Orles Barn, Herefordshire
Tucked away in a quiet corner of the splendid Herefordshire countryside is the dinky Orles Barn, an AA graded five star stopover that's unforgettably quaint and distinctly, well, English; the kind of place a wellie-donning Guy Ritchie-era Madonna would go wild for (sorry, with the new album we've a need to relate everything back to her at the moment).
A stone's throw from the charming riverside market town of Ross-on-Wye and but a short drive from the cobbled streets of Monmouth (which is IN A DIFFERENT COUNTRY ALTOGETHER - it's ok to be excited by that right?), this modestly sized and intimate build exudes personality and charm. Parts of it date back to the 14th and 17th centuries – think random oak beams and open log fireplaces.
Under its most recent ownership Orles underwent a dramatic face lift that capitalised on its existing warmth – now the ambiance is tasteful but not extravagant, erring on the right side of luxury while retaining a sense of homeliness, thanks in part to a small but dedicated staff-force. Personable and cheerful, it's immediately apparent how much they enjoy working there, and that's not an observation we make frequently on our travels. Good service is good service, and service with a smile is better still; but service with a smile that's genuine? That makes all the difference.
Orles Barn is a bit of a West Country gem and everyone who works there knows it. There's no arrogance to speak of, but perhaps a more than deserved sense of pride. The amount of care and effort that's gone into its appearance and upkeep is obvious. Of its five fully kitted-out rooms (sans iPod dock), we stayed in the roomy Pixie Apple bridal suite, popular with newlyweds of ALL gender equations (speaking of which, Orles Barn would make a great setting for a civil partnership ceremony - more about that later). It's the jewel in the Barn's crown, coming complete with a separate bathroom and dressing room, and a gigantic standalone tub that on the upside is positioned beneath a ceiling of switch-operated stars, but on the downside takes an age to fill.
Between the deliciously camp floral wallpaper and the fantastic quality of the bed linen, plus the romantically stunning views of the rolling countryside from the suite's windows, you'll feel like a newlywed should you stay here, regardless of your marital status. It's sweetly decadent in an understated fashion – as welcoming and unpretentious as a particularly excellent B&B but boating a quality competitive with any number of high-profile inner-city stopovers.
For all the gorgeousness of its rooms, it's the barn's award-winning culinary prowess that is its secret weapon. You'll be hard pressed to find better quality meals within a ten mile radius. Seating up to 50 guests at 14 tables, both the flower-filled restaurant and its next-door bar are laid back and relaxing spaces. The latter is best enjoyed of an evening after a long and potentially muddy afternoon walk among the surrounding terrain, next to an open fire with a good book; the former over a breakfast of beautifully tender, lightly sweet and locally sourced pears, rays of sun filtering through its many windows over an acre of grass outside.
Although traditionally rooted and making use of seasonal produce, its dinner menu features some incredibly inventive and forward-thinking embellishments courtesy of Chef Director Dan Wall, who, since joining the Barn has been awarded two rosettes by the AA. A typical meal might comprise of roast woodland pork belly, devilled kidneys, dauphinoise potatoes, brawn and sautéed greens followed by the why-not? combination of dark chocolate tart and milk chocolate mousse, accompanied by salted caramel.
We've all heard tales of Christian hoteliers from the deepest, darkest regions of the country turning away gay couples from the inn; well, there's none of that here. The fact that there aren't any local dedicated gay spaces to speak of does not reflect the entirely hospitable and 21st-century attitudes of the owners and their staff. Undoubtedly Orles Barn would be a dream space to host a civil partnership. And by the sounds they'd cater to your every whim and help tailor-make the celebration of your dreams too, with the wedding brochure claiming “If you want kissing hippos helicopter’d in, the waiting staff to burst into song or silk butterflies adorning every hedge we will move heaven and earth to get this done."
"In fact we’ve implemented two of the above and wouldn’t mind having a go at the third!”
For more information visit the official website of Orles Barn here