I was back in Worcestershire yesterday to visit my daughter, Nicola, and new grandson, who is now 10 weeks old. There is still no functioning spare room for me in Nicola and Rachael’s house, which is undergoing major renovation and rebuilding work, so I needed to book a room for my overnight stay. The place where I stayed last time was full so I chose another in the same village, Abberley, which is only about 15 minutes’ drive away. The Elms was a few steps up in terms of comfort and luxury: an AA 4* country house hotel, which also boasts an AA 2 Rosette restaurant. There is a spa with indoor pool and offering Elemis treatments. Use of the pool, hydro pool and fitness suite is included in the price of a room (the treatments are extra and need to be booked).
There were cheaper options available to me: a pub with rooms, but Nicola thought not a good place for a woman on her own; a well-known cheap chain of hotels in a nearby service station. However, I don’t need much persuading to treat myself to something a bit special … and as it turned out, Nicola and I spent quite a bit of time at The Elms and it ended up feeling as if we’d had a nice short holiday together.
The Elms Hotel is wonderful. It’s a beautiful Queen Anne mansion built in 1710 and designed by Thomas White, a pupil of Sir Christopher Wren. It’s set in extensive grounds and even though the weather was wet, grey and cold, it was still nice to be nestled in such a lovely setting.
I could check in from 3.00pm but was welcome to turn up earlier and use the facilities. With the rather unpredictable timing of my arrival from London, we decided against having lunch there but to have Afternoon Tea instead. With Nicola’s birthday in just a few days’ time, a proper British afternoon tea seemed the perfect way to celebrate. Also better timing with a small baby – an evening meal wasn’t really going to work. I rang ahead and booked the tea for 3.00 and we arrived at about 2.30. Although a little early for check-in, I was given the key to my room and we were able to settle in before heading back downstairs for tea.
We were shown up an elegant staircase to my room. It was nice to be taken there, not just be given a key and instructions on how to find it. All the rooms have names rather than numbers and are named after locally grown fruits, mostly apples and pears. Mine was Betty Geeson – a rare Worcestershire cooking apple. Some of the ‘room names’ fruit can be found growing in the hotel’s orchard; they also have a kitchen garden where they grow produce for the restaurant.
I had one of their small ‘cosy’ rooms. It was decorated in a style appropriate to the age of the house but with plenty of modern features. There was a good-sized bathroom with a bath and large bottles of fabulous Elemis toiletries.
There was a kettle with cups and tea bags and coffee; packets of biscuits. Bottles of complimentary water. A TV and a separate Roberts retro-style radio.
In the wardrobe I found not only a safe, but an ironing board and iron. A lot of thought had gone into what guests might want and need. There was even a handwritten welcome card from the general manager.
Back downstairs we decided to sit in the lounge area near reception. They’d suggested tea in the Library Bar, but we thought this suited us better.
It felt like a glorious retreat on a grim and grey winter’s day, settling ourselves in one of the warm, cosy areas where a log fire roared in a large fireplace and there was a big choice of comfy armchairs and sofas to sit on. With the chaos back at Nicola’s house where there were so many builders working I couldn’t count them, and a cold wind blowing through open doors, we opted to spend the whole afternoon at The Elms! Having sat down for our tea at 3.00, we didn’t move again until 5.30!
The full Elms Afternoon Tea comes at £25 a head (there’s a Champagne option for a further £10). It’s not a cheap tea but it was a special birthday one with my daughter, and it turned out to be so fabulous that really it was good value.
We were asked what tea we wanted (there was coffee, in you preferred) and we both chose Earl Grey. Cups, saucers, plates and linen tablecloths were laid before us and then pots of tea came (later refilled when we asked).
The selection of finger sandwiches came next.
They were all explained to us – tuna, smoked salmon, egg & cress, ham, cheese, with chutneys. (I had been asked about any special dietary requirements when I booked.) The sandwiches were really delicious; so obviously freshly made and with a good amount of filling. We were in no hurry and no one tried to hurry us. Every so often someone would pop their head round our corner and ask if we were all right; whether we needed anything else. Once the sandwiches were finished, the cake stand came.
This was truly impressive. And again, everything was explained; what each cake was. Everything was top quality: the scones, served with jam and clotted cream, were some of the best I’ve had; the little cakes exquisite. We did pretty well but there was no way we could manage two large scones each and all those cakes after the sandwiches. While pondering that it seemed a shame to leave them, someone came and asked if we’d like them to pack any leftovers for us to take home. It was such a thoughtful gesture – and that they offered and we didn’t have to ask. So, we left with a nice package of scones and cakes to take back to Nicola’s house (which meant Rachael also got some when she returned from work!).
After such a tea, we didn’t need a lot of supper, and had something fairly simple. Some wine was opened but with the drive back to the hotel, through narrow country lanes in the dark, I didn’t want to drink much at all. Thus, when I returned to the hotel for the night, around 9.30pm, after putting some things in my room I headed to the bar for a drink. This was another cosy and welcoming space. I ordered a small glass of red wine and settled into a comfortable armchair with my book for a while.
Breakfast was served in the dining room; an elegant room looking out across the front and gardens.
A buffet offered juices, cereals, fruit, yoghurt, cold meats, cheeses and pastries. I was asked if I wanted coffee or tea.
There was a large menu for hot food, from Creamy Porridge to American pancakes; Eggs Benedict and Omelettes; traditional English breakfast of Kippers or a Full British. But there was a Vegetarian option too; a Detox; Carb Free; Low Cholesterol – but also Indulgence: Warm poached figs on toasted panettone, vanilla mascarpone and honey. You couldn’t fail to find something that suited you!
I chose scrambled eggs with smoked salmon on toasted sourdough. The toast was perhaps a little thick but the eggs were perfectly cooked, creamy and still nicely warm, with just the right amount of smoked salmon to accompany them.
It was a good breakfast with plenty to please everyone. Then, for me, it was time to go. I collected everything from my room and headed back down to reception to pay. Reception is a desk near the bottom of the staircase. Right by it I could see a line of wellies in all sizes – for guests to borrow when the weather was wet.
I chatted to the receptionist as I paid. All the way through the stay everyone was so friendly and it felt very much like being a guest in a house (albeit rather a grand house) not just a hotel. And once people had met me, they seemed to remember me, so I hadn’t had to give my name at the bar, for instance, or people would call a hello when passing.
Then it was time to go – back into the grey and rain but happy to be spending more time with my family before heading back to London. I drove down the long driveway and back into the Worcestershire countryside.
My room was £129 a night, including breakfast. In some ways I didn’t make the most of it because I didn’t use the spa at all; but I felt I’d made good use of my time there with Nicola as we’d so happily and comfortably settled in for most of Friday afternoon and had our wonderful tea. I’m not likely to stay again as the spare room at Nicola’s will soon be ready, but we both felt we’d go back for tea again; it would be a great present for someone too, perhaps for a birthday or just some special occasion. The restaurant also has an excellent reputation and I’d like to try it sometime. The hotel is a great destination for a weekend break – near to the lovely historic city of Worcester and lying in glorious countryside, so ideal for walking. The Elms offers lots of packages – click here for more information.