cosy cottages

Fancy snuggling up by a roaring fire after a crisp walk in the winter sunshine? Or doing your Christmas shopping in the twinkling capital? Here's our pick of the best British breaks to book now...

1) A Picture-Perfect Cotswolds Weekend

A frosty winter morning in a beautiful corner of Gloucestershire. The air is crisp and the low sun gives the honey-coloured stone of the buildings a pinkish hue. If you're looking for a perfect winter weekend hideaway, with a guarantee of top service and luxury, then Barnsley House is just the place.

Located near Cirencester, Barnsley House has 18 bedrooms, and was once the home of the celebrated garden designer Rosemary Verey. It has its own spa offering Elemis treatments as well as a private 30-seater cinema and even a "Village Pub" serving delicious food and great beer in front of roaring open fires. Head chef Francesco Volgo presides over the more formal The Potager Restaurant, where the aim is to use the fresh veg grown in the Barnsley House kitchen gardens. Look forward to partridge, lamb and venison in winter.

For something festive, head for the Cirencester Advent Festival on 26 November, or wander into the market place where there are plenty of stalls in the weeks leading up to Christmas. There's a charity Christmas concert and dinner on 15 December (£95pp), which starts with a mulled wine reception at Barnsley House before a carol service and readings at St Mary's Church and then a candlelit stroll back up to Barnsley House for dinner.

THE COST: A night's stay costs from £199 per room (two sharing) including full English breakfast. To book call Pride Of Britain Hotels (0800 089 3929,

2) The Ultimate Country Escape

Thirty captivating acres of private West Sussex parkland help make Bailiffscourt an unforgettable destination. Arriving at the medieval-style house with its 13th-century chapel and secret underground passageway, the hotel is even more atmospheric in winter, with huge roaring fires in the lounges and in some of the bedrooms, too.

The spectacular Bailiffscourt Spa is in a light and airy wooden-framed building. Book the 60-minute Head In The Clouds treatment (£97) and let your festive stress melt away while warm aromatherapy oil is gently trickled on your head.

If you like taking your dog away with you, then Bailiffscourt's £370 Sandy Paws package is perfect. You get a night in a superior room with a three-course dinner (try head chef Russell Williams' melt-in-the-mouth pistachio soufflé) and breakfast, plus your pampered pooch gets a welcome pack including a bowl, mat, tennis ball and tasty treat. Plus, you can walk him along bracing Climping Beach.

Venture further afield and visit Arundel By Candlelight Christmas market, one of the biggest festive events in the south-east, which takes place this year on 3 December.

THE COST: Rooms at Bailiffscourt Hotel & Spa (; 01903 723511) cost from £229 per night, based on two sharing a Classic Double Room, midweek, on a B&B basis.

3) A Weekend Across The Water

If you're looking for a luxury short break with a difference, then fly to Dublin and check in at the fabulous five-star Conrad Hotel. Fresh from a major refurbishment, stylish stone flooring with marble mosaic sit alongside pale pink and green upholstery fabrics, all inspired by the nearby Iveagh Gardens (five minutes' walk, free admission).

Lemuel's Bar and Lounge is named after Lemuel Gulliver (Jonathan Swift's fictional traveller). Celebrate your arrival with an £8.80 Ship on the Rocks cocktail, consisting of Havana rum, rhubarb and ginger liqueur and fresh lime juice.

Get to Dublin before Christmas and you can wander around the I Believe in Christmas market, on Custom House Quay.

Then it's time to get out and about, an easy task when you make good use of the list of Dublin experiences known as Conrad 1/3/5. If you fancy being out for an hour, you can see the creative environment of artist Francis Bacon at the Hugh Lane Gallery. Set aside three hours and you could settle by the fireplace for a lively winter evening of traditional Irish music. With five hours to spare, the Wicklow mountains are within reach, as is the Avoca food market and wine shop in Kilmacanogue. more details at

THE COST: For a fantastic dinner take a short stroll to Forest Avenue (, a lively eatery offering a six-course tasting menu for £53. Rooms at Conrad Dublin ( start from £223 per night. Return fares from London start at £66 (

4) Snuggle Up By A Roaring Log Fire

Winter weekends at fabulous Llangoed Hall are all about curling up in front of the fire with a good book. A mansion has existed on the site since 1632. The house was bought by Sir Bernard Ashley, after the death of his designer wife Laura. The current owners of Llangoed have kept the house cosy and welcoming, with a decanter of sherry for a goodnight tipple in each of the 23 individually-designed rooms.

Book dinner on at least one night of your stay. Chef Nick Brodie goes for seasonal fare, boosted by a good deal of foraging. The Welsh black beef includes wild mushrooms and pine tree powder from the Llangoed estate. THE COST: Rooms at Llangoed Hall (, 01874 754525) cost from £150 per night. A Romantic Champagne break costs £700 for two nights and includes state room accommodation, cream tea on arrival, dinner up to £75pp and a bottle of house champagne brought to your room.

5) Elegant Stay In Tunbridge Wells

You can't get more English than Tunbridge Wells in Kent, which comes into its own in the weeks leading up to Christmas. You'll love the independent boutiques in the high street and The Pantiles area. A stop at the outdoor ice rink at Calverley Grounds is a must, as is a steaming cup of mulled wine (

Another must is to make the newly opened One Warwick Park your base for the weekend, where the super-friendly staff will be happy to give you their local tips. It's a former schoolhouse and brewery (never at the same time!) now converted into a sophisticated hotel. Bedrooms in both the main hotel and neighbouring Townhouse (which has five bedrooms you can book exclusively if there's a group of you) are decorated in subtle shades of grey. Be sure to book a table at the hotel's L'AmORE restaurant. If you're not quite ready for a Christmas feast, try the twice-baked Italian courgette soufflé (£14) or the linguine frutte di mare (£16.50). THE COST: Shopping breaks at One Warwick Park ( cost from £160 per night for two people.

6) Cosy And Chic Country Cottages

Wallops Wood Cottages in Hampshire are a collection of five properties, each sleeping between six and eight people - so if you have a big winter anniversary or birthday book them all and celebrate together! All are well equipped, with huge beds, wood-burning stoves and under-floor heating. And as a special treat each has a hot tub to unwind in.

Chichester, Petersfield, Winchester and Petworth are all within easy reach (check for details if you're visiting in December as each town has its own Christmas events), and for an opportunity to blow away the cobwebs, head for the fabulous long beach at West Wittering, less than 20 miles away.

THE COST: You can book Wallops Wood Cottages through Premier Cottages ( A pre-Christmas break arriving on 16 December costs £1,089 for a week, or £795 arriving on 20 January. Premier offer plenty of other properties too:

✢ Heathfield House, Dorset, sleeps up to 24 guests in 12 individually designed bedrooms. Host a magical dinner party in the elegant dining room or enjoy evenings in front of the log fire in the living room while kids enjoy the basement games room. A four-night midweek stay for 24 guests in December costs from £4,995.

✢ Little Fox Cottage in Pembrokeshire, sleeping six, is 200 years old and includes a 12ft sunken outdoor swim spa that's kept at a toasty 40 degrees, as well as a heated outdoor shower and wood-fired pizza oven. There's also music and lighting systems. Step into the welcoming hall and there's a double-sided wood-burning stove. A week's stay arriving on 10 December costs £667. ✢ Devon Country Barns offers Orchard Barn, near Launceston in Devon (pictured above), a wonderful property with a roll-top bath, wood burners, hot tub and king-size bed. A week's stay for two, arriving on 20 January, costs £695.

7) A Wild Scottish Weekend

In the rugged western Highlands you'll discover Ardanaiseig, a magical country retreat hidden deep in the woodlands of Argyll. This imposing baronial mansion is perched on the edge of Loch Awe amid 240 acres of pristine landscaped garden. With stone statues peeking out from hedges and a chilly mist wrapped around the frosty landscape, you'll feel like you've stepped into a festive fairytale.

Inside, antique furnishings create a cosy atmosphere, which is only enhanced by the warmth of your welcome. For the ultimate luxury and breathtaking vistas, go for a master Loch View Room. Tervine is a sumptuous scarlet den with ornate gold bed, exotic hand-painted furniture and a bath with plenty of room for two (not to mention divinely scented toiletries by Arran Aromatics). It may be tempting to recline in those bubbles all evening but trust us, you don't want to miss dinner.

Created by award-winning chef Colin Cairns, the menu features fresh, local ingredients. After dinner, wander through to the lounge where you can recline by a roaring fire to enjoy a whisky. If you're lucky, one of your fellow guests might even have a go on the hotel piano. THE COST: Rooms at Ardanaiseig (, 01866 833333) cost from £218 including breakfast. Tervine costs £298 per night. Special New Year's Eve packages offering two nights' accommodation, all meals, and a Hogmanay celebration, from £1,700 based on two people sharing.

8) Knightsbridge Elegance

The Franklin Hotel only opened in September but is fast becoming the area's chicest address. The Art-Deco-esque interiors are designed by Anouska Hempel, with opulent Venetian stone floors and custom-made black and grey silk window coverings. The design reflects Egerton Gardens, which the hotel overlooks. mirrors are everywhere, from the lobby to the back of the bar and in the bedrooms - we loved the walls of mirrored frames (containing pressed flowers from the gardens) and the mirrored bed, so spectacular we asked where it was from (custom-made in Italy and VERY expensive!).

The restaurant is presided over by Alfredo Russo, voted Italy's Best Young Chef and the man responsible for the most unusual amuse bouche we've ever tasted - a delicate oyster sorbet served in a shell. But it was the breakfast that really stood out, served like afternoon tea on a tier with three plates of fruit, pastries and muffins and your choice of eggs.

For Christmas shopping Harrods and Harvey Nichols are a 10-minute walk away and the concierge is so helpful I wouldn't be surprised if they'd offer to carry your bags back. THE COST: The Franklin (, 020 7584 5533) is a member of Preferred Hotels & Resorts' LVX Collection and has rooms from £200 per person per night (two sharing).

9) Mayfair Glamour

If Bond, Regent and Oxford Street are your destinations of choice then Dukes Hotel is the place to rest your legs after a long day Christmas shopping. Tucked away in a quiet courtyard on the edge of Hyde Park, it offers five-star luxury. Fortnum & Mason is just around the corner, Selfridges a short bus ride away and the Royal Academy of Arts a short stroll away on Piccadilly.

Decorated in winter like a quintessential English townhouse, with twinkly lights around the entrance and seasonal flower displays, it's a place that exudes class. The kind of class that James Bond author Ian Fleming enjoyed when he was a regular at DUKES Bar. The classic "shaken not stirred" Vesper Martini is said to hail from here and is still served by head barman Alessandro Palazzi. The restaurant THIRTY SIX is headed by Michelin- starred chef Nigel Mendham. We loved the brilliant value six-course festive market tasting menu for £37. Then you can simply stumble into bed (and you will after one of those Martinis). If you're staying alone ask for oneof their Duchess rooms, designed with female guests in mind and including extra fluffy towels and luxury REN toiletries. Bliss. THE COST: Dukes Hotel (, 020 7491 4840) offers a Christmas sparkle package including mulled wine or hot chocolate on arrival from £311 per room.

10) Covent Garden Cool

Ideal for theatre goers who are in town for one night, The Hoxton, Holborn (they also have one in Shoreditch) has a buzzing reception where you'll find freelance creatives working during the day and a busy bar area offering comfy sofas and a quick bite. The look is mid-century modern, with a dark wood floor and leather armchairs.

Round the corner you have a great dinner option at The Rosewood and with The British museum and Oxford Street each within a 10-minute walk you're well placed to see the sites. Rooms are small and comfortable and we liked the "rip-off- free" fridge facility where you can re-stock anytime at supermarket prices. THE COST: The Hoxton, Holborn ( has double rooms from £89 including a complimentary light breakfast bag.

For more wonderful winter weekends visit