It isn’t often that you open the curtains of your hotel room to find a group of llamas peering in at you, but then a stay at Gilpin Hotel and Lake House in the Lake District is no ordinary stay.
This five-star luxury hotel near Windermere set in 21 acres has resident llamas, alpacas and micro pigs, but that’s not why it is running at near-capacity nor why it has been given a coveted 5 Red Star status from the AA for ‘the top level of excellence in hospitality.’
A stay at Gilpin Hotel
With two restaurants onsite, including the Michelin-starred SOURCE (there’s another restaurant at Gilpin’s sister hotel, the six-bedroom Lake House just a mile away), cocktail bar and spa treatment centre, there’s a lot to indulge yourself in here, but the huge draw at Gilpin Hotel has to be its luxury bedrooms with views of the Lake District’s rolling green hills.
The rooms range from Classic and Master bedrooms in the main house, to Junior Suites, Garden Suites and Spa Lodges, all the way up to its five stunning Spa Suites. I was lucky enough to spend two nights in one of its Spa Suites which was possibly one of the largest hotel rooms I’ve stayed in the UK.
Spa Suites at Gilpin Hotel
Located on the hill above the main hotel building, my Spa Suite was vast, with a huge open plan lounge, a separate bedroom with large picture windows making the most of the lush green views (and our llama neighbours), a decking area with outdoor hot tub, sun loungers and private pond, and, uniquely, a full-equipped treatment room with massage table, electronic massage chair, infrared light, steam room and sauna.
‘Guests of the spa suites sometimes never leave their rooms,’ said Gilpin’s marketing manager Dorian, during my introductory tour of the hotel. ‘They order food on room service and everything else they want is right here.’
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While I’m all in favour of exploring the local area when staying in hotels, I could see his point (not least because the spa suites are not inexpensive, so you’d want to maximise time spent there). They are decorated in a smart, boutique design, with colourful furnishings and interior plants, but they are almost totally private, depending on which one you choose.
I highly recommend our one, Lyvennet, as it was right at the edge of the Gilpin hotel site, so you can sunbathe and hot tub au naturale if that’s your kind of thing (ignoring the llamas) and indeed the room is very much set up for couples, with a large, round bathtub in the living room itself, while at the end of the same room are twin rainfall showers with just a modesty screen separating them from the rest of the room.
There’s also a large sofa/chaise lounge with colourful cushions in front of the large screen Smart TV, a futuristic-looking hanging fire and a kitchen area with table, sink, fridge/freezer, wine fridge, Nespresso machine and kettle and a well-stocked mini bar.
On the fire front, you will certainly not be cold in your Spa Suite whatever the weather, with underfloor heating and heated towel rails everywhere – thankfully the bedroom itself has powerful air-conditioning to keep everything cool at night (the hotel uses biomass heating to cut down on its carbon footprint).
So far, so luxurious, but this was certainly the first hotel room I’ve stayed in with its own steam room, sauna and electric massage chair, which was fascinating and alarming in equal measures (putting yourself in the hands of a powerful robot chair to knead and pummel you is not a hugely relaxing experience).
It felt really indulgent to be able to pop into your own sauna whenever you felt like it, cooling off in the rainfall showers afterwards or nipping out in the fresh air in your own private garden space. Within a few minutes of arriving, we were in the hot tub with a glass each of Champagne and feeling incredibly lucky.
Spa suite bedrooms at Gilpin Hotel
Our bedroom was a light, large box overhanging the pond, with huge windows on two sides and a patio door leading out onto the decking. There was a large fitted wardrobe, with a hairdryer, safe, lots of hangers and two fluffy towelling robes, plus lots of power points and USB charging points and free wifi throughout the suite.
It was a lovely, relaxing space and meant we slept like logs throughout our stay, at night and those crucial daytime snoozes which make for a perfectly relaxing weekend away.
Getting to Gilpin Hotel and exploring Bowness
Our journey to Gilpin Hotel had been smooth and hassle-free, getting the Avanti West Coast train from London Euston to Oxenholme Lake District which only took just over three hours. From there was just a short taxi ride of about 20 minutes to Gilpin, so once we had checked in and had a short burst of hot tub pampering, we decided to pop into nearby Bowness-on-Windermere to explore and soak up the unexpected sunshine while enjoying views of Lake Windermere itself, England’s largest lake.
We asked the helpful staff member who ordered our taxi for a recommendation of a decent pub with views of the lake, and he didn’t let us down: his suggestion of the Angel Inn was excellent, with its large, sunny multi-level beer garden giving great views of the town and sparkling water beyond, as well as some local beers on tap.
After exploring various shops in this quirky village we ended up at ‘T Hole in T Wall’ pub – once frequented by Dickens – before heading back to Gilpin for our first meal of the stay.
Gilpin Spice restaurant at Gilpin hotel
The Asian-influences at Gilpin Spice under head chef Aakash Ohol range all the way across the region, according to its menu, which has influences from China, Japan, Malaysia, India, Thailand and Hong Kong. We chose to sit at at the pass with uninterrupted views of the open kitchen, which transformed a great food experience into a thoroughly memorable one, as we could pepper the hard-working chefs, especially Kenny, with questions about each dish as it arrived as well as seeing the hard work and skilled choreography which went into each one.
The friendly and ultra-efficient restaurant manager Danny who made sure that a variety of dishes found their way to us, starting with the theatrical Pani Puri, crispy puff balls into which you poured the chickpea curry, tamarind and mint chutney and chaat masala, resulting in a zesty explosion of flavour with every crunch.
From there we sampled Chilli Paneer Fry, which converted me back to this Indian pressed cheese, Delhi Aloo Tikki potato fritters, squashy Prawn Har Gow dim sum dumplings and my favourite, Chalk Stream Trout Tartare served on black rice crackers with yuzu gel and English wasabi which was a bite-sized morsel of fun and flavour.
From there we moved onto the mains: a fresh and pleasing North Atlantic cured cod wrapped in seaweed with chilli jam and green curry sauce, and a slice of Cumbrian Pork Belly which, explained chef Kenny, had taken three days to prepare, slow cooked sou-vide with an Asian barbeque rub, pressed and finished off in a clay oven and topped with a sweet and sour sauce.
Before we became unable to move, we finished this Asian blowout with two excellent Kulfi inc-creams – banana and ginger, and mango and cardamom – and tried to burn off a few calories by walking up the short hill to our Spa Suite, rather than taking the buggy which zooms around the resort transporting guests and their luggage.
A spa day at Gilpin Hotel
Waking early the next day, mainly due to excitement and last night’s feast, I ordered breakfast on room service via the Gilpin’s own app, which contained lots of useful information about each room, the hotel overall and let you order food plus chat to staff (there were phones in the room too if you wanted a real person to talk too.
In spite of the pouring rain, our food – full English and Eggs Royale – was delivered piping hot and on time and it was great to be able to stay indoors and enjoy pampering in the sauna and steam room – while keeping dry and warm while the rain beat down outside.
We had been offered a couples aromatherapy message in our room which would have been convenient, but as I wanted to explore the Spa Space at Gilpin we took shelter under the vast umbrellas provided and headed out into the rain.
I was so glad we had done as there’s something wonderfully relaxing about a spa, with its soothing music and calming aromas, and the Spa Space didn’t disappoint in either regard. There are several treatment rooms here as well as a chill out room and outdoor hot tubs, and after getting changed into yet more fluffy robes in our private changing room (our names were written on labels on our individual bags containing our robes, towels and slippers, which was a nice touch) we were led into a large, high-ceiling therapy room for our wonderfully relaxing aromatherapy couples massages.
Afterwards, in a post-massage haze of contentment, we were led back to the chillout room for a bento box lunch and to admire the view.
Then the fun really started, with a series of rooms available to us: the first with a rich, sticky salt scrub, and the second, a steam room with a bowl of gloopy mud. We were supposed to exfoliate ourselves (or each other) with the salt mix first, leaving our skin silky-soft, and then after showering it all off, move to the second room and repeat with the mud. We were free to do this as long as we wished and it was highly entertaining seeing each other covered with mud but certainly left our skin feeling refreshed and pampered. We could have then relaxed in the rooftop hot tubs but we headed back to our room and our own hot tub – the luxury! – clutching mini-bottles of Champagne which the spa thoughtfully gave us.
We were so relaxed that a ten-minute nap felt like an hour’s deeply restorative sleep – and then it was almost time for the ‘main event’ – the Tasting Menu at the Michelin-starred SOURCE restaurant (the hotel insists on the name being in caps. – I’m not shouting!)
Dinner at SOURCE at Gilpin hotel
SOURCE at Gilpin hotel recently held onto its Michelin star under executive chef Ollie Bridgewater, who joined from The Fat Duck at Bray. The restaurant itself is spread over three rooms in the original hotel building, making it feel like a cosy, homely affair rather than something formal and overwhelming, and this was reflected in the guests who ranged from couples celebrating birthdays or anniversaries, to work colleagues and multi-generational groups.
The service, as you would expect, was incredibly attentive, with the staff moving around between tables in a superbly well choreographed routine. Our main waiter, Seth, was incredibly knowledgeable and confident even though he was still at sixth form.
After a couple of cocktails in the bar, we began our evening with a bit of a theatre – gin and tonic cucumber balls which popped in your mouth, made possible by some culinary trickery (never before have my notes contained words like ‘sodium alginate ball’ and ‘calcium lactate’). It was a fun start to the meal – although I would have hoped for a bigger gin hit – and then the dishes came thick and fast: crunchy tapioca cracker with smoked eel; scallops with pickled radish; sumptuous wild garlic and honey Parker House bread (which was so delicious my partner Stephen instantly asked for another one); roast langoustine and cod loin.
The dishes were all deliciously fresh and light, with rich, luxurious touches coming from elements such as the langoustine’s peanut and chilli sauce and the popping roe balls with the cod loin.
The menu then took a quite different turn, with the earthy, pungent Reuben braised beef, which was so rich and vinegary that its few mouthfuls felt like an entire course, and the second beef course with its rich ale sauce, before different textures of the sushi rice pudding and sesame and sake ice-cream, and the super-sweet English strawberry finale.
Amazingly enough after this 10-course extravaganza we still had room for cheese, which we had with port and coffee in the lounge, which was well-stocked with comfy sofas and armchairs and log-effect fires for those winter evenings. There we met Ian and Gill who were celebrating a birthday and a wedding anniversary, so we toasted their good health with some excellent Old Fashioned cocktails before reluctantly calling it a night – it had been a supremely indulgent and relaxing day.
Breakfast at Gilpin hotel and exploring the nearby countryside
As we’d had room service breakfast the first morning, we ambled down to the restaurant on our final morning to enjoy the proper hotel experience. The menu was as extensive as you’d hope for, starting with coffee and teas, freshly-squeezed juices, toast, cereals, porridge, fresh fruit salad and delicious local natural yoghurt, before cooked options which included Full English, smoked salmon and scrambled eggs, omelettes, Eggs Benedict, Royale and Florentine.
I loved my vibrant Eggs Florentine while Stephen opted for the more unusual Buck Rarebit with poached eggs – described as ‘very posh cheese on toast’ – and thus fortified, we headed out to make the most of the glorious and unexpected Lake District sunshine.
The hotel very sensibly has postcards with local walking routes printed on them, so armed with a selection we headed out into the Lakes and found a lovely circular walk which took us through some beautiful rolling countryside for an hour, in time to check out.
It had been an almost-perfect stay and there was little I could fault the Gilpin with. My only recommendation would be to improve the signposting for arrivals at the hotel: we found it hard to work out which building was the main check-in which could be fixed with a handy ‘Reception this way’ sign – and then they could get rid of the slightly odd cabin in the car park which is sometimes staffed, but most often has a rather underwhelming A4 laminated sign saying to drive back to main reception, which isn’t really a five-star look.
Before we headed back to the station, we managed to fit in a visit to Gilpin hotel’s other side, The Lake House, which is just a mile away from the main hotel.
The Lake House
With just six (soon to be eight) bedrooms, a private lake for fishing, boating and swimming, a treatment room, indoor pool and grill restaurant called Knipe, headed by Welsh chef Tom Westerland, formerly of Lucknam Park, The Lake House is a private bolthole and can be hired for exclusive use or booked room by room.
Set in 100 acres, the hotel and its grounds have 360-degree views of the surrounding Lake District countryside and on a good day you can even see all the way down the coast to Morecambe, over 30 miles away.
History of Gilpin hotel and The Lake House
It was a real treat to be shown around The Lake House by Zoe Cuncliffe, one of the hotel’s owners. Zoe runs it with her husband Barney, whose grandmother Harriet bought Gilpin Lodge in 1919, just four years after Beatrix Potter moved into the nearby Hill Top home. The house was sold in 1968 but bought back by Barney’s parents Chris and John in 1987, who set about converting it from a B&B into a luxurious five-star hotel which they evidently did to great success. A weekend at either Gilpin hotel or The Lake House is guaranteed to be a memorable, relaxing and extremely indulgent one.
Hotel information and to book Gilpin hotel and The Lake House
Gilpin Hotel and Lake House,
Crook Road, Windermere,
+44 (0)15394 88818
Book Gilpin Hotel at Booking.com
Classic bedrooms from £295 per room per night (summer rates), Master bedrooms from £365, Junior Suites from £470, Garden Suites from £520, Spa Lodges from £690 and Spa Suites from £890. Spa treatments from £75 per person.
Gilpin Hotel and Lake House is a member of luxury hotel groups PoB Hotels and Relais & Chateaux.
If you like hotels with Michelin-starred restaurants, thenIf you like reviews of hotels with Michelin-starred restaurants, then check out Hotels Michelin-starred restaurants which I’ve personally reviewed or individual reviews including Northcote, Lancashire, Hambleton Hall, Rutland and Whatley Manor, Wiltshire
Others PoB Hotels reviewed on ALadyofLeisure.com include: Feversham Arms, North Yorkshire; Dormy House, Cotswolds; Bovey Castle, Devon; Park House hotel, West Sussex; Hartwell House, Buckinghamshire and many others (search ALadyofLeisure.com for Pride of Britain Hotels to find them all)
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