Have a taste of the Downton Abbey life at these spectacular country houses, which have either been converted into plush hotels or can be rented out for a time...
Set in a 400-acre deer park, this former stately home oozes period charm with wood-panelled rooms, warmed by log fires, which enjoy far-reaching views of the Bassenthwaite Lake. Choose between traditional bedrooms or more contemporary ones in the spa wing. For details, see www.armathwaite-hall.com
On their journey along the river, The Wind in The Willows' Mole and Rat came in sight of 'a handsome, dignified old house of mellowed red brick, with well-kept lawns'. It was Toad Hall - and the same words could be used today to describe the country house that originally inspired Kenneth Grahame's writing: Fowey Hall. The mansion is now a lavish but relaxed, family-friendly hotel where fine panelling and antique beds complement sweeping views across Fowey, the river estuary and the sea beyond. Relax at the spa -- where the hot tub has breathtaking sea views -- before treating yourself to a delicious afternoon tea, and dinner in the stylish dining room. For more details, see www.foweyhallhotel.co.uk.
Treat yourself to a royal stay at Fawsley Hall, a magnificent manor house that played host to Queen Elizabeth I in 1575. Don't settle for less than the atmospheric 1575 Suite, otherwise known in ancient documents as the Queens Room, for it is here that Elizabeth I slept. Enjoy peaceful walks in the 2,000 acres (once landscaped by none other than Capability Brown) before curling up in front of the log fire in the Tudor Great Hall. For more details, see www.fawsleyhall.com
Home to the Hervey family from 1702 to 1996, the Ickworth estate now belongs to the National Trust but the East Wing, where the family used to live, has been turned into an atmospheric hotel with a choice of modern and traditional rooms. Best of all, guests get a complimentary ticket to visit the house and after hours access to the gorgeous Italianate gardens. For more details, visit www.ickworthhotel.co.uk
Live like a lady at Kinnettles Castle, a splendid Victorian mansion in the Angus Hills. Stay in the glamorous master suite, with its private lounge and stylish interiors. And while the award-winning chef whips up a delicious supper, a barman can fix you a great aperitif. For details, see www.kinnettlescastle.com
No two rooms are the same at this sumptuous Georgian country house, where period and contemporary décor combine to perfection. The views across the lush 240 acres will leave you breathless and the spa is to die for. For more details, see www.coworthpark.com
This white Palladian mansion, designed by King George III's architect James Wyatt, sits beautifully in lush grounds that were originally landscaped by Humphry Repton and Capability Brown. Once home to John Penn (a scion of the family that sold Pennsylvania to the United States government) Stoke Park became one of Britain's first country house hotels and has starred in many films, from James Bond's Goldfinger to Bridget Jones's Diary. Expect lavish bedrooms, elegant cuisine and a fabulous gold course. For details, see www.stokepark.com
This sumptuous manor was once home to the Pole family, the last legitimate descendants of the Plantagenet royal dynasty. After a spell as a school, it is now a romantic country house hotel, complete with lake and luxuriant gardens. Hit the spa for a relaxing treatment before heading to the wood-paneled Oak Hall to enjoy a Champagne cocktail. For details, see www.hanbury-manor.co.uk
Try a French twist on a stately home at medieval Chateau Rigaud, an English-owned retreat near the wine capital of St-Emilion. Très chic rooms richly decorated with glittering chandeliers, draping silks and luscious velvets - the tower room with four-poster bed is our favourite - are the perfect place to retire after a hard day's wine tasting and lounging in the chateau's lavender-edged pool. A Rick-Stein trained chef, along with waitressing and housekeeping are included in the rental. For details, see www.chateaurigaud.co.uk
Image copyright: Chatea Rigaud/Mark Bolton
Few houses are more atmospheric than Cliveden, built in the 17th century for George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham, and later home to some of the world's most distinguished personalities, from Frederick, Prince of Wales, to Lord and Lady Astor. The house, or rather its outdoor pool, was where Christine Keeler met John Profumo in 1961, igniting the scandal that rocked a government. Today, it is a lavish, antiques-filled hotel, whose splendid rooms are named after great visitors of the past. Start the day with a stroll in the romantic National Park gardens that surround it, have a picnic aboard one of Cliveden's vintage boats and enjoy a massage at the spa before downing a gin and tonic at that pool. For details, see www.clivedenhouse.co.uk