A classic English hotel with a contemporary twist
Set in 11 acres of parkland, the stone facade to Billesley Manor dates back to the early 17th century, while the topiary garden was planted 130 years ago and designed to replicate a chessboard. Located just over three miles from Shakespeare’s Stratford-upon-Avon, this historic, newly refurbished £5.6 million budget property is steeped in history and charm! The hotel’s general manager, Stephen Fearnley, fills in all the blanks.
After a particularly difficult period for the travel and hospitality industry, why was 2020 the right time for a complete £5.6m refurbishment?The refurbishment was already planned, and with the world in lockdown, the time seemed right to go ahead with the refurbishments, ensuring the least disruption for our customers. We ended up renovating more than expected and decided to review the kitchen too! After being closed for a while, we wanted to welcome our guests back with a “wow”.
The hotel is 125 years old, how did you manage to maintain the originality and charm of the decoration while modernizing the interiors? OWe were conscious of retaining the original charm and features, such as restoring oak paneling and maintaining our 125-year-old topiary gardens, while adding a touch of modernity, especially in the art of Pratiksha Tayal, hanging throughout the hotel.
The hotel has a wonderful history with several illustrious guests in its past – can you share some thoughts on this? Over the years, Billesley Manor has been the home and guest house of several influential and wealthy individuals and families, contributing to its greatness. According to legend, William Shakespeare wrote many of his famous literary works here. He is also rumored to have married Anne Hathaway in All Saints Church, hence our Shakespeare suite and our new library, named As you like it. Elizabeth Nash, his granddaughter, followed the tradition and married here in 1646.
What might surprise someone to learn about Warwickshire? Shakespeare aside, if you’re a Tolkien fan the Lord of the Rings books and The Hobbit, you’ll be familiar with his use of the word “shire” as a reference to “Middle-earth”. But did you know he founded Middle-earth in Warwickshire? Tolkien lived in the village of Sarhole, Warwickshire, and it was there that he drew inspiration for Hobbiton and the Shire. The mill featured in both books is even believed to be based on Sarehole Mill!
Tell us a bit about the gardens and the challenges of maintaining them? Our topiary gardens are 125 years old and represent chess pieces from Alice in Wonderland. They provide the perfect backdrop for couples to say ‘yes’ when we have weddings. We are fortunate that our in-house gardener has been with us for several years and maintains the gardens to the highest standard. Likewise, our terraced gardens have benefited from additional flower beds and new garden furniture in 2021, making it the perfect retreat.
What makes a perfect English countryside getaway? While England is famous for its beautiful countryside with its hills, forests and rivers; the charming countryside villages are always worth visiting. There is so much history in England with its old buildings, historic castles and quaint churches. At Billesley Manor it starts with a warm welcome on arrival, rubber boots and walking sticks for local walks, through to beautiful bedrooms, cozy fires and delicious dinners.
What are the typical day trips and itineraries that you suggest to clients?Billesley Manor is located in the heart of rural Warwickshire, a few miles from Stratford-upon-Avon and on the edge of the Cotswolds. Guests can start the day with a hearty breakfast with us, followed by a stroll along the River Avon to see the sights of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, famous ships and Holy Trinity Church, where William Shakespeare is buried. From there, we encourage customers to take a trip to Broadway, where they’ll find charming shops and scenic walkways.
What is Billesley’s signature dish and why? It’s so hard to pick one, but our signature venison dish is a particular favourite, using the best of our local produce. We always like to use local produce for our dishes, whether it’s foraging for wild garlic in the spring or using meadowsweet in desserts. We are lucky to have a vegetable garden in the park.
The starting price of the room is very reasonable. How to reconcile luxury and accessibility? I think Billesley really is an escape for everyone.