Wherefore art thou? One can almost hear Shakespeare’s famous words question from the wooden panels and the meandering corridors. I know where I am— at the luxury historic Billesley Manor Hotel & Spa in Warwickshire near Stratford-upon-Avon— but the history of the home takes me back to a different time and place.
Shakespeare Slept Here
The magnificent 16th Century Elizabethan Manor House is steeped with history, with rooms and features that have stories to tell, especially those of William Shakespeare. It was at Billesley Manor the now world-famous bard put quill to scroll in 1599 and wrote his 20th play, ‘As You Like It’, from which the iconic line “All the world’s a stage” originated. Historians also believe that he married Anne Hathaway in the All Saints Church within the grounds of the hotel. 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.
Look Up in the As You Like It Lounge
Around the Hotel
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. Though this place is steeped in history, there are contemporary twists too such as the As You Like It lounge, a spot to look up at the ceiling and admire books and pages hung as a tribute to Shakespeare’s work.
On the first floor is the Shakespeare Room, where the writer is believed to have stayed as a frequent guest. The huge suite is tucked away in the old part of the manor house, off the Minstrels’ Gallery. An imposing four-poster bed takes centre stage and there’s a handsome chimney piece. Look carefully and you may spot a hiding-place behind the mantel. Ask for Room 4 for a peek.
Where You’ll Sleep
The Billesley Manor Hotel & Spa has 71 guest rooms and suites, which link by creaky stairs and a maze of corridors, while the historic Coach Barn, converted into living quarters in the early 20th century, has rooms with an assortment of views, some overlooking a 12th century church. All the rooms have had a contemporary makeover with rain showers over bath tubs, attractively styled and very restful with quality amenities.
Rooms and suites have been modernized but retain their historic character
Food & Wine
All the menus of each dining spot on the property are seasonally focused and come from local and regional farmers. That’s why you’ll find Cotswold lamb, poultry and beef and Gin distilled by their neighbours at Shakespeare’s Distillery. A lot of pride is taken to choose partners that implement organic and sustainable practices. For that extra fresh flavour, the hotel also has a kitchen garden that provides herbs and greens to each dish.
The Stuart Restaurant doesn’t disappoint in its creative fine dining. 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.
The addition of a health spa has turned Billesely Manor into a luxurious wellness retreat. The’ve partnered with the skincare brand ESPA and bring a holistic philosophy to wellness. Guests will find a range of treatments and therapies designed to restore and de-stress, from aromatherapy massages to custom facials. Indulgent packages include 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, and a sauna and steam room. Outside is a tennis court and plenty of areas for private meditation.
Pamper Yourself in the ESPA Spa
Whether it’s listening to the mesmerising fountain babble, strolling the lawns, or meditating in a private verdant corner, tranquillity and peace thrive. A Victorian topiary adds character where the hedges incorporate doors and windows to the walled garden while 11 acres of private grounds reveal ancient trees, seating areas, and colourful floral displays. 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.
Take time for a stroll to admire the topiaries of the manor’s garden
Out & About
Billesley Manor Hotel & Spa is conveniently located for exploring neighbouring Stratford-upon-Avon and its renowned theatre. The ancient market town of Alcester with its wobbly buildings lining the medieval street is also close, as is Anne Hathaway’s Cottage & Garden. But it is hard to stay away for long from the warm welcome of the friendly staff at Billesley Manor. Where art thou? Right where you need to be.
Author bio: Jane Wilson, The Wellness Traveller