Lake Road, Ambleside, Cumbria, LA22 0ER, englishlakes.co.uk
Gabriella gets back to her roots at the Waterhead Hotel on the shores of Lake Windermere.
I love London life but I’m a country girl at heart. With so many childhood memories spent in the beautiful surroundings of the Yorkshire Dales and the Lake District, I jumped at the chance for a two night stay at the Waterhead Hotel in Ambleside.
Situated at the northern tip of Lake Windermere, the Waterhead scooped the Cumbria Tourist Board’s Best Large Hotel award last year alongside a host of other accolades.
It’s not hard to see why. After a friendly and efficient check in, we are ushered through to one of the hotel’s 40 rooms – all of which are rather charmingly named after local waterfalls.
Our room is tastefully decorated, in keeping with the hotel’s understated, boutique style of crisp white walls, enhanced by textures from local slate and stone.
The décor however is really just a backdrop to the room’s showstopper – a stunning view of Lake Windermere. You can’t help but unwind after a long journey when you see the sun setting over the tranquillity of the lake through the room’s large bay window.
The theme of understated relaxation continues in the bar which is perfectly angled to capture the last droplets of sunlight as we sip pre-dinner cocktails.
The bar is reasonably busy considering we are firmly in off-season and it’s striking just how many different kinds of travellers are catered for at the Waterside – intrepid hillwalkers (and their dogs), families, groups of friends, and couples of all ages looking for a romantic getaway.
The hotel prides itself on its restaurant which offers an extensive lunch and dinner menu alongside pizzas, a gluten free option, a decadent afternoon tea and a kids club menu for the hotel’s (notably well behaved) tinier guests.
The restaurant champions local ingredients - with the lion’s share of the evening menu sourced from farms in the surrounding area. Our starter platter – which we order alongside tomato and feta arancini - is a great chance to sample bite-sized portions of local produce. Delicious ham hock and smoked salmon sourced from the nearby Cartmel Valley come accompanied with salami and olives and even a Cumbrian brie - good enough to rival anything from across the Channel.
The arancini meanwhile is a delight: sticky balls of risotto rice delicately flavoured with sun dried tomatoes and gooey feta cheese.
We’re spoilt for choice when it comes to our main course with an extensive list of traditional British favourites, seafood and various cuts of steak from the restaurant’s grill vying for our attention.
After much deliberation, we opt for the blade of Cumbrian beef and a grilled fillet of sea bass.
My dining partner thoroughly enjoys his blade of beef. It’s super succulent and cooked just right. The truffle mash, baby onions and wild mushrooms are the perfect accompaniment. A cute mini pasty, with flaky pastry and stuffed with minced oxtail, rounds the dish off beautifully.
My sea bass is also spot on. Creamy fish surrounded by plump little mussels and a delicious potato and artichoke casserole.
We wash down our main courses with an oaky New Zealand pinot noir. For fans of a G&T, there is an extensive list of gins available should you choose to deviate from the Waterhead’s short but strong wine list.
We round off our first night with white chocolate crème brulee which comes with a crunchy orange cookie and an indulgent sticky toffee pudding smothered in butterscotch sauce.
At sunrise the next morning, we swap our normal Monday tube ride for a full English breakfast in bed (available for a supplement). Watching swans glide across the unbroken surface of Windermere is an absolute joy and sets us up perfectly for the day ahead.
After such a hearty breakfast, some exercise is definitely in order. Fortunately the hotel has a bulging folder of maps for a variety of walks - from gentle strolls to full day treks. With so many calories consumed already, we decide to be reasonably ambitious and select a 7 mile round trip from nearby Ambleside, taking in the steep ascent to Wandsfel Pike. We wander lonely as clouds past crashing waterfalls and over the snow-tipped peak with a real sense of achievement as we look out over breath-taking views of unbroken hills to the north and down on the full expanse of Lake Windermere to the south.
With appetites firmly worked up we take in lunch at one of the Waterhead’s sister hotels: The Wild Boar – around 5 miles away and close to Bowness and Windermere town.
The Wild Boar lacks the stunning views of the Waterhead but it compensates with a charming, quintessential country bar and its own smokehouse - where guests can take courses in smoking a variety of foods including chicken, salmon, sausages and cheese.
Head Chef Miroslav Likus makes full use of both the unique flavours generated in the smokehouse and the abundance of local produce to offer a mouth-watering seasonal menu.
Fans of real ales will also find plenty to enjoy – courtesy of the on-site micro-brewery.
We curl up by the open fire and enjoy a deli board which gives us a tasty intro to the delights of the Wild Boar’s smokehouse. The platter is a refreshing break from the usual country pub fare and includes ox-tongue and peppered wild boar, with the smoked salmon a real winner.
A generous plate of grilled sardines - served up with garlicky Provencal sauce and perched on crunchy toast sets us up perfectly to enjoy a fillet steak which showcases the Wild Boar’s signature smoky flavours to perfection.
Back at the Waterhead we return to the bar to watch the sun slink down over Windermere for a final time before grabbing a DVD from reception (the hotel wisely caters for the Lake District’s changeable weather).
The Waterhead comes with an enviable reputation and it’s easy to see why: informal but luxurious with plenty of cute quirks and meticulous attention to detail. It’s the perfect base to enjoy the great British countryside by day before relaxing, unwinding and indulging in the evening. I’d heartily recommend it as the perfect antidote to the hustle and bustle of city life.