Helen Warwick reviews the Gilpin Hotel and Lake House in Windermere surrounded by peaks and terns.
Let’s not beat around the bush here. I absolutely know what I’m talking about when it comes to hotels and I very quickly realised that Gilpin Hotel and Lake House, pitched just outside Windermere and spread over 21 acres, is one of the Lake District’s most special hotels. Sitting in the outdoor hot tub, staring at the steam swirling towards the frozen lake is pretty close to magic and in so many respects, the Gilpin goes far beyond just a lovely place to sleep for the night.
Guests can stay in the main house, where you’ll find some seriously luxurious spa lodges with their own hot tubs on the terrace. I, on the other hand, had a room in Gilpin Lake House, a mile from the main hotel, down a winding lane with vast fields on either side. It feels, initially, as if you’ve stumbled into someone else’s vast rural home – for that is the sheer joy behind Gilpin Lake House. It’s a kind of hotel-meets-private country house – though one high in romance and elegance in every sense.
Downstairs, wander into the main lounge where a fire crackles, books line the walls and sofas gaze across to the private lake beyond and you start to get a hold of the place. It’s discreet, it’s stylish, and it’s supremely comfortable. Guests hover here for pre-dinner cocktails, mixed with precision by the flawlessly dressed and amiable bartender. And because there are only six bedrooms throughout, you can always find a corner to cosy up in or a bar stool to pull up.
I was staying in Maude – a generous room with a gorgeous plump bed, chill-out area with glossy mags and coffee table, and spa products from local wellness brand, Pure Lakes. There was even Netflix and Amazon Prime on tap on TV (as well as a host of other apps) and ecstatic at being child-free for the first time in, well, years, we spent the first hour of our stay blissfully sipping Champagne in bed with a series on Netflix.
But it was the view the following morning – dripping in silver and white – that left its indelible mark. I pulled up the blinds and stared across the glassy lake, crystallised with a thin sheet of ice and sprinkled with pockets of snow. It’s the sort of view you pay top money for, and if it weren’t for the ice, I would have been very tempted to stagger down the paths running from the lake house and diving from the jetty into the inky blue water.
Something that’s not unusual in the warmer months. There’s even a boat house pitched on the lake’s shores where guests can row out from, stopping to angle the views and stare back at the hotel that starts to feel incredibly reassuring and familiar the longer you stay.
Squirrelled away to one side of the lake and reached by the winding woodland paths, you’ll find the Jetty Spa, and it was here we both indulged in an incredible massage with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the lake.
Amongst the fragrance of lavender, it might just be one of the most idyllic settings for a spa. It’s absolutely worth signing up to the Jetty Spa Experience while you’re here, which includes a spa treatment, private use of the swimming pool and a dip in the hot tub with spectacular views of the lake. I promise you, everything will immediately feel right with the world while ensconced in the bubbling water.
Many come here repeatedly and it’s not just for the top-of-its-game hotel experience. Food is taken very seriously here and there are two restaurants up at the main house. And this being the Gilpin Hotel and Lake House, they have the whole set-up nailed down perfectly. They put on cars for those staying in the Lake House, and after a stiff G&T in the lounge on our first evening, we climbed into a car and were driven the five minutes to Gilpin Spice.
Helmed by chef Tom Westerland, it’s a true love affair with Asian gastronomy and it has rightfully gained a reputation for its beautifully turned-out dishes and bright and lively flavours. My advice? Arrive hungry. Start with the punchy Thai Chicken Broth and the Loch Duart Salmon Chirashi – a delicate bowl with salmon roe, crunchy wild rice and yuzu ponzu. It’s unlike anything I’ve had before in the best possible way. Mains varied from slow cooked ox cheek with rendang or clay oven seabass.
But I plumped for one of my all-time favourites, Goan-style king prawns with Goan coconut sauce and chilli oil. It was that good it brought up hazy memories of my twenty-something self-eating prawn curries on honey-hued Palolem Beach in Goa. I’d return to Gilpin Hotel and Lake House for this dish alone.
The culinary wizardry continues next door too, at Source, a Michelin-starred restaurant from chef Ollie Bridgewater (formerly of Heston’s The Fat Duck). But I’m sure you knew that already – this is a restaurant that needs no real introduction. It was here we settled into the tasting course on our final night. A culinary triumph, all the way from the fluffy wedges of house bread with fermented garlic honey, through to the squash and pumpkin custard, topped with hazelnuts.
I loved the single large scallop, served sliced and smothered in a charcuterie sauce. I loved the deep and rich loin of venison with spiced beetroot, draped in an earthy sauce. I loved the light sponge of the tiramisu, piped with soft splodges of mascarpone, chocolate and coffee. I loved that every ingredient promised on the menu rang out, each delivering its own little twist to the dish. Bridgewater has pitched his menu admirably high and if his fierce ambition is anything to go by, expect great things from this young chef and Source.
My advice? Book a stay for two or three nights and stay put. Gilpin Hotel and Lake House really is a destination in its own right and although you’re surrounded by the moody peaks and terns of the Lake District, there’s really no need to go anywhere else. True it’s a blow out. But aren’t we all deserving of that occasionally? The ultimate British hotel you won’t want to leave.
Tell me more about Gilpin Hotel and Lake House
Gilpin Hotel and Lake House, Crook Road, Windermere, LA23 3NE
Room rates: classic bedrooms from £295; spa suites from £910 a night.
Source tasting menu is £120 pp.
Gilpin Spice – starters start from £6; mains from £16.