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Birch has been one of the most talked about hotel openings this year – and the clue is very much not in the title. Also known as Birch Community, it prides itself on being something of an “anti-hotel”. The vibe is more like a festival, with pottery and soda bread-making classes, wild yoga and glass-blowing. You can become a member, too, to make use of all the facilities – a great idea if you are local.
Just half an hour out of London’s Liverpool Street station, the Grade II-listed Georgian mansion in Cheshunt, Hertfordshire, is very imposing.
The hallway has been beautifully renovated and is easily one of the most Instagrammed shots of the place.
But the pomp stops there – from here on the vibe is laid-back and informal with no-uniform staff.
Check-in is done online before you arrive so no need to wait in a queue – a quick hello and here’s your key.
And everything is pay as you go, so there are no unexpected bills at the end.
An old de Vere hotel owned by the eccentric Lady Meux, it has been sustainably renovated and upcycled.
Rather than ripping out perfectly good (if slightly dated) bathroom suites, in our room they painted the surrounding tiles in powder-pink and cream, and toiletries are in refillable bottles.
Where stair carpets have been pulled up, you can still see the remnants of the adhesive.
And instead of replacing cracked tiled floors, they’ve used the Japanese art of kintsugi or “golden joinery” to fill the gaps.
There are no televisions or mini bars in the rooms – with the aim that you will go and explore the grounds, chill out in the bar or library and talk to people.
Which is exactly what we did.
With 140 rooms, a Wellness Space, and 55 acres to walk around, there will be plenty to keep you occupied.
There’s also a farm, art rooms and a cinema for rainy afternoons.
We took part in a soda bread-making class held in Birch’s bakery. The smells were divine as we kneaded our dough to the backdrop of bakers making incredible sourdough breads and totally calorific but moreish cheese and Marmite pastries.
We had one at breakfast the next day and can confirm they were heavenly.
There are two restaurants and three bars here. When we visited only one bar was open due to staff being furloughed, but we didn’t feel short-changed at all, as you can take your drinks anywhere.
It’s a nice touch that the restaurants – Valeries and The Zebra Riding Club – are a nod to Lady Meux.
The aristocrat, who was painted by Whistler, reportedly rode through Mayfair in a zebra-drawn carriage, and the old stables are now home to a restaurant that is really making its mark.
We tried the vegetarian tasting menu which, at £48, gives you so much choice and flavour.The constant stream of dishes – from blue meat radish to flamed beetroot, courgette tartlets to a heritage grains soup topped with an egg from their rescue hens – were a delight to the eye and tasted sublime.
The restaurants are run by Irish chef Robin Gill, known for his farm-to-table cooking at restaurants in London.
You can see the vegetable patches on the approach to the riding club as well as said rescued hens and the ever-so-cute family of saddleback pigs.
We spent ages watching them snuffle in their patch, oinking happily together.
After so much troughing ourselves, it was time to work it off.
We wandered around the grounds exploring, looking at the site of what will be the lido due to open next year. Set in a huge walled garden, it will be a brilliant addition here.
We also tried a Flow 60 class in the Wellness Space. An hour of stretching and breathing really set me up for the day.
We could have easily stayed on another night – Birch has a special weekend package; stay two nights and you get one free – but reality was calling.
The founders already have their sights on another property south of London – I will be first in the queue…
A stay at Birch starts at £150 per night.
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