My heart plunged into the far recesses of my boots as I heard those dreaded words:
“Welcome to Stanbrook Abbey – we’re pleased to offer you a room upgrade!”
Not normally the reaction of someone checking into a hotel for the weekend, but I know from experience that upgrades aren’t necessarily a good thing. Not for obsessively picky travellers like us anyway. I always choose our room with the utmost care, spending an unhealthy amount of time scrolling through images online to make sure we book the abode I know we’ll like the best. Which isn’t always the most expensive suite!
So when I realised we wouldn’t be spending the weekend in the room I’d so meticulously picked for Hubbie’s surprise 40th birthday, I struggled to hide my disappointment. The lovely lass on reception of course thought she was doing us a favour, so I mustered a smile as she handed us the key to the very top suite in the entire hotel. I know, I should be more grateful that these things seem to happen to us with almost disconcerting regularity.
As we trundled our suitcases through arched hallways and along wood-panelled corridors, my hopes began to rise. Finally we reached the top of the abbey, and pushed open the door…to the Cardinal Master Suite.
Not too shabby at all!!
You know when web pictures sometimes don’t do justice to reality? Well, this was one of those times. I decided to dismount my lofty horse and sent a silent note of gratitude back down to reception. This was going to be a weekend to remember.
Stanbrook Abbey Hotel
We’ve slept in churches and spent weekends in converted chapels, but this was our first time staying in an abbey! I’d booked it for Hubbie’s birthday, and postponed by a certain pandemic, it wasn’t until several months later that we got to grace the hotel with our presence.
This early 16th-century abbey was home to Benedictine nuns for over 150 years, before they upped sticks and moved to a new premises in Yorkshire when the church was deconsecrated in 2009.
Stanbrook became a hotel in 2015, giving guests an exclusive taste of abbey life with all the fabulous retained features. It’s a secluded retreat like no other, with plush contemporary décor working hard to compliment the historical building.
We were pretty much the only guests there (we visited just after lockdown easing), so we had the place to ourselves. Yet I’ll stick my neck out and say that even at full capacity, the hotel would continue to provide quiet hidden spaces for guests to feel like there was no-one else around. It’s a supremely peaceful place, with a dusting of spirituality for those who go looking for it.
Many of the Gothic revival features you see today were designed by the sons of Augustus Pugin, the brains behind the Palace of Westminster. Yes, it’s that level of spectacular!
Great Callow Hall is the centrepiece at the heart of Stanbrook Abbey Hotel, and a great place for a wedding if you’re so inclined. This former church is resplendent with high vaulted ceilings and stained glass windows, and there’s a little balcony for a bird’s-eye view.
Keep an eye out for the grooves on the floor beside the wooden pews, left by the knees of dedicated nuns who spent hours here in prayer.
Don’t leave without climbing the 140 steps up the 40-metre high bell tower beside the church – the views are phenomenal, and you can even see right across to the Malvern Hills!
Make sure you ask at reception for the bell tower key.
Stone cloisters and tiled corridors led to hidden libraries and lavender-perfumed courtyards, where the original architecture of this former Grade II listed monastery stands proud.
We loved that guests pretty much have free reign to explore the entire abbey, and we spent ages sneaking around like naughty school kids as we checked out all the hidden nooks and crannies.
There are 70 rooms and suites spread throughout the main building at Stanbrook Abbey Hotel, plus a 5-bedroom Georgian manor house for larger exclusive groups. There are classic rooms, feature rooms with four-poster beds, and suites to choose from, some with a traditional design, others boasting a more contemporary feel.
We were in the Cardinal Suite, which was right at the top of the abbey, and overlooked the grounds at the front. Completely befitting of someone celebrating a rather significant birthday!
This palatial presidential suite came complete with its own drawing room crammed with traditional features, as well as a vast private balcony with fabulous views, perfect for a few beers on a sunny afternoon.
The bed was enormous, and the ensuite bathroom with roll top bath and his ‘n’ hers sinks ticked all the boxes for a truly decadent stay.
Wining and Dining at Stanbrook Abbey
A meal is the sum of many things, it’s not just about the food. The atmosphere, décor, and company all play major roles. And when they all combine and hit that sweet spot…it’s a rare thing.
Eating at Stanbrook Abbey Hotel was probably our favourite part of the trip, not just because the food was so damn tasty, but because the staff were so genial and down to earth. Many of them had just returned from furlough and were finally back doing what they loved, and it really showed. They may have had several months off, but they were still at the top of their game, whilst being normal, lovely human beings at the same time. Our evening chats became a real highlight of our stay.
The restaurant used to be the nun’s refectory, and retains several original oak features which were crafted by the famous Robert ‘Mousey’ Thompson, who was known for carving mice into all his furniture.
The separate seating booths were fabulous, giving heaps of privacy for a romantic evening meal, and the whole place just had that ‘wow’ factor.
Before dinner it’s all about drinks in George’s bar, named for some of the famous Georges in the world, several of whom are recognised with photographs above the bar.
There’s also a rather cool library too, stuffed full of aging tomes and hiding a secret bar for special occasions.
Outside there are 26 acres of private estate, with lawns, lavender gardens, and even a pond to explore. Stanbrook Abbey Hotel is a popular spot for weddings, and there are plenty of hidden corners which would be great for a photo shoot.
The Georgian Manor House is one of the oldest parts of the hotel, and can be rented out for larger groups looking for a bit of privacy during their stay.
The location of Stanbrook Abbey Hotel couldn’t be more idyllic. Hidden away in leafy green countryside down a pretty meandering lane, this grand hotel is quite a surprise when you roll through the grand gates.
Set between the Malvern Hills and Worcester, the Stanbrook Abbey Hotel makes a great base for exploring England’s rural heartlands.
Who stays at Stanbrook Abbey Hotel
Handpicked Hotels definitely caters for the slightly older crowd, and by that I mean anyone over 40 looking for a refined weekend break in a historic venue with plenty of surrounding countryside to explore. It’s not really a place for young children, although I’m sure they’d be welcomed with open arms.
Having just reached the big 40 ourselves we felt right at home, and were soon busy checking out the other unique hotels in the collection.
We arrived at Stanbrook Abbey Hotel feeling pretty certain that the highlight of our weekend would of course be the building itself. After all, it’s not often you get to sleep in an Abbey. Yet it was the staff who provided the polish on an already shiny jewel that really made our stay so superb.
We came away with a warm fuzzy glow thanks to that rare feeling of truly being looked after. The pandemic perhaps has us all craving social interaction more than usual, and that inherent desire to make people happy was certainly shining through during our visit.
It was so refreshing chatting to the restaurant staff, who had been on furlough for so long, on a human-to-human level rather than that purely of customer and employee. I think everyone was so happy to have guests back after so long, and it was a real privilege to be some of the first through the doors.
From the cheerful ladies on reception and the hardworking team working their magic in the kitchen, to the behind-the-scenes cleaning wizards keeping everything spotless, the staff here are a real credit to the hotel. Nothing was too much trouble, and we were very impressed at the slick social distancing measures, which were non-intrusive yet effective, making us feel completely safe and relaxed.
Things to do in the Area
Our favourite jaunt was a walk up Worcester Beacon, on a 3-mile circular route boasting superb views out over Great Malvern and the Severn Valley. You can even see Wales on a good day. Other nearby options for tranquil country strolls include the Teme and Severn Valleys.
Stanbrook Abbey Hotel is just five miles from the city of Worcester, with its stunning cathedral, boutique shops, and restaurants to check out.
This enchanting castle at the foot of the Malvern Hills makes a great day out if you’re into history or gardens. Eastnor Castle is of Georgian design, and there’s an arboretum, a lake, and a knight’s maze to explore.
The ruins of Witley Court are dramatic and photogenic, surrounded by elaborate gardens punctuated with ornamental fountains and a whole lot of wildlife.
Tour a Herefordshire distillery and learn about the traditional processes used to produce these local spirits. Stroll through potato fields and apple orchards, and go behind the scenes to see where the magic happens. Of course, tastings are the real highlight, and there’s a small shop so you can take home your favourites.