While the Vicarage Freehouse and Rooms is now every inch the archetypal country retreat, it wasn’t always the case. Until recently, the building, which dates back to the 17th century, was derelict. That was, until two brothers, Oliver and Dominic Heywood, of Flat Cap Hotels, set eyes on the former farmhouse and vicarage and began a period of painstaking restoration and refurbishment.
Set in Cheshire countryside, just outside the small town of Holmes Chapel, it’s just a short drive from the M6 and the train station.
The property is split into four main rooms, all of which are distinctively accessorised. The “posh country estate” gets a modern, shabby chic makeover through an assortment of knick-knacks from reclamation yards, mirrors of all shapes and sizes, coats of arms, vintage shotguns, and polo sticks and helmets. The theme continues into the games room, which is replete with pool table, darts board, games machines and TV.
However, it’s the six suites which are the star of the show. Situated in the listed part of the building, each one is different (some with exposed beams, some with higher ceilings, some with antique furnishings) but all have plenty of space and luxurious bathrooms – much to the delight of my wife, ours has a freestanding bath. There’s a sense of quality and luxury reflected in everything, from the Duck Island toiletries, to your very own espresso machine, to the fine English china. The staff are also eager to make the experience more memorable with some pleasing touches – shortly after we arrive we are brought a jug of fresh milk to the room.
Before dinner, leave time for a drink and ease back into the big, comfy sofas that surround the rustic wooden fireplace. The hotel, as has become all the rage, has adopted the “locally sourced” tag. At the bar you’ll find a range of beers supplied by the Mobberley Brew House, while the kitchen uses meats, potatoes and dairy products all supplied by nearby farms.
The chef, Steven Tuke, previously worked at the outstanding Chester Grosvenor, and it shows. The food, while fairly mainstream, is exquisitely cooked and presented. My duck starter is full of flavour, and the slow-braised featherblade main is beautifully juicy and tender. Dessert features all the old favourites, from a chocolate brownie to pear and almond tatin, to a farmhouse cheese board, which includes Cheshire’s Burt’s Blue.
Don’t expect the standard to drop at breakfast, either, which is served in the light and airy conservatory. There are numerous options, such as soft poached eggs, smoked salmon scrambled eggs, and the Vicarage Full English, all cooked to order. Round off your stay with a visit to the Cheshire attractions of Jodrell Bank, Tatton Park, and the picturesque market town of Knutsford.
ACCOMMODATION: The Vicarage Freehouse & Rooms starts at £100, with suites from £140. (01477 533393, thevicaragecheshire.com).