The red-brick and white-sash-windows house, built in 1699, has echoes of both the grandeur of Hampton Court and Sir Christopher Wren’s elegant rebuilding of London after The Great Fire of London.
Although owner Thomas Barlow’s views on architecture were influenced by his Grand Tour of Europe, Middlethorpe Hall Hotel and Spa, with its lawns and parkland is the quintessential English country house. Run by Historic House Hotels, with ownership gifted to the National Trust to best preserve this national treasure, both the exterior and interior honour the heritage of this slice of history.
Prior to arrival guests are sent an e-mail with a health questionnaire and asked to specify a time of arrival. Guests can relax, Middlethorpe Hall does its utmost to safeguard the health of its guests.
After check-in, Monsieur Lionel Chatard, the manager, welcomes us. As he does so, a porter in a smart green gold-braided livery discretely whisks away our luggage to deliver it to the room. Monsieur Chatard, who originates from Lyon and has been at Middlethorpe for 17 years, guides us up a wide staircase, past imposing oil portraits of the Barlow family to our grand room. There is a lift but as it is the original butler’s hoist there is some debate as to whether it is for one or two passengers.
Later, Monsieur Chatard introduces us to Balou, a muscular ginger and white cat, who clearly considers himself to be the true proprietor of Middlethorpe Hall.
Spacious Room 9 sits at the top of the south-west corner of the house. Three tall windows give sweeping views down on the flagstone terrace, past a tall Turkey Oak and Deodar Cedar, across the south lawns, its haha and onto the parkland beyond where deer sometimes roam.
Although there is a wide four poster bed it does not dominate a large room subtlety lit by table lamps, standard lamp and wall lights. Pools of light illuminate a series of prints of covers of the Victorian high-fashion magazine The Queen. With its sofa, armchair and writing bureau, this could be a drawing room from the Age of Enlightenment. A trouser press, generously stocked tea tray and wardrobe serve as reminders that this is a hotel.
Bedding on the four-poster recalls a traditional era of sheets, blanket and eiderdown.
Once you’ve used the Quercus toiletries supplied by Penhaligon, there’s an alluring heady fragrance to the en-suite bathroom: top notes of Amalfi lemon over a baseline of sandalwood and musk. Towels and flannels are deeply, decadently fluffy with the regal HHH (Historic House Hotels) monogram.
The water, flowing to a combined bath and rainfall shower, is impressively hot for the top floor of a William and Mary mansion built over three centuries ago.
The AA two rosette restaurant runs through three rooms. The largest has original 1699 wood panelling and sits adjacent to the Pineapple Room featuring art themed on a fruit deemed both exotic and luxurious in the 18th century. A third, The Yellow Room, has 25 portraits of the great, the good and the godly: dukes, earls, lords and archbishops.
Ashley Binder, Head Chef, uses the produce of The Walled Garden in his menu as well as the finest local suppliers of fish, game and meat. After the damson trees had flourished, a starter of a chicken and leek pressing is accompanied by damson jam. Glorious spring weather encouraged a healthy crop of cherries and they now feature in a chocolate and cherry rocky road dessert. Appropriately, chocolate recalls the Victorian days when Sir Frank Terry, the chocolate magnate, owned Middlethorpe Hall.
Rightly, the restaurant is proud of its Yorkshire breakfast. Although it sounds a gargantuan feast of bacon, black pudding, sausage, eggs, mushroom, tomato and potatoes – portion sizes are moderate and sensible.
Just a few yards along the quiet lane from the spa are two quaint cottages, with sun-loungers in the gardens, which are actually the spa. As well as treatment rooms, there is an indoor swimming pool and a hot tub too.
South-west of York, close to the Race Course, the hotel is less than a two mile bus ride into the centre of York with The Shambles, its Minster, Jorvik Viking Centre and the famed National Railway Museum.
Other nice touches
Service is impeccable. Settle on a sofa in the drawing room or library or at a table on the terrace and a smartly dressed member of staff will be enquiring whether you require coffee, lunch, afternoon tea or drinks.
Pre-Covid 19 a tray of morning tea, delivered to your room, was another of Middlethorpe’s great pleasures. Sadly, that custom is temporarily in abeyance.
A four poster bedroom in the main house, including Yorkshire breakfast, costs £429 rising to £539 for the Duke of York Suite.
A standard double / twin room in The Courtyard costs £219.
A three-course dinner costs £45, two courses for £39.
The best bit
Without doubt, Middlethorpe Hall’s 20 acres of grounds are the star attraction. Take the National Trust leaflet guide to the grounds to navigate towards a lake of rushes that contains both perch and roach.
As you walk, check off the towering trees on the map: an oak that is over two centuries old, a Judas Tree, a Cedar of Lebanon and many other notable specimens. Thomas Barlow and his successors built and planted to leave a legacy.
Around the grounds there are seats strategically placed, perhaps to watch butterflies flitting around a purple buddleia, sometimes known as the butterfly bush. Guests relax in the sun-trap of The Walled Garden as they watch gardeners cutting agapanthus, dahlias, giant daisies and roses for the flower arrangements dotted throughout the hotel. Invitingly, the croquet lawn is set-up ready for a game.
The final verdict
You could use Middlethorpe Hall Hotel and Spa as a base to explore the City of York, the charms of North Yorkshire and the beautiful East Coast. But how often can you park the car and step into the eighteenth century?
Visiting a National Trust property is a pleasure. To eat, live and sleep in a slice of Britain’s rich history is a privilege.
Disclosure: Our stay was sponsored by Middlethorpe Hall Hotel and Spa.