The Best Inns of England's Lake District
The Lake District is famed for its rugged beauty. The area is a beguiling combination of windswept, heather-clad mountains and moors, clusters of silver-blue lakes, and mottled green forests. It also contains Britain’s largest national park, making it an adventurer’s dream.
The region encompasses about 200 peaks (known locally as fells), great to scale on foot or mountain bike—including Scafell Pike, at 3,210 feet England’s highest mountain—and more than 80 lakes and tarns. Wastwater lake was recently honored as “Britain’s Favourite View” on the English TV show of the same name.
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Along the shores of these lakes, visitors will find no shortage of quaint stone cottages, grand Victorian mansions, and out-of-the-past little towns. Grasmere Village was described by the poet Wordsworth, a resident here in the 19th century, as “the loveliest place on earth.” Little has changed, from the ducks that waddle across the village green to the ancient church and the tiny (but legendary) Grasmere Gingerbread Shop, which has been making cookies using the same secret recipe since 1854.
The Lake District became the most fashionable vacation destination in the U.K. in Victorian times, when the advent of the railroad made it accessible to wealthy Londoners. Many of the buildings, inns, and expanses of land, unchanged for more than 100 years, are now protected and are a constant reminder of the destination’s heyday. It’s this charm that continues to draw tourists today.
And thanks to the region’s own brand of small-scale local tourism (there are no large hotel or restaurant chains here, and most buildings are Victorian or older), a clutch of intimate and stylish places are available for eating, drinking, and sound sleeping after a day of sightseeing.
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In Cartmel, in the southern part of the district, L’Enclume opened seven years ago in a converted blacksmith’s workshop. Chef-owner Simon Rogan’s creative recipes have since earned a Michelin star for the restaurant—the same honor bestowed on Holbeck Ghyll in Windermere, a cozy 19th-century hunting lodge complete with a croquet lawn.
Today’s Lake District chefs and hoteliers alike are championing local produce and crafts, ensuring unique establishments that reflect their idyllic surroundings. Here, six places to stay where style and great food are found in abundance.
Great Value This pretty village in the southern part of the district is notable for its 12th-century priory, a lazy stream, and a profusion of antiques shops clustered around the main market square. Since the opening of L’Enclume (doubles from $138) seven years ago, chef-owner Simon Rogan’s inventive cooking has quietly grown in acclaim, culminating in a Michelin star for the restaurant in 2005. Housed in a converted blacksmith’s workshop, L’enclume has 12 pared-down guest rooms: seven above the restaurant; three at L’enclume House, in the village center; and two new luxury suites (from $252), across from L’enclume House. One suite has a muted mocha-and-cream color scheme and sisal carpets, the other was designed with strong Art Deco lines; and both have Molton Brown amenities in the bathrooms. The latest addition: Rogan has opened Rogan & Company—a less formal restaurant with stellar roast salmon and braised lamb shoulder—just down the road.
Gilpin Lodge, Windermere
In the summer, boats lazily ferry visitors around Lake Windermere, and canoeists paddle among its tiny islands. The town itself is buzzing with restaurants, cafés, and shops. Just outside of town, Gilpin Lodge (doubles from $725 including dinner and breakfast), a family-run Victorian hotel, has added six new garden suites that have a bit more privacy than the 14 rooms in the main house. The suites’ bathrooms are huge, with dinner plate–size showerheads; rooms come with beds that are wider than they are long.
Holbeck Ghyll, Windermere
Overlooking Lake Windermere and the hills, Holbeck Ghyll (doubles from $300 including breakfast), a cozy 19th-century hunting lodge, is full of traditional English touches: oak paneling, wing chairs, a croquet lawn, and two black Labradors. The Michelin-starred restaurant does fresh takes on British classics, such as roast loin of venison with herbed gnocchi, and a mille-feuille of rhubarb, oat, and vanilla. Most rooms have water views, but the one you really want to book is the Miss Potter suite—a nod to Beatrix Potter, who summered in the area—with its deep hot tub on a private balcony.
Punch Bowl Inn, Windermere
Great Value Just five miles outside of town, the Punch Bowl Inn (doubles from $181 including breakfast) has nine romantic rooms that feel like home, only better, with exposed beams, plum-hued walls, deep rolltop baths, and freshly baked cookies delivered to your room upon arrival. Downstairs at the restaurant, ask for the table beside the open log fire for a dinner of traditional favorites, such as Lancashire hot pot or Cumberland sausages, with a pint of locally brewed Tag Lag Ale.
Dove Cottage, Grasmere
William Wordsworth lived in Grasmere, which he described as the “prettiest village in England.” Its town green, central church, small tranquil lake, and diminutive cottages create a quintessential picture-postcard scene. Wordsworth’s home, Dove Cottage, is now a museum with original manuscripts by the poet as well as a vast collection of watercolor paintings from the 19th-century Romantic movement.
Moss Grove, Grasmere
In the village center, the eco-aware Moss Grove (doubles from $250 including breakfast), which opened in mid 2007, is as sustainable as possible, with native woods and stone, organic toiletries, and fair-trade linens. The 11 rooms have chunky wooden beds, leather tub chairs, and flat-screen televisions. Breakfast (organic, of course) is a help-yourself affair.
Sharrow Bay, Ullswater Lake
As you drive north of Grasmere, the landscape becomes more rugged and wild: steep crags stretch upward, with scrubby heather and bracken clinging to the moors. The countryside here is crisscrossed with walking trails. Along a winding road lies the remote Sharrow Bay (doubles from $735 including dinner and breakfast). Though rooms may feel a touch old-fashioned—sherry in the bedrooms, floral-scented toiletries, pastel walls, and swag curtains—this is sumptuous English country-house living at its best. The lounges, library, and restaurant are a cosseting cocktail of antique furniture, plush couches, and warm, attentive service. And the location can’t be beat: the lake laps on one side of the property, while hiking trails head up into the hills from the other.