Warwickshire may be Shakespeare county, but it has more to offer visitors on a weekend break to the heart of England than just the Bard, as Robert Gledhill discovered.
Man the ramparts – an order that will surely have filled the defenders of Warwick Castle with dread. For, having corkscrewed up most of the 500-plus steps leading to the battlements, an oxygen cylinder would have been more useful to them than a vat of boiling oil to repel invaders.
Perhaps we should have read the health and safety warnings before venturing up Guy’s Tower but once you got to the top, the view was magnificent and underlined just why the Medieval fortress was sited where it was next to the River Avon.
Anyone who has been to Skipton Castle knows how imposing that is – Warwick, built in 1068, is on a far grander scale and you could easily spend a full day there, venturing into the castle dungeon; journeying back to 1471 as ‘Kingmaker’ Richard Neville prepares for battle, before entering the armouries exhibition.
Then venture through to several original rooms where you meet the mannequin aristocractic party of 1898 with piped commentary of their plans for a hunting expedition in the surrounding countryside.
Outdoors, among the many attractions there is the birds of prey exhibition and the peacock garden to take a leisurely walk through plus the Horrible Histories maze.
The castle was just a 20-minute drive from our base, Mallory Court Country House Hotel and Spa, which is set in 10 acres of splendid isolation and which also doffs its cap to the past.
An ideal location for trips into not only the county town but to Royal Leamington Spa, with its splendid esplanade of white Regency buildings beautifully camouflaging an indoor shopping centre, and historic Kenilworth, with its castle, which, though a ruin, has its own intrinsic beauty.
Dating back to the 1600s, the one-time family home at Mallory Court was converted into a country house hotel in 1976 and is the matriarch of the Eden Hotel Collection. The 43-bedroom building boasts Warwickshire’s newest luxury spa, set opposite a quintessential English rose garden, with 12 new stylish bedrooms in traditional country house style and including hydrothermal retreat and outdoor vitality pools where guests sat enjoying glasses of champers as the steam rose through the warm water amid a backdrop of woodland.
Mallory Park has also certainly put the fine into dining and we enjoyed an exquisite eating experience – complete with attentive but unobtrusive waiter service – in its oak-panelled restaurant, awarded three AA rosettes status.
For a more informal setting, Mallory Park also has its own art-deco style brasserie – this has two AA rosettes – in front of the extensive organically-grown terraced kitchen garden.
While what Mallory Park, one of the top 200 hotels in the country, has to offer can be found mostly on its website, one hidden jewel remains.
That is the Blenheim room, left in its original 1930s decor with his and hers bathtubs across the corridor and which can be made available on direct contact with the hotel.
Mallory Park is undoubtedly a place for a luxury break and it offers some great Christmas packages for couples wanting to get away from it all – prices ranging from £499 to £695 per person for what is sure to be a memorable two-night experience.
With its concentration on culinary excellence, we should have not been surprised when chef at The Cross, Adam Bennett, told us he had once worked at Mallory Court.
Adam’s career began at the Dorchester in London under Anton Mosimann and he was part of the team at Simpsons, the Michelin-starred restaurant in Edgbaston.
From there, this amiable cook persuaded its owner, Andreas Antona, to set him up in a quiet back street of home-town Kenilworth and, within 12 months, he had his own culinary gong.
The Cross looks little more than a quaint little 19th century pub until you step inside to be met by charming staff, led by front of house Nick Prince, who proudly informed us they have kept that coveted star for the last four years. The trick is to keep it but The Cross looks guaranteed a nap hand in the Bible of top restaurants judging by the fare we sampled.
Though a la carte is at prices one would expect, a three-course set luncheon, with two choices for each course, sets you back just £25 per head, so the place was buzzing as we watched the master chef at work.
So, even if you are no fan of William Shakespeare, this landlocked county certainly has plenty to offer for the discerning weekend visitor.
Robert Gledhill stayed at Mallory Court Country House Hotel and Spa (01926 330214, mallory.co.uk)
For reservations at The Cross call 01926 853 840 or email email@example.com
Warwick Castle details can be found at warwick-castle.com
For more information on the region contact shakespeares-england.co.uk or https://shakespeares-england.co.uk/