Suite dreams are made of nights like these. Who are we to disagree with James Lawrence’s delight at The Devonshire Arms?
Connoisseurs each have their favourite corner of the English countryside, but I remain completely smitten with the Yorkshire Dales. It is that magical combination of lush, undulating landscape, interspersed with rivers, waterfalls and a surfeit of adorable villages that always pulls at my heartstrings. My mother’s parents spent the early part of their married life in Wharfedale – the most heavily visited of the Dales – and forever proselytised its charms to anyone who would listen, following their relocation to a more practical and urban environment. As a teenager, I was aloof to its charms, but at the age of 36, I can think of no better place to spend a weekend escaping the modern world. All of which brings me nicely to The Devonshire Arms.
Situated in a prime spot by the River Wharfe in Wharfedale, it is arguably Yorkshire’s finest hotel. However, this is not instantly apparent. Does the hotel showcase a lavish, multi-million pound décor? No, The Devonshire Arms is elegant, but discrete and not an oligarch hideout. Does it boast Michelin stars? No (but it should – more on that later). Is the spa plush and modern beyond all belief? Hardly – it’s very pleasant but cannot compete with hotels such as Lime Wood in the New Forest. Yet I stand by my assertion that this is the best the region has to offer.
It starts with the welcome, which is both warm and genuine. Over the past 15 years, a new service ethos has spread across luxury British hotels; the idea is to provide world-class food, amenities and accommodation without the stiff formality and pretension that once plagued upmarket country venues. The Devonshire Arms is one such perfect example of this very welcome trend. Based in the gorgeous 33,000-acre estate surrounding Bolton Abbey – which belongs to the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire – the term chocolate box was created for this part of the world. To the west is Skipton, an adorable market town very popular with the writer Bill Bryson. The property is also easily accessible from Leeds (just under an hour by car), but far enough away from civilization to provide an unparalleled haven of rest and relaxation. Warmth and hospitality are obligatory at this hotel, snobbery most definitely forbidden.
The Devonshire Arms does, however, boast quite a regal history: the property was built in the 17th century, as a residence attached to the Bolton Abbey Estate. Initially, the home of the 4th Duke of Devonshire, subsequent generations developed the property and expanded upon the grounds. Its reputation peaked in the 19th century when the Royal Family came to Bolton Abbey for the hunting season and used the estate as their base of operations. Today it functions as the Dales’ leading deluxe venue, complete with 40 bedrooms, two restaurants, and idyllic gardens. Not to mention several expansive drawing rooms and a pleasantly old-fashioned bar (no blaring music) perfect for sipping pre-dinner cocktails.
Meanwhile, the hotel’s suites are everything you’d expect from such a prestigious address. However, they’re not super high-spec – don’t expect 21st-century mood lighting which requires a doctorate in electronics. Yet our room was spacious and equipped with a sizeable bathroom complete with a lovely freestanding bath. The best rooms have views of the Beamsley Beacon, a prominent summit in Lower Wharfedale. The fabrics are first-rate, and the little touches such as welcome goodies – including sweet treats – are very much appreciated.
We also availed ourselves to the spa, which offers a range of treatments and has a small pool/jacuzzi and sauna/steam room. No bells and whistles here, but the pool is perfectly pleasant and I whiled away two hours before dinner.
But the ultimate crowning glory of this upmarket and yet totally unpretentious hotel is The Burlington, its fine-dining restaurant. I am periodically disappointed by kitchens which boast Michelin stars, or astounded that the Michelin team has overlooked the culinary prowess on display before me. The Burlington falls into the latter category.
The gastronomic ethos is very much quality of ingredients and classical techniques over technical wizardry – the antithesis of “potions and lotions cooking,” to quote a fellow writer. You won’t identify any ideas here that could be described as massively innovative; instead, it is a collection of well-trodden paths, walked with precision and care. We began with a few glasses of divine Laurent Perrier rosé, which set the standard for the feast that followed.
Roast quail and pan-fried fillet of turbot were both exquisite, as apparently was my friend’s sea-reared trout. My turbot was moist, firm and everything a great piece of white fish should be – that lovely caramelisation across the skin providing a pleasing contrast to the meaty flesh. Enjoying these expertly crafted dishes, it made me realise just why visitors from across the UK make the pilgrimage to The Devonshire Arms, spa or no spa. Service was exemplary throughout.
But what of the wine at this bastion of great food? As you’d hope, a suitably grand and extensive list awaits, with admittedly some wallet-assaulting prices. The best value on offer is to be found in the wine pairing option. We enjoyed a bottle of New Zealand Pinot Noir – markups are what you’d expect from a fine-dining venue, think London standard.
Breakfast was served in the more informal conservatory annex to the main dining room, with an extensive buffet and hot options. There is also a more casual brasserie/bar for those who don’t want a formal experience. Breakfast, incidentally, was fine – what really stood out was the gracious service, a constant highlight at The Devonshire Arms, treading that fine line between professional and warm.
It gave me pause to reflect that while there are quite a few contestants for the prize of the UK’s most charming rural hotel, The Devonshire certainly deserves a slot in the top 5. Its staff are committed to cocooning guests in luxury and ensuring that all leave rested and happy – why can’t all country hotels be like this I wondered?
|The Devonshire Arms Hotel & Spa||Rooms from: £159 inc breakfast|
| Bolton Abbey Estate|
Yorkshire Dales National Park