Lakeside Hotel & Spa, Windermere
Windermere is known for its tourist hustle and bustle in the towns of Windermere, Bowness and Ambleside. However, Britain’s largest natural lake is tranquil at its southern end, yet only twenty minutes from the M6. The scenery may be less dramatic than that of the mountainous north, but it remains breathtaking. On this southern shore you’ll find the Lakeside Hotel and Spa.
This was originally a seventeenth-century coaching inn and it’s origins can be seen in the oak lined Panel Bar. Much extended as trade and tourism boomed, today the Lakeside is a luxury hotel with 75 individually designed bedrooms, including seven suites. A photogenic, rambling building of cream stucco and lakeland slate, it overlooks nothing but the lake. There are bars, restaurants, a library, a spa, an airy conservatory and, best of all, a garden dipping down to the shoreline.
We arrived at Lakeside for a weekend stay. Our double room had a stunning view to the opposite lakeshore, dominated by the mountain called Gummers How. The room was decorated to a high standard in country-house style. Lakeside employ an interior designer and it shows, with rich fabrics adding luxurious touches to a large bedroom and en-suite bathroom.
Every bedroom is different, but all are of the same high quality, blending the traditional and modern. Some have a view of the hills rather than the lake, others have private patios.
The first and lasting impression of Lakeside is attention to detail. This is because the hotel remains privately owned, without corporate branded sameness. Many of the staff are local and all are well trained. They are a model of discreet yet friendly service, making guests feel special and at ease.
Having unpacked, it was time for a drink. Would it be a local real ale in the bar, afternoon tea in the conservatory or a Pimm’s outside? All were tempting but, as the sun was shining in an azure sky, there was no contest. On the lawn we watched swallows and amazons sailing.
The conservatory is the focal point of the Lakeside, giving access to the rest of the facilities. There you can take coffee, lunch or afternoon tea or just sip drinks. This was added in 1990, though its design is elegantly Victorian. Opening onto the garden, it has commanding views, comfortable colonial style seating and immaculately tended indoor plants. This became my favourite spot.
Then there is the exclusive spa, pool and gym. The pool is seventeen metres long, with jacuzzi, sauna and steam rooms attached. This is a peaceful setting and is reassuringly spotless. With a host of high quality treatments and massages available, Lakeside also offers spa days for those in need of a little extra pampering.
Dining should be a special part of any hotel break and the Lakeside excels. It boasts two excellent yet contrasting restaurants; the modern and informal John Ruskin’s Brasserie and the more traditional Lakeside Restaurant. It was easy to spend both nights dining at the Lakeside and compare them.
On our first night we chose John Ruskin’s Brasserie – a modern, informal dining room. The menu ranges from lighter bites to full three courses. With wood, white paint and walls of blue slate, there is a hum of conversation and relaxing atmosphere. As part of this there is also a private dining room called the Spice Room that contains the most magnificent glass chandelier.
We were first served homemade ciabatta with an olive oil dip. Then my starter of English pea velouté with crab salad featured intense yet delicate flavours. My partner meanwhile found tempura Calamari irresistible, strips of squid coated in a light batter with a mint and chili dip. Both were matched with glasses of Pio Cesare’s Gavi. The tour-de-force were magnificent Galloway sirloin steaks, served juicy and rare. Marbled perfection, they achieved a melting texture not easily found this far from Smithfield. These were superbly accompanied by a longstanding favourite; Chianti Colli Senesi 2008 by Riccardo Falchini is an elegant structured red.
Time for desserts. Vanilla panacotta was served with poached apricot. A Lemon Tart had superb light pastry topped with almond foam. Both could handle a glass of dessert wine and an orange-coloured Tokay Aszú had sweet smoky fruit that went well with both. Lingering over coffee on this balmy summer night, a spectacular sunset gave way to twinkling lights entwined around the branches of the trees in the garden.
This experience set high expectations for the Lakeside restaurant the following evening, which lived up to its two rosette standard. A couple of dishes wouldn’t be out of place at nearby two Michelin-starred L’Enclume. The style is modern British, featuring local Cumbrian produce. There is plenty of choice from a la carte and fixed price menu’s.
The wine list is an enthusiast’s joy, with interest at all levels and reasonable markups. It is particularly good at Rhône wines.
We mulled over the menu and the wine list in the conservatory before being led to the Lakeland dining room. This is oak-paneled, with rich gold, green and plum fabrics and furnishings. There was a Candlelit ambience.
First, a wide selection of breads were served, with so much choice they needed their own trolley. Then we chose a starter of golden sautéed girolles and tofu, the delicate savoury flavours set off by samphire and an exclamation mark of pea purée. A glass of Ramos Pinto Duas Quintas branco worked well with this sensational dish.
For mains, Cumbrian lamb loin was served pink with choucroute and a piquant redcurrant sauce. My partner relished the duck confit, which came with cassoulet and cubes of quince paste. Both dishes had excellent flavour and careful presentation. A New Zealand Pinot Noir, by Kate Radburnd, had balance, violet perfume, silky mouthfeel and red berry fruit undercut with autumnal notes.
Desserts do seem to be a Lakeside speciality; a baked vanilla cheesecake was soft and luscious with its delicious bilberry compote. However the star turn was a mousse of Michel Cluizel dark chocolate, surrounded by a chocolate sauce that contained sea salt and butterscotch. Bravo!
Dining verdict? Lakeside provides a great choice in dining that can match your mood and appetite. The Lakeside restaurant cuisine is special, but so too is the ambience in Ruskin’s Brasserie – so plan on trying both if you can.
Breakfast is often overlooked in reviews, but these are special too. Eggs Benedict, Manx kippers and Cumberland sausage are just some of the choices that will set you up for the day.
Tearing yourself away from this hotel is difficult and hardly necessary for a weekend break. However, the marvelous location means that there are plenty of activities with access from the doorstep. These include regular boat trips to Bowness and Ambleside and various lake cruises. There are also plenty of good walks directly from the hotel on National Trust land.
One excursion is to take a short ferry-ride to the delightful Fell Foot Park on the opposite shore. From there you can ascend Gummers How. At just over 1,000 feet, it isn’t a mighty peak but the 360° degree view from the top vies for the finest in all Lakeland. The Langdale Pikes and Skiddaw rise majestically to the north, there is a birds-eye view of the Lakeside hotel and Windermere directly below, with Morecambe Bay to the south. Blackpool Tower can be seen, over 35 miles away.
Alternatively, take a boat or jet-ski, go fishing or ride the steam train south courtesy of the Lakeside and Haverthwaite railway. On wet days, the Aquarium opposite the hotel is great for adults and children. There is a wealth of country houses and the picturesque shopping village of Hawkshead nearby.
Over the years Lakeside has received many awards. These include Condé Nast Johansens “Most Excellent Waterside Hotel Award” and “Best large hotel in the Lake District.” There are themed events and offers in every season. There’s a conference centre opposite the main hotel for lucky business people too.
Lakeside is a luxurious treat and warmly recommended. We thought we already knew Windermere, but Lakeside made us think again.
Postscript: We’ve been back since on a number of occasions and it’s always a treat!