from the wooden panels and the meandering corridors of the impressive Billesely Manor nestling in its rural setting in the heart of Warwickshire.
This was once Shakespeare’s hideaway retreat back in 1599 when he put quill to scroll to compose his 20th play, As You Like It. Today, history seems to ooze from the walls and etched throughout the architecture of Billesley Manor. Chinese rugs and French furniture in the entrance reflect its past international links. Open stone fireplaces dotted around are still in use where wood kindles and ebbs away adding a warm glow to the public rooms filled with stories of old. And unlocking tales, steel locks with dolphin decoration are said to have been made by German or Flemish armourers working at the Tower of London.
The Great Hall which now poses as a bar and lounge features original 16th century oak panelling ornamented with coats of arms and a carved chimney place with elegant pilasters. Carpeted, cosy and comfortable. There are contemporary twists to this character place such as the As You Like It lounge, a place to read, or pretend to, as you smile up at the ceiling where books and pages have been hung as a tribute to William’s comedy work.
On the first floor is the Shakespeare room, where William Shakespeare is believed to have stayed as a frequent visitor to make use of the extensive library resources. This huge suite is tucked away in the old part of the manor off the Minstrels’ Gallery. It has an imposing four-poster bed taking centre stage and a handsome chimney piece. Look carefully and you may spot a hiding-place behind the over mantel Ask for Room 4 for a peek.
Offering 71 guest rooms, accommodation styles are varied from rooms and suites in the 16th century Manor which are linked by creaky stairs and a maze of corridors while the Coach Barn is separate and adjacent to the house. All the rooms have had a contemporary makeover with rain showers over bath tubs, attractively styled and very restful with quality amenities.
The Stuart Restaurant doesn’t disappoint in its creative fine dining menu. One of the selected choices for the first course was the Shakespeare Gin Cured Mackerel, small but perfectly formed, embellished with horseradish yoghurt apple chilli and chicory. As a main, was Poached Halibut laced with leeks, mussels and beurre blanc with garlic and rosemary chips. And for desert there was a White Chocolate Mousse with pistachio and raspberries. Each beautifully presented.
This manor house was originally located next to the village of the same name but, alas, in the middle of the fourteenth century the Black Death annihilated the whole village. Today, the area has a much healthier outlook. The addition of a health spa has turned Billesely Manor into a wellness retreat and has partnered with the skincare brand ESPA. With its holistic philosophy to wellness, there are a range of treatments and therapies offered to restore and de-stress from aromatherapy massages to tailored facials by helpful and expert therapists. Options include an indulgent day package such as the Afternoon Tea Day Spa, a Salt & Oil Scrub or an Inner Calm Massage. There is also a small, well-equipped gym, an indoor pool to swim away the calories as well as a sauna and steam room. Outside is a tennis court and hidden areas for private meditation.
Tranquillity and peace thrive in a setting featured by a mesmerising central fountain reflected in a pool of water encircled by lawns. A Victorian topiary adds character where the hedges incorporate doors and windows to the walled garden while 11 acres of private grounds enjoy the views of the manor house framed by ancient trees, seating areas and colourful floral displays. But a stroll doesn’t stop here. On the edge of the estate grounds, hidden amongst the trees, stands the 11th century Church of All Saints where it is rumoured Shakespeare married Anne Hathaway. Packed full of intrigue, the Church has a gallery that would have originally hosted a rustic orchestra similar to those mentioned by Thomas Hardy in his Wessex novels. Later this served as pews for the servants from the Manor with the one boxed off pew reserved for the butler. Today, it can be used for blessings by special licence!
Billesley Manor Hotel & Spa is conveniently located for exploring neighbouring Stratford upon Avon for its renowned theatre, Alcester with its wobbly buildings lining the medieval street and Anne Hathaway’s Cottage & Garden. But it is hard to stray away for long, away from the warm welcome of the friendly staff at Billesley Manor. Set in its own pocket of countryside, sheep are the only intruders on its landscape.
Where art thou? Famous words paved to a place indelibly linked to a time in history. Billesley Manor is cloaked in contemporary comforts while preserving its rich history and encapsulating the character of hospitality.
Billesley Manor Hotel & Spa rates start from £160 per night B&B based on two people sharing, subject to availability. For more information about Billesley Manor Hotel and to book a stay, please visit www.bespokehotels.com, www.billesleymanor.com or call 01789 279955.
The hotel is a member of Bespoke Hotels. Formed in 2000, Bespoke Hotels represents over 120 properties worldwide and the UK’s largest independent hotel group, ranging from specialist golf, spa and city centre hotels and resorts.
Jane Wilson is editor and founder of The Wellness Traveller
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