Mariah Carey, Madonna and Michael Caine have all stayed at upmarket Lainston House. So a trip to sample the Christmas market in the nearby cathedral city of Winchester while staying in this simply exquisite country hotel was too good for HELLO! to turn down.
After a long journey from London the sweeping driveway at the entrance to the 5* hotel was a welcome sight and a roaring fire welcomed us into the lobby, where a selection of Hunter wellies were on offer for anyone to borrow.
It's easy to see why this place is a bit of a celebrity hotspot. Our beautiful suite was filled with two gigantic double beds, a bathroom the size of a small country (complete with claw-footed bathtub, which was just blissful) and beautiful peaceful views. Lunch was served in the downstairs bar, surrounded by antique books, before we rushed off to the centre of Winchester to visit the breathtaking cathedral and see the Christmas market.
Ice-skating was first on the agenda, and we whirled and twirled on the ice – pushing along some penguin-style helpers to aid our balance – before dusting ourselves off and spending a lovely evening wandering through the pretty Christmas market, sampling toasted marshmallows, hot chocolate, doughnuts and hotdogs while browsing through the gorgeously twinkly stalls selling all manner of goods, including hand-crafted traditional wooden games, original artwork, tweed hats and jackets, tiny fairy dolls and cute household knick-knacks.
From the winter market, it was a short drive to the traditional Plough Inn, only a few miles away from Lainston House. The food was delicious.
It was then back to the hotel for hot drinks in the bar, where a lovely pianist serenaded us with some traditional tunes. We almost ran back to our room to see the results of the turndown service provided by the hotel, sinking into an exhausted sleep in the softest of beds in one of the most peaceful rooms we have ever slept in.
Morning brought with it a long bubble bath – Lainston House even provided us with a rubber duck – before we indulged in a leisurely breakfast in the dining room.
Sad as we were to leave the gorgeous Lainston House without indulging in their myriad of attractions including falconry, fishing and cycling through the magnificent acres of grounds – one thought cheered us up as we drove back to London: the fact that we would once again be cruising along in the Volvo XC90 R-Design we were test driving for the journey.
This model is more like a comfortable living room on (gigantic) wheels than a car, with its heated seats, lumbar support for the back, and spacious boot. The seven seater’s incredible gadgetry, including three versions of our absolute essential tool, the satnav, was amazing. We were spellbound by the iPad-style computer at the front of the car which was the centre of the controls.
We don't know what we were most excited about… our stay at Lainston House, the Christmas markets – or the Volvo.