IF history is your thing here is a weekend retreat that has it in spades… Billesley Manor at Alcester, just outside Stratford-upon-Avon.
We were invited to spend an overnight stay at this magnificent Elizabethan Manor house which boasts a spa with indoor pool, tennis courts and an amazing 120 year old Topiary garden in the shape of a giant chess set.
Billesley Manor has 71 elegantly styled bedrooms within the original Manor House and its restored Cedar Barns from traditional to contemporary styles including feature suites with four-poster beds and Tudor panelling.
All bedrooms have flat-screen televisions, free high-speed WiFi, and 24-hour room service plus guests enjoy free use of the extensive leisure facilities.
Set in 11 acres of manicured Warwickshire gardens, Billesley Manor Hotel is the ideal base for exploring Stratford-upon-Avon, the birthplace of William Shakespeare, and the beautiful Cotswolds countryside. Its greatest historic claim to fame is that the manor’s library was where Shakespeare wrote his comedy As You Like it in 1599.
From the time of the Norman Conquest the manor is mentioned in local historic records. In 1327 Sir William Trussell was among those who deposed King Edward II then served his son, the warrior King Edward III, as soldier and diplomat. Billesley at that time was a wooden manor house with a nearby village, but in the middle of the fourteenth century the Black Death decimated the village, leaving just the manor occupied. Foundations of the medieval village can still be seen in the fields to the east of the hotel.
The Trussells fell on hard times and the estate was forfeited to Queen Elizabeth I before ending up in the hands of a wealthy London merchant whose son rebuilt it in stone, a considerable statement of wealth in the early seventeenth century.
The manor then went through the hands of several high profile owners and by 1906 had fallen into some disrepair before fashionable architect Detmar Jellings Blow (who oversaw the repair of Stonehenge in 1900) was called in to create what we see today.
The church attached to Billesley Manor dates back to the eleventh century and rumour has it William Shakespeare married Anne Hathaway there in 1582, although the present structure dates from 1692 when it was rebuilt it in a faux-Norman style.
The church was closed down in 1978 but is still used for weddings hosted by the manor, which is nearing the completion of a £4.5m refurb to create a terrific four star country hotel with superb rooms and facilities including £1m on refurbishing its Topiary wedding suite and a further £1.5m on the historic barn bedrooms and spa areas, including a new reception. It is also an ideal wedding venue, especially as the hotel is now licensed for ceremonies in the garden and has that amazing historic church in its grounds.
We enjoyed a stay in one of the immaculate and comfortable large barn rooms and dined at the hotel’s restaurant – housed in the former historic great hall which boasts original Tudor panelling, a gallery and huge stone fireplace.
The food was as impressive as our surroundings, very reasonably priced and the place was full – always a good sign of popularity.
Tickets to local attractions can be arranged and we took part in a visit to a local gin distillery just a five minute drive from the hotel in the rolling Warwickshire countryside.
Deceptively unremarkable from the outside the Shakespeare Distillery was a must visit venue where we were given an informative hour-long tour before visiting the distillery’s ‘gin school’.
Here we were given samples to try of the wide range of flavoured gins they produce with a small takeaway bottle for designated drivers.
The tour costs just £15 per adult and is well worth a visit – but try to make sure you are not the one who has to drive home!
So Billesley Manor is an ideal spot for that short break getaway with room prices from £65 per person for bed and breakfast and even more so as we have a great special offer for 50 Plus readers, dinner bed and breakfast for a double room with a welcome drink package for just £129 (subject to availability, Sunday to Friday). Mention you are a 50 Plus reader when booking to get the special deal.