We like to keep our collection of boutique hotels and hideaways in tip-top shape. This means trying and testing out properties regularly to make sure standards remain high (it’s a hardship, but someone’s got to do it). So recently, some of the i-escape ladies set off around the UK to nosey on a few of our much-loved hotels. From a design house in Devon to a wine hotel on the Isle of Wight, these are some of Britain’s best boutique retreats. Here’s what we made of them.


1 Kaywana Hall, Devon

Imogen Cox, Marketing Executive

Following a weekend in pretty Salcombe, I trundled over on a very scenic yet somewhat tedious bus ride through the Devonshire countryside towards Kingswear, just opposite Dartmouth in South Devon. Conveniently, the bus stopped right outside Kaywana Hall, my home for the night.

Arriving at the hotel, I was struck by how different the place felt to how it looked in the pictures. I was expecting it to feel slightly cold and almost too architectural, but it was quite the opposite, with the perfect mix of soft curves, angular glass edges, and pops of colour, all of which were surrounded by a cloud of lush and vivid greenery. It really did feel like you were tucked away in a sanctuary of woodland bliss, despite being just off a relatively busy road.

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Every room felt private and separate, with winding steps and cleverly used bamboo hedges as dividers, and each room’s little terrace gave a nice breakaway space from the communal pool area.

My room, Oak, was lovely, scented with a fragrance of orange, geranium and spearmint. There were yummy extras (homemade shortbread, fudge, jelly beans, fresh milk and a Nespresso machine) and thoughtful reading materials including a guide to the local area, plenty of fiction, local maps and recommended walks. I loved that they had two different firmnesses of pillows in the room, and a lovely selection of toiletries including bath salts.

Owners Tony & Gordon were wonderful and very friendly. It seemed they were on hand instantly when you needed them but never in the way when you didn’t.  I felt as though I was staying with family friends (but in a nicer way as I got some space and time to myself!). They provide an app for guests, with a weather report and useful info about the local area. You get a hard copy of this too, which was useful as my mobile signal was patchy and the WiFi struggled when lots of people were using it.

The poolside area was wonderful. A heated outdoor pool is a real luxury for a UK B&B, and it felt so peaceful reading my book after a swim. The sounds of birdsong and crickets were the background hum throughout my stay, and there were butterflies everywhere – lovely! There’s a firepit for the cooler months, and in the pool house you can help yourself to soft drinks, chocolate bars, coffee, teas and freshly baked goods. Breakfast is served here too, with 90% of produce coming from within a 5-mile radius of the house.

I nipped down to Kingswear, a short but steep 10-minute walk, and got the ferry over to Dartmouth, with a pre-loaded card from Kaywana offering discounted journeys for guests (avoids the need for carrying cash). I had a crab sandwich and bought a bottle of wine to take back and enjoy on my terrace, where I watched the sunset – stunning! Then I sunk into one of the comfiest beds I’ve slept it in, and drifted off to the gentle sound of swaying trees.

  • Verdict: Heated pool, hidden-away rooms with secluded terraces, friendly hosts, great breakfasts, and plenty of restaurants within walking/ferry distance
  • Worth knowing: Not hugely accessible for non-drivers or those with poor mobility (lots of steps on the property and a steep walk into Dartmouth)
  • Best for: Couples seeking peace, quiet and top-end design
  • Rating: 9.5/10

2 The Felin Fach Griffin, Powys, Wales

The i-escape blog / Kate Parsons-escape gift card take you / Kate Parsons
Kate Parsons, Head of Reservations

Sometimes you need a break from the kids! So we ditched them for the night and headed to the Brecon Beacons in Wales. It was a beautiful day for a scenic drive, and the closer we got to The Felin Fach Griffin, the more stunning the scenery became.

We were warmly welcomed on arrival. It’s a cosy pub with rooms and has been owned by the Inkin brothers for 20 years now. Considering how long it’s been running, it still looks fresh, and they work hard to keep the punters coming back. It’s particularly popular with older couples and dog owners, and we found it buzzing on Sunday afternoon right through to the evening. Eclectic art on the walls is curated by a local gallery in Brecon and changes every few months or so.

We stayed in their newest room, number 8, which was previously staff quarters. It occupies the entire top floor and has an attractive beamed ceiling and ’50s-style red velvet armchairs, as well as views towards the village lane and fields. The interior is very spacious, with a separate shower room/loo and bathroom. They don’t have any TVs, but that didn’t bother us – we found it really relaxing just chilling out with the radio on.

The food was delicious: typical gastropub fare that’s not overly fussy, with emphasis on local produce. And the wine list was extensive. I had a really tasty pork belly with mashed potato and red cabbage. Breakfast was eggy bread with bacon and maple syrup, and it was such a treat! My husband opted for the full Borders breakfast (essentially a full fry-up) and it looked indulgent and delicious.

Outdoorsy kids would be happy here. There’s a short children’s menu, or the kitchen can serve smaller portions of adult meals, and some of the rooms have space for fold-out beds. All rooms are dog-friendly, and there are no charges to bring your pooch. They get treated well – towels and dog treats etc are provided.

All in all, this is a great place to go if you want to explore the Brecon Beacons. I only wish I’d had longer to see them for myself.

  • Verdict: Delicious, locally sourced food in a really cosy, welcoming pub with delightful rooms
  • Worth knowing: They don’t have TVs (a plus for many)
  • Best for: Outdoorsy types who enjoy good food; walkers/hikers; dogs
  • Rating: 9/10

3 The Terrace, Isle of Wight

The i-escape blog / Lucy Richardson
Lucy Richardson, Editor

I adored The Terrace. It’s a new(ish) kid on the block in Ventnor (opened late August 2022), right on the seafront, in a restored mansion that clings to the cliff. The concept is wine shop with rooms, and it’s done exquisitely.

The wine cave is stacked to the ceiling with bottles from around the world, with a long table at the centre that looks straight out to sea. Wine tasting takes place here daily at 6pm and is included with every stay. I find tastings can be intimidating, everyone competing to outsmart each other, claiming they can taste hay or tar or whatever, but this was a pleasingly relaxed affair. Ali the sommelier was in no way a wine snob, his main aim was to showcase under-the-radar wines and strip your preconceptions about certain regions. It was a good icebreaker too – we all left as chums and reconvened later for nightcaps.

Non-guests can visit the wine shop daily from 10-5, or anyone can swing by in the afternoon to sample a few bottles on their terrace: a very impressive all-glass room with a retractable roof and sea views. We lazed about here in t-shirts and sunglasses, and it felt almost Mediterranean. There’s no lunch or dinner service outside of peak seasons (a pity), but you can order cheese and ham plates to accompany the wines.

Upstairs are the rooms, each different from one another but all very stylish, and lots with original features. Three look straight out to sea; the other two have side sea views. We were in Room 2, which had cute window seats for gazing out into the open blue. There’s also an annex room above the garage for guests with dogs – this room is the weakest, but good for pet owners or parents (there’s a sofabed). Beds are all doubles, and you get a wine fridge for your purchases.

The Terrace is the second venture for owners Ashley and Tom, who run a successful restaurant in Yarmouth. He’s the chef, and if his breakfasts are anything to go by (four whole courses!), he’s mighty good at it. We began with pastries: chorizo and fennel sausage roll for husband; beetroot and ricotta roll for me. Next, homemade toasted soda and nut bread with butter and jam. Then poached pear with coconut granola and honey. And, finally, a variation of the Full English: toast with Isle of Wight tomatoes, bubble & speak, and a poached egg in truffle sauce. Simply divine.

As for Ventnor and the Isle of Wight, I loved it. The island is the sunniest place in the UK, and Ventnor itself has a microclimate that makes it a few degrees warmer than the rest of the country. There’s been a surge of investment in Ventnor in recent years, with a growing restaurant scene and more young people moving in thanks to the rise of remote working. It certainly feels like it’s on the up. Of course, the downside is inaccessibility. Ventnor is on the far side of the island, and car ferries to the Isle of Wight are expensive. But it’s worth the trek. I was a big fan, and I’d return in a heartbeat.

  • Verdict: Amazing collection of wines, friendly and knowledgeable hosts, stunning sea views
  • Worth knowing: No dinner service in peak seasons (Apr-Oct)
  • Best for: Wine-loving couples
  • Rating: 9.5/10

4 The White Hart Inn, Essex

Nadine Mellor, New Hotels Editor

Not long ago, I was clutching binos with steadily numbing fingers, standing in a fresh breeze on a mud shingle-sand beach, beside a creek surrounded by upturned boats and houseboats. I successfully identified a knot probing the mud, with bar-tailed godwits conveniently beside it (for size ID purposes).

I’d just come from the cosy comforts of The White Hart Inn, in the heart of that bustling metropolis West Mersea. It’s the larger of the two habitations on Mersea Island, the UK’s most easterly inhabited island, and one of 43 tidal islands dotted around the coast. There’s an end-of-the-world bleak beauty to the place, and it feels authentically coastal rather than polished and twee, as some parts of Cornwall now do. There are oysters (shipped all over the world) and a couple of sailing clubs, the usual smattering of charity shops, a small post office and supermarket, plus a couple of tea rooms and hairdressers. I also spotted an art gallery and collectables shop opposite the Inn.

Piers Baker (who also runs The Sun Inn in Dedham) collected me from Colchester station. The pub is a new build; Piers was approached by a local developer who was prepared to buy the original boozer, knock it down, and pretty much start again, and he came in at the design stage. So it is very much his vision.

His ideas/decor work well. There’s a big open-plan restaurant plus al fresco terrace. It’s in smart blues and greens, with a mix of seating including banquettes to accommodate all. The menu changes every 6-8 weeks and is focused (but not obsessively so) on local and seasonal. There’s an extremely good beverages list too.

I was the only resident that night, but a few locals came in for dinner. I very much enjoyed chatting to Piers over a mocktail, and then over-eating! My food was all very good but perhaps one or two fewer ingredients per dish may have made the flavours sing out more. A quibble really.

The rooms are all at the back in a two-storey extension above the restaurant. Top floor is Mehalah, where I stayed, while the other five are off a corridor below. Colours and schemes are quite jazzy, definitely bolder than The Sun Inn. I had a lovely big bed, a very good bathroom, and everything looked good and worked well. One room overlooks the car park, which hopefully will look better once the planting has grown up. Three or four have sea glimpses, which are better in the winter when the trees have lost their leaves.

I liked it very much, but then I’m partial to a bit of elemental, big horizon stuff. It might not suit those that aren’t.

  • Verdict: Supremely comfy rooms and good grub (check out the local oysters!) in the convivial restaurant; set on an under-the-radar stretch of untamed coastline in Essex
  • Worth knowing: No extra beds or twin rooms, so families need to book adjacent rooms
  • Best for: Couples seeking a relaxing stay; sailing, birding and walking are all draws
  • Rating: 9/10

5 The Gurnards Head, Cornwall

Alice Tegg, Editorial Assistant

Having lived in Cornwall for almost 4 years, I never turn down a chance to head back. It’s especially exciting, and rare, when I get to see a new part of my favourite county. So my friend and I set off to The Gurnards Head on the outskirts of Zennor, near St Ives. I thought I’d find it too remote and isolated, but actually, it was a really lively, welcoming place in a seriously beautiful location – even the grey weather couldn’t put a dampener on it. This is a place for walkers, as that is essentially the only thing to do in this patch of Cornwall, but that only added to the relaxed vibe.

We’ve heard reports of some of the rooms being a bit small, which is fair but, in my opinion, not a major drawback. The smallest rooms are definitely snug, but these are aimed at one- or two-night stays, and the smallest room had one of the best views – I personally loved the cosy feel of it. Anything above a Small Double has plenty of space for a couple on a short break, and this isn’t somewhere you’d stay for more than a week.

I stayed in Room 8, the best in the house, according to the staff! The room is in an annexe, which you have to leave the pub to access (literally a matter of metres away but exposed to the elements). Inside it has vaulted ceilings and big French doors that open onto a ‘private’ patio and the pub garden (I hesitate to say private because nothing is really stopping anyone in the garden from coming to sit at the table or peer in, other than principle). The room was a bit dark, but all the softly lit lamps created a warm, homely feel. The bathroom was stunning: green all over, in shades of sage and moss, with a nice big bath and a rainfall shower with the biggest head I’ve ever seen – practically a full body’s width.

Something I noticed in all the rooms is a lack of storage for clothes. It varies from room to room, but I never saw a wardrobe (only lose hangers and a couple of coat hooks), and the drawers ranged from a full chest to the level up from a bedside table. Good job we didn’t overpack!

The food was the highlight. I’m a non-meat-eater, and I was expecting the menu to be super fish heavy, considering where we were, but there were at least three veggie/vegan options for each course; all sounded original and not at all like an afterthought. Breakfast was great as well; there were good options hot and cold (I had a fab halloumi hash), amazing homemade granola, and the soda bread they make on site was heavenly – I’m still thinking about it! With no alternative eateries within easy reach it’s just as well it’s good. The team were young and friendly, nothing seemed too much trouble.

There’s really nothing around it, except some friendly cows and a scattering of cottages, but that’s half the magic. And there are endless walks from here along one of the most beautiful stretches of Cornish coastline I’ve seen. Outdoorsy types will love it.

  • Verdict: Warm and relaxed atmosphere; fantastic food full of seasonal ingredients; footsteps from a ruggedly beautiful stretch of coast path
  • Worth knowing: Rooms above the bar can be noisy; wardrobes/more storage would be useful for longer stays
  • Best for: Laid-back couples who like days spent outdoors and cosy evenings spent with a local crowd
  • Rating: 8.5/10