The moment you cross the threshold of this imposing townhouse (a former medieval posting inn), you feel like you’re in safe hands. With a buzzing clientele and finely tuned interior design, The Grosvenor Arms is easily the chicest resident in the historic Dorset town of Shaftesbury and yet it manages to retain an easy-going, friendly air. Even the check-in process is reassuring – instead of a desk, there’s a cosy sitting room where you can leave your luggage before being welcomed in by a member of the team. The public areas, including the bar, conservatory and restaurant, are sleek in an understated kind of way and the bedrooms are enormous and very well serviced. Add to this the food for which The Grosvenor Arms is rightly famed, and you have yourself a formula for a laid-back and wonderfully indulgent weekend break.
The Grosvenor Arms is located in a townhouse in the centre of Shaftesbury
The Grosvenor Arms has 16 rooms and the suites on the top floor are definitely worth the legwork. Ours overlooked the courtyard on the inside of the hotel, with a picturesque roof-top balcony.
The rooms are definitely designed with comfort in mind and every aspect of them seems to coax you to relax. Take the giant, pillow-laden bed or the wonderfully lazy flat-screen TV that overlooks the free-standing bath, so you can watch a film seamlessly from bed to bath, and back to bed again. In the bathroom, there’s a rainforest shower laden with cute toiletries from Orla Keily and an abundance of white, fluffy towels and robes.
The rooms (above and below) come with a full complement of creature comforts
Mod cons are all ticked off, including an iPod dock and free WiFi. Perhaps the best feature is the Tassimo coffee machine, which whips up delicious-smelling coffee strong enough to put several springs in your step each and every morning. For a night cap, give the Suchard hot chocolate discs a whirl – you won’t regret it.
For the full romance effect, book into the Cranborne Suite, which comes with its own working fireplace.
Food and drink
The Grosvenor Arms' courtyard is a lovely space, come summer
First things first; the breakfast here is immense. Make sure your appetite is wide awake and raring to go for creamy Eggs Benedict served with oodles of Hollandaise sauce. Not a fan? The full English will also do you nicely and you’ll work it all off later wandering round the town. With an open kitchen and potted plants here and there, the restaurant is nicely laid-out for whiling away an hour or so in the morning. Grab one of the tables overlooking the courtyard for the ultimate spot to mull through the papers over a freshly squeezed orange juice and pot of Earl Grey (the courtyard is also a great place for eating in during warmer months).
Pizza for two, anyone?
The Grosvenor Arms prides itself on its fine, seasonal dishes and locally sourced food is very much on the agenda here. It pulls in a steady stream of visitors at all times thanks to the fact that its bar, courtyard and deli stay open all day – something that’s good to know when you’ve just traipsed in from a five-mile walk in the surrounding countryside. It’s also worth noting that the hotel is a dog-friendly and it even will serve up a dog food menu on request.
But the human side of things is equally rewarding, especially with head chef Neil Duffett, a protégé of Alex Aitken at Michelin-starred Le Poussin, at the helm. We tucked into wood roasted whole sea bass with a smattering of fennel and lemon and seafood linguine with baby squid and artichoke - beautifully complemented by a glass of crisp Riesling. The Grosvenor Arms’ signature burger, with Dorset beef and Montgomery Cheddar, is a monster of a dish and worth every last chunky chip it comes with. For a sharing platter, try the Poole Bay cockles, imaginatively fused with pancetta and Luscombe Devon cider. The rustic and delicious wood-fired pizzas are a must-try as well, but make sure you leave room for desserts; the vanilla panna cotta with strawberries and basil is not an option you’d want to miss.
Out and about
Shaftesbury's iconic Gold Hill
The hotel is right in the heart of Shaftesbury, so you have no excuse not to explore this scenic hilltop town. Drink in some beautiful views of the Blackmore Vale from the world-famous Gold Hill, a cobbled street dating back to the Saxon era and lined with postcard-perfect cottages. The regal Park Walk is another great place to survey the Dorset skyline. But if you want to experience the countryside rather than just admire it from afar, the town has plenty of hour-long circuits which will take you about and about, and back in again. It’s part of the appeal of this place that you can simply pull on a pair of wellies and get out into the open country before retreating back for a well-deserved pint in town.
The view from Park Walk
Shaftesbury’s high street is a rather wonderful place, stocked with a healthy supply of second hand book stores, charity shops, bakeries and one-off gift shops. Reeve the Baker is a lovely pit-stop for freshly baked cheese straws and sweet treats and the Oxfam book shop promises a veritable trove of treasures.
Elsewhere, the Shaftesbury Cathedral and Arts Centre are places to pop on your hit list or else the historic cities of Bath and Salisbury are both within easy driving distance, as is the Dorset coast.
Getting there and away
Trains run every hour from London Waterloo to the nearby town of Gillingham. Tickets cost around £38 for a return and the journey takes just under two hours. From Gillingham you can catch a bus or take a taxi to Shaftesbury – it’s around a 7-kilometre journey. If you drive to the hotel, you will need to get a permit from reception to park in town as there is no car park. Check-in starts from 3pm and check-out is at 11am but these times are flexible and can be negotiated with the team.