The Belsfield, Lake District, hotel review
Read Rebecca Brett’s review of the Laura Ashley Hotel on Lake Windermere.
Tell us about the hotel
The Grade II listed building dates back to 1845. It was originally built as a private residence for Baroness Von Sternberg before a steel magnate acquired it in 1869 and converted it into a hotel. Getting a little tired and rough around the edges, a £3.5million refurbishment and partnership with Laura Ashley in 2014 gave the hotel a new lease of life and now many flock from far and wide to stay the night.
The hotel has all the sumptuousness you expect from the celebrated British interior designer. The famous floral fabrics, furniture, fittings and soft furnishings are found in every nook and cranny.
As well as 62 bedrooms, there is a cocktail bar, brasserie, drawing room and library as well as a heated indoor swimming pool, gym and six acres of landscaped gardens.
Where is the hotel?
The hotel is in Bowness, on the east side of Lake Windermere, and with views over the vast expanse of water.
How to get there
Windermere train station is a five minute taxi drive from the hotel. The station has fast train services from London and other major cities into Winderemere and Oxenholme. There are also good road links to the M6.
What’s in the area?
The hotel is in the heart of the Lake District National Park. First things first; take a big deep breath in and smell that fresh countryside air. There are so many trails, tracks, lanes and paths to go walking on. When we arrived I sought out the little information booth by the lake and bought a 6-mile walking guide for 60p. Off we went though sheep-filled fields, over stone stiles, up craggy rocks and along winding paths for a 3-hour trek before getting back to the hotel for a well-earned G&T in the bar.
How was the room?
Not just one, we had two rooms to potter around in. A living area with chairs at the window overlooking the lake, tea-making facilities and huge comfy sofas with a TV.
Then a lavishly decorated bedroom with a king-size bed and Egyptian cotton sheets, large wardrobe with safe, iron, hair dryer etc and more views over the stunning waters and snow-capped Cumbrian Hills.
How about the bathroom?
All was as expected; a power shower, huge bath, sink… and then a really fancy toilet with added extras! It was like one of those toilets you hear about in Japan – with washing and drying facilities. A heated towel rail and under-floor heating made the bathroom cosy and organic toiletries are provided so you don’t have to take your own.
How was dinner?
There are two rooms and menus to choose from; a formal dining room with a five-course fine dining menu or a more relaxed brasserie-style room with a laid back menu of classic dishes.
On the first night we ate in the posh one. Dinner started with an awful platter of bread – cheap and stale slices of white and wholemeal with a tiny square of dried-out focaccia. Luckily things got better with an amuse bouche of celeriac espuma and starters of white onion and cider veloute with gruyere cheese toasties for me and scallops with black pudding for Rick.
A champagne sorbet was a palette cleanser before our identical main course, a recommendation from the manager, lamb rump with gratin potatoes and carrots. The lamb was tender and accompanied by a rich jus which perfectly complemented the meat.
For dessert I made room for a tarte tatin with butterscotch milkshake that came far too quickly for it to have been made there and then while Rick had a chocolate fondant with pistachio ice cream. Afterwards we enjoyed coffees over a game of Trivial Pursuit (from 1983!) in the library.
The next day, and after our long walk, we were looking for something hearty to fill us so chose the brasserie menu. We were served the same awful bread in the brasserie too – it was left, untouched. For me, the chicken liver parfait was just the rich and comforting starter I so desired. Unfortunately the mussels that followed were rubbery from being over-cooked (or perhaps microwaved) and there were so many broken shells in the dish I erred on the side of caution whilst eating. After all the first rule of cooking mussels is ‘if the shell is broken or doesn’t close when tapped – discard’. Rick’s starter of fishcakes also outshone his main of chicken breast with tagliatelle which was, in his words, stodgy and flavourless.
We were full but the night was still young so promised we’d be back for a cheeseboard later in the evening. Not to go back on a promise we had our cheese (a great selection served with mixed crackers and chutney) with a glass of port and a rematch of Trivial Pursuit.
How was breakfast?
Breakfast, served until 10am, is served buffet-style so you can just go and help yourself to as much as you like.
Tea/coffee and toast are served to the table and the rest is up to you. Cereals, fresh fruit, pastries and juices as well as cooked breakfast items including black pudding and fried bread. For a £3.50 supplement you can also choose from a hot menu including dishes such as eggs Benedict, pancakes and kippers – which I had and think they are an absolute must-have if you are visiting.
What’s the damage?
Double rooms, including breakfast for two, start at £150 per night in the summer with deals available throughout the winter months.
The Belsfield is toasty warm and welcoming, a wonderful winter retreat. There’s nothing better than being holed up inside while hail beats down outside. Though it was deepest midwinter on our visit, I can imagine the hotel is a great place to be on summer evenings as the sun is setting with a Pimms in hand.
Food at the hotel was hit and miss. Breakfast was good every day and with such a huge selection to choose from you could have something different every time. Dinner was good in parts, we definitely preferred the fine-dining menu but of course that was a lot more expensive. And something definitely needs to be done about that bread basket!
The staff really made our visit to the hotel. It was like being welcomed into a family. A special mention must go to the two Ians – one on the bar and one in the restaurant. They were both lovely to chat to, charming and so helpful and friendly.
For more information on the hotel, please visit www.lauraashleyhotels.com.
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