1) Ickworth – Suffolk
In the 18th century, a ‘Grand Tour’ of Europe was a rite of passage for any self-respecting young aristocrat. After being ordained in 1754, Frederick Augustus Hervey, the 4th Earl of Bristol, did just that, returning to his family’s Suffolk home with grand designs for bringing it up to a standard that better reflected their social standing.
Although Frederick didn’t live to see the results, the house was completed by 1830 and included two palatial wings, landscaped gardens and an Italianate rotunda – the first of its kind in Britain, albeit one dubbed a stupendous monument of folly” by some.
Sold in 1996 and opened as a hotel, Ickworth has lost none of its neoclassical grandeur, with ornate chandeliers, marble floors and views across the 1,800-acre estate.
2) Luton Hoo – Bedfordshire
For sheer indulgence, this 18th-century stately home-turned-hotel is hard to beat. Just 30 miles from central London, the Grade I listed building’s interior was redesigned in 1903 by Charles Mewes and Arthur Davis, architects of The Ritz. Luton Hoo was a private residence at the time: HM The Queen and Prince Philip spent part of their honeymoon here, something the royal couple made into an annual tradition.
The neoclassical house was built for the 3rd Earl of Bute following his year-long stint as Prime Minister in 1762, developed further during the 19th century, and re-opened as a 228-room hotel in 2007. Vintage chandeliers and Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown-designed gardens all add to the winning blend of country splendour and urban luxury.
3) Bradley House – Wiltshire
Henry VIII was so desperate for a male heir that he divorced his first wife and beheaded the second. When third wife Jane Seymour eventually gave birth to a son, Edward, the Tudor king was evidently so grateful he later granted this particular corner of Wiltshire to his eldest brother-in-law in 1547 and anointed him the 1st Duke of Somerset.
It was almost 200 years before the family built the house, which they later reduced in size in 1821. It lost nothing of its aristocratic atmosphere in the process, not least since Henry and Jane’s four-poster bed was relocated here from Wolf Hall. Currently home to the 19th Duke of Somerset, the house boasts 12 guest bedrooms and, while they can’t be individually booked, this is an ideal location for weddings or events.
4) Scone Palace – Perthshire
Far from just a seat for Scottish nobility, Scone Palace played a pivotal role in the country’s history. The first true King of Scots, Kenneth MacAlpin welcomed the Picts here in the 9th century, while Macbeth and Robert the Bruce were among the many to be crowned here on the Stone of Scone, a coronation seat that currently resides in Edinburgh Castle while a replica can still be found in the grounds of the palace’s chapel.
The modern Scone Palace (pronounced “Scoon”) was completed in 1812 and home to William David Murray, the 8th Earl of Mansfield. Visitors can enjoy five-star accommodation in the Balvaird wing apartment with three en-suite bedrooms, using this as a base for fishing on the River Tay and exploring the staterooms.
5) Belvoir – Leicestershire
Few noble British families welcome overnight guests to their estates and many of those that do prefer to restrict accommodation to separate lodgings away from the main house. With this in mind, a stay at the Duke and Duchess of Rutland’s Grade I listed Belvoir Castle is rare indeed. Guests can stay in one of 14 bedrooms designed by the Duchess (a minimum occupancy of five rooms applies), while drinks are served in the Duke’s own private library.
Opt for the Tapestry room, featured in the movie, Young Victoria, or the Nurse Griffiths room, decorated with peacock motifs based upon the family crest. No stay is complete without a walk around the gardens, opened last year yet based on unrealized 1780 plans drawn up by Capability Brown.