A choice selection of not-so-secret escapes that prove home is where the heart is. Some recommended platforms for interesting bookings include the Plum Guide, Host Unusual, and Retreat Guru.
Kent’s Lion Lodge
Become part of the pride with this luxury lodge set in Hythe, on Kent’s south coast. This ‘natural habitat’ is an award-winning Port Lympne Hotel and Reserve, home to over 90 different rare and endangered species. Offering a safari ride through the 600-acre park, you’ll also come across gorillas, bears, tigers, cheetahs, primates, and Kent’s only Rothschild giraffes. The price might be a sacrifice, but you need not be, even though their timber lodges: Kikuyu and Jibana are placed directly within the lions enclosure.
The living area, designed by Victoria Aspinall of The Aspinall Foundation, is equipped with an open fireplace, monsoon shower room, and bespoke soft furnishings. You can also stroll through landscaped gardens, visit the enthralling Dinosaur Forest, complete with life-size prehistoric creatures, and admire panoramic views from the Trojan steps. Plus the profits from a stay at Lion Lodge directly contribute to returning endangered animals back to their actual natural habitats.
St Nectan’s Glen Treehouse
Popular with retreat and workshop hosts, St Nectan’s Glen in Cornwall offers tree-lined abodes beneath mesmerising waterfalls. Sleeping up to a total of 15 guests, it comes complete with a dedicated studio and private treatment rooms. St Nectan’s kieve is revered as a consecrated space, where numerous ribbons, crystals, photographs, inscriptions, prayers and other devotions now adorn the foliage and rock walls near the waterfall.
It is believed that a building (known as the Hermitage) located at the top of the waterfall belonged to the sixth-century Saint Nectan. The date of the building is uncertain but according to legend, Saint Nectan rang a silver bell in times of stormy weather to warn passing ships of the perils of the rocks by the mouth of Rocky Valley.
Grayson Perry’s Essex
A House for Essex was designed by FAT Architecture and Grayson Perry. It is both an artwork in itself and the setting for a number of works by Perry, exploring the special character and unique qualities of Essex. The building has been designed to evoke the tradition of wayside and pilgrimage chapels. It belongs to a history of follies, whilst also being deeply of its own time.
An intimate kitchen and dining area has hidden doors flanking the fireplace and wood burner, through which guests enter into the double-height living room lined with decorative timber panelling and Grayson’s richly coloured tapestries. Other specially commissioned artworks including furnishings, pots and mosaic floors celebrate the story of Julie Cope and her life in Essex.
A House for Essex is a testament to the idea that art and architecture can lift our spirits and allow us to experience the world through the eyes of others. During a long build-period of five years, every aspect of this house was crafted to produce the ultimate Gesamkunstkwerk. You can view a video tour of the house filmed by BBC News.
Retreat to the deck of this sustainable getaway and gaze at the twinkling constellations under a cosy tartan blanket. AirShip 2 is an iconic, insulated aluminum pod designed by Roderick James with views of the Sound of Mull from dragonfly windows. The AirShip is situated in a beautiful, secluded position on a four-acre site, and Lochaline is the nearest place to shop (8 miles away). Comfortable, quirky and cool, it doesn’t pretend to be a five star hotel; but the reviews reveal the bigger picture.
Surreal Scenes at Monkton Mansion
This is privately owned and not open to the public. However if you find yourself in West Sussex, Monkton House on the West Dean Estate in Chilgrove belonged to Edward James, the eccentric and extremely wealthy gentleman credited with making Salvador Dalí famous. Inside, it was just as quirky as it appeared on the outside, being filled with surrealist art and artefacts, and redecorated in a mixture of styles that both reflected and defied the taste of the 1930s period.
By the 1960s, James had become disillusioned with stuffy British life and moved to Mexico. On the advice of his American tax lawyer, he started getting rid of his assets and turned over the West Dean property to the Edward James Foundation. This was setup to preserve and teach craft skills, which he was concerned would be lost after the second world war. This transformed West Dean House into West Dean College. In the mid-1980s, the foundation had put Monkton House up for sale and it was bought by a private buyer without its contents, which were auctioned off.
Worcestershire’s Grave Well House
The Well House is a romantic, distinctive and cosy retreat for two, located at the end of a private drive and situated in rolling, unspoilt countryside. The grounds are shared with two other properties, Crossbrook Farm (sleeps four) and The Chapel (sleeps two), which can be booked individually or together.
The Chapel in particular, has a gothic feel from its former life as home to a Funeral Director (proudly sign-posted at the entrance), and breakfast on the patio takes dining with the dead to new depths. In the kitchen, a 40-foot-deep Well with glass top is a fascinating central feature, doubling up as LED-lit dining table, and allowing you to peer into its seemingly bottomless base.
During the day, skyline windows let the light flood in, disturbing even the darkest of vampires, but veritable prison doors ensure a secure place to sleep. The cottage is set on a four acre estate and guests have access to an outdoor hot tub, as well as an orchard with pear, apple and olive trees.
Cornwall’s Orchard Flower Farm
Orchard Flower Farm was designed by local architect Barrie Briscoe and was formerly the home and studio of the late master printer Hugh Stoneman. He worked with artists such as Patrick Heron, Sir Terry Frost and Sandra Blow, who made St Ives and the Cornish coast their home. Hidden among the trees, it may look like a cabin but this rustic home near the Cornish town of Penzance comes with five bedrooms and two self-contained guest studios; Briscoe also added a glass conservatory on the east side of the property.
Cabü in Kent
CABÜ by the Sea lies on a natural stretch of privately owned grassland, next to the seafront between Romney Marsh and the English Channel. This intimate retreat has immediate access to the beach with miles of coastline to explore. A variety of luxury accommodations are available, ranging from a Writers Studio cabin for couples, to a three bed Boat House for families and friends.
Hythe is a coastal market town on the edge of Romney Marsh. There is a farmers market on Saturdays in the church, as well as many original and independent shops. Folkestone has a creative quarter brimming with galleries, coffee shops, sole traders and a seafood counter that stretches around the fountain on the harbour.
Chiltern Hills Amaravati Monastery
Amaravati is a Theravada Buddhist monastery situated at the eastern end of the Chiltern Hills in south-east England. Established in the early 1980s, the monastery is inspired by the Thai Forest Tradition and the teachings of the late Ajahn Chah, a Thai monk and renowned Dhamma teacher, who encouraged Ajahn Sumedho to settle in England and found monasteries in the UK.
It is open to both guests and visitors, providing the opportunity to develop mindfulness, explore spiritual teachings, and contribute to the life of the community. The community consists of monks and nuns, together with a number of full-time lay residents. Usually there are between twenty and thirty bhikkhus (monks) and siladhara (nuns) in residence, living a contemplative, celibate, mendicant life according to the Vinaya (monastic training rules) and Dhamma (the Buddha’s teachings). The monastery also hosts a retreat centre, where residentials are conducted for the public during nine months of the year.
A short drive away, it’s also worth visiting Dockey Wood. Ashridge Estate is a 2,000 hectare (5,000 acres) area of the Chilterns Hills. The variation in its landscapes support a plethora of wildlife, including carpets of bluebells in spring, rare butterflies in summer and the fallow deer rut in autumn. While there is some parking space at the entrance, the best way to explore the Ashridge Estate is on foot or by bike. Miles of footpaths and bridleways give you plenty of space to explore, and if you drop into the visitor centre they’ll be happy to share their favourite routes with you.
William Morris’ London Red House
The iconic Arts and Crafts home of William and Jane Morris, and the centre of the Pre-Raphaelite circle. Designed by Philip Webb and completed in 1860, the Red House was described by Edward Burne-Jones as ‘the beautifullest place on earth’. Its rooms give a unique view of William and Janey’s life, as well as the establishment of what later became Morris & Co.
Like most of London, you won’t be able to afford a night in this priceless piece of history, but an expedition to Bexleyheath, coupled with bold architecture and a garden designed to ‘clothe the house’, is entirely worth the roadtrip. Boasting original features and furniture by Morris and Philip Webb, stained glass and paintings by Burne-Jones, and embroidery by Jane and Elizabeth Burden, the Red House is a building of extraordinary architectural and social significance to the fabric of the UK.