From nunnery to luxury hotelPosted on: 21 May 2019 by Michael Edwards
Once Stanbrook Abbey was a grand 19th Century nunnery. Michael Edwards visits Stanbrook Abbey Hotel, now a luxurious rural escape in Worcestershire.
The long drive splits to circle a paddock of grazing Jacob sheep, then you see the breath-taking grandeur that is Stanbrook Abbey Hotel. There’s a touch of Westminster’s Houses of Parliament to the red-brick facade and the tall Gothic Revival pointed arches.
Though a striking contemporary extension, with soaring stone pillars and huge glass windows, is a clue that the nuns left in 2009 for quieter North Yorkshire. The fact that this towering light-filled extension is a bar is an even bigger hint that this beautiful site is no longer home to an austere nunnery.
Gone are the days when up to 188 nuns followed vows of chastity, obedience and poverty. Now, after two years of careful and respectful refurbishment by Hand Picked Hotels, Stanbrook Abbey is probably looking better than ever. In total, £4.2m of investment has brought light and a new purpose to this grand old building.
Feature bedrooms on the second floor, with their original timber beams and stained glass windows, celebrate the craftsmen who laboured for years: artisan stonemasons who carved intricate ecclesiastical patterns, carpenters who whimsically carved mice into the pulpit and the architects whose vision created a 19th Century masterpiece.
Somehow - even though there are deep pile carpets, immediately responsive push-button climate control, flat-screen televisions with USB connections and wide welcoming beds - Stanbrook Abbey Hotel preserves the essence of its historic past. It oozes calm contemplative tranquility.
Undoubtedly the extensive grounds contribute to the spiritual aura. Although it is just a five minute drive to the M5 this is a 26 acre rural oasis. Walk through the Lavender Garden, along the Abbey Trail, to find a lake draped with willow branches. If you are feeling fit, ask reception for a key to the Bell Tower. Climb 145 spiralling steps to look across the mature estate to the fresh-air walking trails cross-crossing the Malvern Hills. The ascent is as good as a gym workout but Hand Picked Hotels have plans to install a gym soon.
Once you’ve enjoyed the grounds and checked out the preserved nuns’ bakery in the basement - alongside the Hotel’s wine cellar and Games Room - there’s plenty to explore. Stanbrook Abbey Hotel is well-placed for visits to Regency Cheltenham, The Cotswolds and Worcester itself.
If you book into The Refectory for dinner don’t worry. The days of the nuns’ simple sparse diet of bread and thin soups are long gone. David Humphrey’s Modern British menu makes the most of local seasonal produce, not too many food miles travelled here.
It is an inventive menu that creates intense British flavours: caramelised apples, corn-fed chicken, English cheeses, Gressingham duck, poached rhubarb, a fruity chutney, rhubarb and gin sorbet, scallops, seasonal wild mushrooms, succulent steaks and Welsh lamb.
Humphrey is a chef who focuses on individual flavours, making sure that every ingredient plays out its assigned role. Days of a frugal bowl of porridge for breakfast are history too. Guests can order a freshly cooked full English breakfast or help themselves from an extensive buffet.
Usually we make a fleeting visit to an abbey, church or cathedral to appreciate its architectural grandeur. Pausing for a few minutes to view cloisters and stained -lass windows. But staying at Stanbrook Abbey Hotel you live amongst such splendour for a few days. Walking to breakfast through the cloisters, seeing the sun-setting behind the stained-glass windows, browsing through the books in the library there is an evocative sense of history in the air.
For more information about Stanbrook Abbey Hotel visit HandpickedHotels.co.uk/stanbrookabbey
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