An elegant boutique hotel in Stratford-upon-Avon’s historic heart offers the perfect base for a Shakespearean pilgrimage.
A mere two hours by train from London lies Stratford-upon-Avon, the birthplace of England’s most celebrated playwright, Mr William Shakespeare. Set in the beautiful Warwickshire countryside, on the banks of the river Avon, the town is one of the most visited tourist destinations in the UK. And that’s hardly surprising given its history, which is perfectly reflected in its chocolate box blend of jaunty-angled buildings, half-timbered houses and quaint medieval thoroughfares.
While the high season tourist throngs here may not be for the faint hearted, The Arden Hotel, a member of Small Luxury Hotels of the World, provides a calming escape from the crowds. This gorgeous hideaway is ideally placed beside the river and close to the famous Royal Shakespeare Company theatres. Yet despite this prime location, once inside, it’s easy to forget the buzz of the town; in fact, the sense of seclusion is so complete that it’s possible to completely lose oneself.
Built on foundations dating back to the 15th century, The Arden Hotel is split over two different buildings that have been lovingly stitched together and now provide 45 luxurious guest bedrooms. Adorned with botanical and woodland wallpapers and plush furnishings that speak of warmth and richness, it feels pampering yet homely. Retaining the character of the building, and with a nod to the ancient forest of Arden, the interiors steer clear of Shakespearean twee (although, fittingly, Arden was also the maiden name of Shakespeare’s mother). Instead, a palette of taupe and grey heritage colours conveys a sense of history and perfectly reflects the hotel’s surroundings.
After checking in, we’re shown to our room – winding through what feels like a rabbit warren of corridors (there are telephones dotted around should you get lost!) and down a couple of flights of ornate stairs. There are no room numbers to be seen here, each of the guest rooms in The Arden is named after a tree. Our room is comfortably furnished – weary from our travels we cast an appreciative eye over the giant bed, made up with crisp white sheets, and the gloriously deep bathtub that promises complete submersion. Dragging ourselves away is no easy task, but, with such history on our doorstep, we must, and so we set off to retrace the bearded bard’s footsteps and to discover more about his humble beginnings.
With evening approaching, we find ourselves back at the hotel, dining in its two AA rosette restaurant. Opening onto the hotel’s sprawling terrace, No. 44 Brasserie is a blissful suntrap by day and one of Stratford-upon-Avon’s most attractive dining spots by night. Overlooking the RSC Swan Theatre, this elegant eaterie is relaxed and friendly, with just the right lighting come nightfall to make it intimate and romantic. It’s hard to imagine a more idyllic way to spend an evening – we dine on melt in the mouth torched and cured salmon; deliciously light chicken and tarragon terrine; tangy Asian glazed duck breast; and tender, perfectly-cooked rib-eye steak. Devouring every last morsel, we find nothing to fault aside from the fact we have so little room left for dessert. We do, though, manage to find a tiny pocket of space – we are unable to resist the devilishly good chocolate crémeux and obligatory cheese board. Feeling sleepy and well fed, we retreat to our room early, suitably impressed by The Arden team’s ‘nothing-is-too-much-trouble’ service.
After a lie-in the next morning, we sit at breakfast wondering how we could possibly be hungry after last night’s feast. But with such a spread of tempting breakfast options, we manage to squeeze in the full works. Bursting at the seams, we pack our bags, and attempt to work off some of our indulgences with a long walk along the river bank before heading home. As Shakespeare himself once said: “All’s well that ends well.”
Superior rooms in high season (April-September) from £175 per room, per night, based on two people sharing on a bed and breakfast basis (low season from £150)
(01789 298682; theardenhotelstratford.com)