[AD – I was invited to a complimentary stay at Rothay Manor in Ambleside for Belle About Town but thought it would be a shame not to tell you about it. Our hotel room and dinner was complimentary but we paid for all our drinks. Everything else mentioned was also paid for in full]
I love the Lake District. I haven’t been half as many times as I should, and every time I vow to go more often. There’s something about its scale, the majesty of its landscape, that inspires awe and seems to slow down the pace of what you do. William Wordsworth dubbed it: “The loveliest spot that man hath found” and I promise you if you visit you might just agree.
Of course, on top of all that poetry, there’s all the modern-day stuff that makes a destination lovely to visit – great food, nice boozers, fabulous walks and activities and an array of excellent accommodation from campsites to hotels.
For once, my accommodation was due to be the latter rather than a small tin can with two Rottweilers for company. And yes, I’m not ashamed to say that despite my love of the campervan I do jump at the chance to stay somewhere that has a warm bed, power shower and a normal toilet rather than a portaloo that requires having a wee two inches from said Rottweilers’ faces (was that TMI? Sorry).
Hence, when I was invited to stay at Rothay Manor Hotel & Fine Dining for a review for another site I write for, my friend and I hot-footed it up to the Lakes quicker than Peter Rabbit himself could have.
On top of the hotel itself, we squeezed so much in during our time up north that this blog could easily have been a Wordsworth-style tome if I’d let it, so for those of you who get bored of the words there are plenty of pictures and I’ve divided it into handy little sections so you can skip right through to the bits that interest you. Nice huh…..
Rothay Manor is a country house style hotel complete with 3 AA Rosette fine dining restaurant. It’s on the outskirts of Ambleside so pretty much equidistant from the edge of Lake Windermere and the town itself. Perfect for exploring.
The building itself oozes tradition, from a parlour-style lounge to the grand dining room, but has also recently been refurbished to bring it up to date. The feeling is one of cosy opulence with a generous slug of country chic poured on top.
Rothay calls itself a ’boutique bolt-hole’ and that’s not a bad description really. Whether you’re on a swanky weekend away or a cosy getaway, I think you’ll find it fits.
There’s plenty of communal space perfect for snuggling up for an afternoon and if it’s pampering you’re after you have use of the spa facilities at another hotel a 10-minute walk away. I had every intention of checking these facilities out but got distracted by a lakeside view in the other direction and a glass of al fresco fizz…
I only saw our room but apparently each is different. Ours had a comfortable feel complete with huge bed, wingback chairs in the window to curl up and read a Beatrix Potter book, a desk for the workaholics among us and a rather lovely bathroom complete with rolltop bath and huge shower.
It may feel traditional in style but has all the touches of a modern hotel from fluffy dressing gowns to Nespresso machine, TV and swanky toiletries. Oh, and much more space than a campervan – always a plus in my eyes.
The restaurant is something that probably makes Rothay stand out from some of its rival hotels. The space itself is beautifully done, flooded with light in the morning, and oozing softly-lit sophisticated charm in the evenings.
When it comes to our dining experience here, the word ‘precision’ springs to mind – from the traditional formal French-style service to the many, many small elements that turned what was due to be an a la carte dinner into something that felt much more of a tasting menu experience.
Of course, you can opt for one of several tasting menu options – the “Discovery” 5-course tasting menu or “Gourmet” 9-course tasting menu – or stick to a la carte as we did, knowing that the additional elements of amuse bouches, palate cleansers and various little touches will turn it into something far beyond your average a la carte.
Of course, you could probably quite happily do without some of them and if you’ve signed up for a simple three-course dinner you might actually prefer not to have the extras, but I’m sure you could request to keep things simple if that’s what you prefer. In fact, while we’re on requests, my friend turned out to be the perfect test of a kitchen’s ability to deal with intolerances – something I don’t often witness since I (quite literally) eat everything – and the way her rather specific requirements were dealt with was a testament to the professionalism of this kitchen.
The menu is packed with elements that showcase regional food and seasonal produce. I know, I know – phrases that have become as tiresome in the food world as Brexit has in elsewhere – but it’s all true.
From Wild Cumbrian rabbit with pancetta, boudin noir and pumpkin to hand-dived orkney scallop to start, and mains including Herdwick Hogget, English rose veal and Cumbrian partridge, each course was well-designed and carefully executed. If I was a more pedantic person I might say that I could have done with a bit more seasoning on a few of my dishes, but as an overall experience I think most of us would say it was impressive.
The piece de resistance for me was the impressive cheeseboard. Once upon a time on this blog I raved about what the French call a ‘Chariot de Fromage’ – a huge trolley they wheel at you across a dining room with all the heady promise of soft, squishy French delights, blue-veined naughtiness, and all the extras you need for the perfect cheese board.
This is a slightly refined version of this and the perfect ending to a night. We retired with ours to a fireside seat, pairing it with a flight of four different ports just in case we hadn’t ticked the ‘indulgence’ box during our visit so far.
Just hours after the marathon that was dinner, we found ourselves back in the dining room for breakfast, choosing from a buffet table that I think had been slightly depleted by the time we visited and a range of order-able options. Perhaps not quite as inspiring as dinner, but an enjoyable start to the day.
Stuff to do while you stay
Since you’re likely to be in the area for at least a day or two, I’ve decided to inspire you with a few options while you’re up there. Of course it’s not exhaustive, but might give you a bit of inspiration for your trip.
Ambleside itself is a short walk from the hotel. It’s a stereotypical Lake District town, surrounded by majestic hills and views and complete with its own less rugged attractions.
Potter around the shops, stop in one of the cafes, or check out one of the many sights you can pop into, including one of the smallest National Trust properties in the country (it certainly felt like it anyway).
You can’t visit the Lake District without stopping to have your breath taken away by one of the lakes themselves. You’ll drive past Windermere on your way to Rothay and it’s well worth the 15/20 minute walk from the hotel back to the shore to look out over the water.
There are a few bars and pubs nearby too, and if you have the weather on your side (my friend tells me it’s all about manifesting it…) you can sit by the shore with a glass of something nice in your hand and a bowl of chips taking in the kind of scenery that inspired blokes and gals like Wordsworth and Potter.
Learn about Beatrix Potter
Hats off to my pal for adding this to our itinerary. As a child she visited the home of Beatrix Potter at nearby Hill Top millions of times but I had never done it. Park in Hawkshead and walk up to Hill Top, again taking in the kind of scenery that inspired Potter to write many of her books.
When you get there you can walk around the garden that saw the creation of Peter Rabbit and explore the home she lived in. Whether you’re into literature or not, this is well worth a visit and there’s a lovely cafe at Hill Top for you to refuel for the walk back down to Hawkshead.
Take in the scenery
The thing about breaks to places like the Lakes is that it’s enough to just stop and pause and take in what’s around you. I’m not the best-travelled person in the world but it’s places like this that really do remind you that the UK can more than hold its own when it comes to awe-inspiring landscape and unspoilt scenery.
From somewhere like Ambleside you’re literally a stone’s throw from feeling like you’re in one of the most remote places on earth – and I mean that in a good way. Had we more time we’d have yomped for hours, exhausting phone batteries with endless photos and enjoying the quiet that comes from being far away from civilisation.
Drink tea and eat cake
Another bonus of places like the Lakes – eating cake and drinking tea is virtually obligatory. There are endless places to do this, but we ventured to Chesters By the River just outside Ambleside and boy was it worth it.
A gorgeous shop in and of itself where you can buy everything from crockery to cookbooks, and hair bands to post cards, you could spend a good few hours there. But for me it was all about the cafe complete with terrace overlooking the river.
The food is plant-based with brunches from Buddha Bowls and bhaji burgers to pizza and flatbread lunches and salads packed with spice and flavour that are a far-cry from a cheese sarnie you might get in some cafes. We visited late afternoon and opted for scones and tea but this place is on my list for a return visit.
I could go on and on about why I love the Lakes, but I’m hoping this might help you out a bit. There are endless quotes about its beauty, myriad books inspired by its landscape and probably infinite blogs on places to stay and things to do. They can’t all be wrong. And I most definitely am not.
Disclosure – as mentioned, I was invited to Rothay Manor Hotel for a complimentary stay and dinner. We paid for our drinks and everything else mentioned in this blog was paid for in full.