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A few weeks ago, I was lucky enough to be invited to the luxurious Billesley Manor Hotel & Spa, situated just outside Stratford-upon-Avon. A short, two-hour train journey from Euston, and I was standing in front of the large, castle-like 125-year-old property, ready to be taken to my room. After a busy few weeks in London, I was desperate for some R&R, and Billesley Manor did not disappoint.
My bedroom had a gigantic bed, from where I could see the Manor’s gardens and neatly cut hedges, which formed an intricate maze.
Large mirrors lined the stylish, cream-coloured walls, and there was a desk with a chair, two comfortable armchairs facing the window, and an ensuite with a bath – important to me as I never get to treat myself to a bath in London.
After unpacking, I, along with the other journalists who had been invited to the hotel, were driven the short, 15-minute journey to the centre of Stratford-upon-Avon, where a gin tasting session awaited us.
The Shakespeare Distillery sells award-winning, handcrafted gins and rums made entirely onsite. Before having the opportunity to browse the beautifully decorated bottles in the distillery’s shop, we were permitted a taste test.
Unsurprisingly, the distillery’s staff knew a thing or two about gin and combined each flavour with the correct mixer.
There was Elderflower and Quince Gin, Rhubarb Gin, Mulberry Gin Liqueur, and the distillery’s awrd-winning Stratford Dry Gin.
My favourite was the Elderflower and Quince, but I learned that, under no circumstances at all, should I mix gin – or rum – with Lemonade. Tonic is the way to go. Or Coke with rum.
We were also shocked to know that the big glasses gin and tonic are usually served in at most pubs and bars are not for presentation purposes. Apparently, they make the gin taste better because they allow more room for ice – which also makes the gin taste better.
The Shakespeare Distillery is right in the centre of the town, near other quaint shops that make for great window shopping.
After a quick look around, we returned to the hotel for a couple of hours of downtime before heading out again to experience a Stratford-upon-Avon must-see: a Ghost Walk.
A town as old as Stratford is not without its history of horrors, and our tour guide, Vincent, almost resembled a medieval villain or witch hunter himself, clad in a long, black cape and a black top hat.
He took us along the cobbled streets and made sure to point out every haunted nook and cranny – of which were many.
As night fell, it was time to eat dinner at Billesley Manor’s grand, wood-panelled dining room, with its high ceilings and open fires. The dishes were all made with the best local and regional produce, complete with seasonal flavours.
I opted for the chicken with mashed potato and veg, followed by a white chocolate melt-in-the-middle dessert. And a lot of wine, of course.
The next day, I experienced my favourite part of my stay at Billesley Manor: a trip to the spa.
I opted for a back and shoulder massage, which was my first ever massage. Because of this, I was slightly nervous, but the masseuse made me feel very relaxed and, by the end of the 50-minute treatment, I felt renewed. I now know why those who can afford it go for monthly wellness retreats.
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I also enjoyed a dip in the pool and sat for a while in the sauna and steam room. By lunchtime, I was hungry, and so headed to the dining room to have afternoon tea.
There was a plethora of tasty treats to choose from, including salmon sandwiches, mini tarts, chocolate eclairs, and fluffy scones, served with fresh jam and cream. A glass of Prosecco and a cup of coffee went down well too.
Before leaving, I meandered the hotel’s corridors for one last time and ended up at the As You Like It Lounge – a colourful, cosy room where, it is thought, the one and only William Shakespeare wrote the play of the same name.
I let my imagination roam as I finished my coffee in one of the room’s snug, plush armchairs.
Billesley Manor Hotel & Spa rates start from £160 per night B&B based on two people sharing, subject to availability. For more information about Billesley Manor Hotel and to book a stay, please visit www.bespokehotels.com, www.billesleymanor.com or call 01789 279955.
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