The film adaptation of Jane Austen’s Emma is now in cinemas up and down the country, and images of graceful Baroque mansions and sweeping country parks will be imprinted afresh in the minds of the great British public. Should you feel inspired to immerse yourself in this elegant period of British history, we’ve helpfully rounded up some of the country’s grandest and best-preserved hotels that trace their origins to the Georgian era.
Bath is the place with arguably the greatest Austen connection. Much of Persuasion is set in and around its grand Georgian streets, and the instantly recognisable Royal Crescent played a leading role in the 2007 TV adaptation starring Sally Hawkins and Rupert Penry-Jones. Of course, Austen herself had close ties to the spa city, having lived there for several years. Today, Bath is home to a celebrated museum dedicated to the novelist, the Jane Austen Centre, which is five minute’s walk from this luxury hotel encompassing two townhouses in Bath’s showpiece Georgian crescent.
Aside from the brief stint in Bath, Austen spent much of her life in various locations around Hampshire. She was born in the small village of Steventon, and later lived on the fringes of the South Downs in Chawton, where there is another museum exhibiting a number of her personal possessions. Heckfield Place, one of several Georgian manor houses in the county to have been converted into a hotel, is a useful base for visiting these destinations. Like many of its Hampshire peers, its interior design is a far cry from the early 19th century, but is 400 acres of grounds closely adhere to the ‘natural’ style of English gardening that was all the rage among the Georgian nobility.
A brief yet significant part of Persuasion takes place in Lyme Regis, the (self-styled) ‘Pearl of the Jurassic Coast’ and favourite of fossil hunters. Jane Austen is known to have visited several times in the early 19th century, and you can now take tours of the places she stayed, visited, and which informed her writings (including the famous Cobb). To add a touch of Georgian character to your visit, this stylish b&b is a good bet. Dorset House has been one of the county’s secret boltholes, but this splendacious Regency nook has plenty of period appeal with its waxed pine wood flooring and open fireplaces – all original elements – mixed with vintage and period furniture collected ad hoc.
This stone-built Georgian inn is part of the Chatsworth Estate – the same Derbyshire spread that most likely inspired Mr Darcy’s impressive abode in Pride and Prejudice. It rests within walking distance of the Baroque main house, with rooms looking out over glorious rolling countryside and the elegant Chatsworth hunting tower peeping out over the trees in the distance. The inn itself is hardly short on character, with huge old fireplaces, furnishings that mix original antiques with contemporary classics and artworks from the private collection of the Cavendish family (the Dukes of Devonshire since the late 17th century) decorating the walls.
This five-bedroom Georgian cottage is set in a lushly-planted walled garden in Devon’s picturesque South Hams district, which also the setting for Barton Park in Sense & Sensibility. The owners have retained all the classic Georgian features, including fireplaces, floor-to-ceiling sash windows, wood floors and decorative plaster ceilings, but there’s a sleekly modern element too – sleek-lined, mid-century furniture, pretty wallpapers and dramatic contrasting colour schemes (the canary yellow sofa and floor lamp set against a dark blue living wall is a stunning combination). Irreverent artwork, such as a painting of Mona Lisa blowing gum, add a comical touch.
The Georgian era saw Brighton experience a boom in popularity and subsequent growth, spurred to a large degree by the frequent patronage of the Prince Regent (later George IV). His Indo-Gothic residence, the Brighton Pavilion, is the architectural star of this Sussex city, but there are plenty of fine Regency buildings now turned over to accommodating visitors. Hotel Una is one, and quite simply it is one of Brighton’s finest hotels. Cobbled together out of two 18th-century townhouses just west of The Lanes, it matches historic character with quirky detailing: spindly pendant lights, arty driftwood, unusual sculptures in the beautifully proportioned high-ceilinged bedrooms..
Brown’s bills itself as ‘the first hotel in London’, and its number of ties to history is staggering: it’s where Rudyard Kipling finished The Jungle Book and where the first ever telephone call in London was made. Its origins lie in the dying days of the Georgian period – the doors were first opened in 1837, the same year William IV died and Victoria ascended the throne. In many respects Brown’s styling is more Victorian, although designer Olga Polizzi has injected a strong dose of contemporary edge too. But fascinating details from the 1830s still remain, including a delightful stained-glass window panel in Donovan Bar.
Another from the Olga Polizzi drawing board is this exquisite Regency fishing lodge set in verdant Grade I listed gardens overlooking the River Tamar. It was built in 1812 for the Duchess of Bedford, and visiting now feels akin to stepping back in time: long corridors, hushed tones and wood-panelled walls studded with crests lend a collegiate feel, and there are two homely drawing rooms with roaring fires, ottomans, botanical paintings, plump sofas and bookshelves lined with classics. The 18 generously-sized rooms are decorated in original hand-painted wallpapers, antique bathroom fittings and chairs upholstered in pretty florals – all perfectly in keeping with the hotel’s heritage.
A gorgeous Georgian manor house, with just nine bedrooms, set in lovely grounds among the rolling countryside of north Somerset and just a short hop from Bristol. The house dates from 1817 and imaginatively and astutely refurbished by Guy Williams. With its Bath Stone exterior, the intention has been to embellish the original features (such as the impressive staircase) and this has been done beautifully; refurbishing and reclaiming where necessary but retaining a comfortable, homely feel in what is quite a large house. Much of the furniture has been collected by Williams, and there are witty touches such as the old Georgian bills papered on the walls in the downstairs lavatories.
On the quieter southern shore of Windermere, this is a great place to breathe in its beauty. There are views up and down the lake from two lawns flanking the house and from a wood that fringes the water between them. The hall, built in 1790, welcomed the likes of William Wordsworth and Beatrix Potter for social occasions when it was privately owned. Its best feature is its large, lattice-framed windows which allow guests to watch the light dance across the lake at breakfast and dinner. The interior of the hotel is decorated in a relaxed country house style that is simple but appealing, with cabinets and nooks holding model boats, bronzes, busts and ornate mirrors.
There’s nothing stuffy about Edinburgh’s oldest hotel; it does classy/contemporary on a grand scale throughout. It has been cunningly wrought out of five 18th century townhouses on the main artery in the New Town, one of them the erstwhile home of Susan Ferrier, who was lauded by Sir Walter Scott as Scotland’s answer to Jane Austen. The quality and attention to detail is notable, with graceful references to this literary history of the building. Happily not everything has been modernised: there’s still a kilted concierge and the floors still creak endearingly here and there.
This Grade I listed country mansion is a haven of history and classic luxury – particularly for those into traditional outdoor pursuits, since the estate has a rich hunting heritage. Stapleford Park’s history far predates the Hanoverian Succession, but the house itself is a fine example of Baroque Revival architecture, and the gardens designed by Capability Brown only serve to heighten the feel of an 18th-century noble’s country retreat. Alongside archery, falconry and horse riding, the hotel also offers shooting, swimming, golf and giant chess.
This sprawling Palladian style hall, set in parkland and formal gardens, has all the modern grandeur you’d expect of somewhere that has had millions of pounds (and four years’ renovation work) thrown at it by Relais & Châteaux. Even the swimming pool is marble-clad. Classic stately home features have been elegantly reinterpreted for the 21st century: bay trees in urns guard the entrance; panelled and columned reception rooms are elegant with velvet furniture. An eclectic collection of art covers walls, orchids and tropical greenery sit at every turn, while a new-build wing boasts a first-floor atrium, olive trees and Greek-style marble statuary. It’s almost theatrically perfect.