Not one to suffer the seasonal blues, I believe the key to contentment during this sometimes dispiriting time of year, is planning, going that extra mile to ensure that January to March is never left blank on the calendar.
An overnight trip to Horwood House was our first foray of 2022 and with the bonus of not needing a dog-sitter, off we popped with the pooch down the M1 to rural Buckinghamshire.
A few miles from Milton Keynes, Grade-II-listed Horwood House is nestled deep in the countryside and is nearing the end of a major £6 million revamp, and I was intrigued to see how the hotel had managed to blend its rich heritage with a fresh modern look.
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First impressions were positive, with the archway entrance and long drive up to the hidden property providing a feeling of grandeur that only large country manors can do.
Combining history with comfort is Horwood's aim and from walking into reception the aroma of newness was lingering. Welcomed by a friendly receptionist, we happily chatted as she checked us in and escorted us to our room, which is not something you always get in hotels.
There are 165 rooms in total ranging from cosy classics to expansive suites, giving you an idea of the hotel's size. Our room was one of the dog-friendly options conveniently located on the ground floor near an exit, which was perfect for nipping outside when needed.
We needn't have brought the dog bed as there was one already waiting for our four-legged friend, with complementary chew stick, which was a pleasant surprise.
For guests of the human variety there is everything that you need for a comfortable stay, including an en-suite bathroom, extra-large bed, tea and coffee making facilities, a safe and complimentary high-speed Wi-Fi.
Dining options at the trendy new Harry's Bar & Kitchen, named after Horwood's original head gardener and father of famous horticulturist Percy Thrower, celebrate British modern cuisine, putting the spotlight on locally sourced ingredients.
Tucked away in a corner, but still able to soak up the restaurant's bustling atmosphere, we were happy that the dog was settled as we perused the menu.
For starter I went for 'The Denny', a delightful dish of pork and apricot croquette served with apricot ketchup and garden apple relish, while my wife opted for salt and pepper squid. Main courses for both was the easy choice of char-grilled 8oz aged sirloin with chips, which was so rare and succulent it melted in the mouth. And as all good steaks should be, it was complemented with a nice bottle of Merlot.
Sleep certainly wasn't an issue at bedtime and the following morning I was glad of the early wake-up call as I stepped outside to a glorious sunrise with the glistening frost-covered fields a picture of beauty behind the hotel.
In fact, the whole grounds are stunning and after a light buffet breakfast I'd have regretted going home having not taken a stroll through the 'Secret Garden', where there is a large lily pond and fountain protected by rows of perfectly-manicured hedges.
With plenty of time to kill before the scheduled afternoon tea we ventured further, also discovering the hotel's impressive wedding pavilion, full-size tennis courts and the welcoming sight of snowdrops sprouting underneath the trees.
Leisure is often high on the agenda for Horwood visitors, with the hotel's 'H Spa' a popular new attraction thanks to its ultra-modern 15-metre swimming pool with heated beds, plus sauna, steam room and deluxe treatment rooms for those who need a bit of pampering. There's also a fully-equipped gym with exercise classes on offer, including pilates and boxercise.
Back at Harry's, afternoon tea was to be the icing on the 'cake' of our stay as we indulged in the sweet and savoury delights of dainty finger sandwiches, warm scones and a generous selection of dessert bites, and the obligatory pot or two of English Breakfast.
Feeling full, but relaxed and rejuvenated, we left Horwood House warmed by its charm, beauty and super-friendly service. The verdict, a truly pleasant winter stay.
Horwood House - Mursley Road, Little Horwood, Buckinghamshire, MK17 0PH
Website - https://www.horwoodhouse.co.uk
Telephone - 01296 722100, email [email protected]
Prices start from £179 per night, based on double occupancy