Tucked away in 11 acres of lush green Warwickshire countryside, you’ll find the picturesque Billesley Manor and Spa positioned within charming, manicured gardens that are steeped in history. Five miles from Stratford-upon-Avon and just under 2 hours away from London, Billesley is your ideal retreat if you are looking for an invigorating break with plenty to see and do but also for the indulgence of sitting back and relaxing with nothing to do.
This heritage country manor has recently been renovated and lovingly restored with the utmost respect for its original features, seamlessly blending its past with the optimism of the new.
A Shakespeare Connection
None other than William Shakespeare was known to frequent the manor, where he wrote his comedy, ‘As You Like It’ in 1599. You can still see the exact spot where he penned it in the hotel’s library (named after the play). Though there’s much to look at, at eye level, make sure to look above at the magical book-lined ceiling. According to popular folklore, Shakespeare married Anne Hathaway (not the Hollywood star) at the young age of 18 in 1582 on the grounds of Billesley in the quaint All Saints church next to the hotel. However, this is one of several churches in the area to make the same claim.
The All Saints version of events is more credible as Shakespeare’s granddaughter, Elizabeth, chose to marry All Saints. Neither she nor her husband, Sir John Bernard, was from Billesley and, as a wealthy woman, it is thought strange that she would choose such a small and out-of-the-way church unless there were more sentimental reasons attached. Whether this belief is true, it does add to the romance and charm of Billesley, which suggests why it has grown in popularity as a wedding destination for those looking for a classic English venue to tie the knot. The grade I listed church is worth a visit and still has its original 12th Century stone carvings.
As we begin our commute, there is an early hint of spring in the air, complimented by the uplifting scenery. In the car, we pass dazzling blue skies, with bursts of warm honey hues above the forest green landscapes, while we drive expectantly through the winding country roads and towards the inviting, elegantly restored manor.
As we pull into the sweeping driveway of Billesley, we are greeted with the beautiful stately manor in all its splendour, nestled within well-maintained grounds that are bathed in a saffron light as the sun starts to set. The 100-year-old grounds boast manicured topiary bushes that resemble chess pieces (chess is one of my favourite board games), so we are off to a good start.
We also spot the infamous All Saints church next to the manor, adding that extra touch of historical charm. Upon entering the hotel’s reception, we receive the friendliest and cosiest of welcomes.
On the way to our room, I notice photos of various actors that have starred in Shakespearean performances lining the walls, all emphasising the hotel’s pride in their Shakespearian connection.
Once we are inside room 36, I notice a thoughtful gesture of a handwritten welcome card along with some delicious chocolate truffles that are devoured immediately. The room is snug, and medium in size, with all the essentials to aid in a comfortable stay.
Decorated in classic royal blues and cool greys with crisp white bedding. The bed is purposefully sumptuous to provide a deep, restful sleep. The highlight for me is our stunning view of the grounds and waterfall. There are 71 elegantly furnished rooms with various room categories, from Manor House four poster suites to cosier rooms at the barn.
Soon after arriving and deciding we deserve a tempting treat, we sit down for an indulgent afternoon tea in the oak-panelled Stuart Rooms Restaurant. Billesley’s classic afternoon tea is the quintessential English experience. Crustless finger sandwiches, served with a tempting selection of eye-catching morsel-sized cakes, adorn the table. Warm, freshly baked fruit and plain scones are deliciously accompanied by generous helpings of clotted cream and fruit conserves. These are paired perfectly with a fresh pot of tea. I do my best to finish the many delights on the table but reluctantly admit defeat.
Dinner at The Stuart Rooms Restaurant
Expect fresh, seasonal, organic produce from an imaginative and elegant à la carte menu which is updated frequently along with daily specials. The staff are very happy to provide menu recommendations and offer any help needed with the menu.
For the first night, we are seated close to the open fire, which, for me, is the perfect spot and offers a cosy ambience along with the soft lighting inside the restaurant. Our server offers freshly baked bread and informs us of the day’s specials before we ravenously peruse the menu. The options include some delicious vegetarian dishes, but I decide on the gin-cured salmon for starter, served with a dill crème fraiche, cucumber ketchup and heritage radish. The presentation is vibrant, with the cured salmon placed neatly on the swirls of dill crème fraiche. The flavours complement each other perfectly, resulting in a light and refreshing entrée. I choose a more luxuriously rich main course with duck breast. The duck is served with celeriac fondant, celeriac puree, and an elegant blackberry jus. Spying truffle potatoes as a side option, I excitedly declare my additional choice to the server.
When the duck arrives, it is succulent and melts in the mouth. The locally sourced vegetables complete the dish. Feeling optimistic that I can make room for a dessert, I decide on the decadent dark chocolate delice. As a recovering chocoholic, this is worth falling off the wagon for. Accompanied by a pistachio gel with pistachio crumb and tonka beans, this is a rich chocolatey dessert with intense flavours.
Feeling content and familiar with the routine, we head to The Stuart Rooms Restaurant for our second and final evening. This time I chose the soup of the day, which is a delicately spiced lentil soup and the special 8oz fillet steak for the main course. The steak is cooked precisely to my medium rare request and served with a mouth-watering peppercorn sauce. The sauce is so good I cheekily asked if I can have more. They kindly oblige. Dessert is a satisfying selection of British cheeses with grapes, chutney and crackers.
Billesley has a well-curated wine list with something to suit all budgets and pallets that can be paired well with the cuisine. From a respectable Sauvignon Blanc or a Pouilly-Fumé to a rather delicious Puligny-Montrachet. On the first night, I order a glass of Chenin Blanc. On the second night, to compliment my fillet steak, I am tempted by a bottle of the Châteauneuf-du-Pape but decide to stick to just the one glass of wine and choose the well-balanced, ripe & fruity Rioja Crianza. After dinner, you can have a nightcap of your choice in the warm, cosy bar next to the restaurant, which is open till late. An espresso martini, whilst sat chatting away in the bar, was a welcome finale to our evening each night.
Morning breakfast is a full English buffet with waiter service and cooked breakfast to order during their quieter periods. There is something reassuringly comforting about breakfast time, and the varied selection brought a serene contentment that began the day well. From the cooked buffet, I selected a hearty helping of soft scrambled eggs, crispy bacon and juicy pork sausages, choosing to bypass the more health-conscious continental option on the other side of the room.
Spa and Relaxation
The hotel spa offers a wide range of ESPA treatments for men and women, including facials and body treatments. There is also the option to enjoy a full spa day with lunch in their spa café. I opt for an ESPA back, neck, and shoulder massage for a duration of 25 minutes. There are longer treatments lasting 80 minutes if preferred, or the shorter treatments can be incorporated into bespoke wellness programmes. These include personalised aromatherapy blend massages or hot stone massages. After a week of being hunched over my desk, the ESPA back, neck, and shoulder massage, and the idea of treating these areas, feels like pure heaven. I discuss my treatment objectives, so the massage can be personalised to my achy neck and back areas. The consultant is knowledgeable and checks the pressure is agreeable.
Though the treatment is short at 25 minutes, it still manages to relax and produce results. My knots were gone, and I felt like a weight had been lifted from my shoulders. All of this is perfect for stressed and burnt-out individuals looking for more of a fast-acting express treatment.
The staff at the spa reception area were sweet and helpful, thoughtfully enquiring how my experience was after the treatment. With the staff looking genuinely pleased, it was relaxing therapy for me. Afterwards, I took a leisurely dip in the generously large, heated indoor pool. There is also a small but well kitted-out fitness studio for those that want to maintain their gym routines whilst away, housing all the modern equipment you would need for your fitness routine. If you feel like an outdoor activity, and the weather is good, then there is the option of a game of tennis at one of their two courts situated on the grounds.
Things to do near Billesley Manor
A ten-minute drive from Billesley Manor will take you to the heart of Stratford-upon-Avon, an 800-year-old market town. The city is home to the Royal Shakespeare Theatre – RSC – which has regular performances. Then there is the tasting tour at the Shakespeare Distillery if gin is your poison. The Distillery is an artisan spirit producer, creating carbon-neutral spirits with a twist of history. If you still feel in the mood for more Shakespearean history, you can also visit Shakespeare’s Birthplace and Anne Hathaway’s Cottage.
To further explore the surrounding area, there is nothing like grabbing a pair of wellies and a walking map from the hotel reception and enjoying the countryside to take in the breath-taking views.
In a nutshell
Billesley Manor is a delightful break away. The hotel staff are warm and friendly and do their utmost to make your stay enjoyable. Billesley Manor offers value for money and a pleasant out-of-town experience with the added benefit of historical connections.
Highlights were the beautiful views from our bedroom window along with the seasonal menu choices served by the talented chefs at The Stuart Rooms Restaurant. Overall, it is a great choice for a restful weekend getaway and for those who could cure their writer’s block through some Shakespearean inspiration.
To discover more, visit: billesleymanor.com
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All images courtesy of Billesley Manor.