A mere decade ago, the Benedictine nuns of Stanbrook Abbey were wearing grooves into the floor of their chapel as they knelt to pray, as they had since the 19th century. Then, seeking further peace and seclusion, the nuns relocated to Waas in North Yorkshire. Once the Pope had agreed to deconsecrate Stanbrook Abbey it was transformed into a luxurious country hotel.
Now it’s a graceful, serene retreat with an aura of spirituality, a hymn of praise to the 19th century revival of Gothic architecture. After a £4.2 million renovation project, lovingly managed by Hand Picked Hotels, Stanbrook Abbey is looking better than it ever has.
The drive meanders past a paddock, home to Jacobs sheep, leading you to ample parking to the left of the grandiose facade. You pass through a tall, light filled contemporary addition to reception. The New Classic extension softens the lines of an Abbey, whose architecture has hints of Westminster’s Houses of Parliament.
With just 70 rooms Stanbrook Abbey Hotel staff have time to welcome its guests, to make them feel at home.
It’s no surprise to find that within this rambling red-brick and cream stonework Abbey, rooms are individually quirky and vary considerably in size. The newly added feature rooms are named after the architects and craftsmen who contributed to the Abbey’s glory: Ashlin, Boulton, Pugin and Thompson.
Staying in the Boulton room, black-and-white photographs show the intricate skills of the master stonemason at both Stanbrook Abbey and Worcester Cathedral. Original beams and stained glass windows feature in what was once part of the calefactory, the warming room. As it was the only heated room in the Abbey, nuns gathered there on cold days.
Discretely, the touch button heating is super responsive and the motion sensitive low level lighting is a night-time boon.
Inevitably bathroom sizes vary too. Taking a bath in a Stanbrook Rose Superior Suite, with its exposed brickwork, vaulted ceiling and stained glass rose window is like bathing in a cathedral.
A separate shower and deep, large bath – with Victorian style taps, featured in the Boulton’s well-lit bathroom. A night-light, constantly on, is a thoughtful addition.
Who needs a gym when you’ve got 145 steps, in a spiralling stairway, to the top of the 100 foot Bell Tower?
With 26 acres of Worcestershire countryside, including a lavender garden and willow-draped lake this is a place for quiet contemplative walks. It is a haven for meditation, following The Abbey Trail, for detoxing from frenetic life: a romantic retreat for blissful breaks.
Formerly a refectory for nuns to say Grace before they sat for a frugal and simple meal, The Refectory is now a warm aubergine and chocolate welcoming long restaurant. Biblical readings from the oak pulpit have been updated to a soothing soundtrack of Sade and Simone.
David Humphreys, Head Chef, creates a menu that focuses on the taste and contribution of every ingredient. Pickled pear, so typical of Worcestershire, and local heritage beetroot complement a dreamily smooth and creamy Whipped White Lakewood Drift goats cheese. Similarly the wood pigeon comes with local chicory and rhubarb.
In bygone day’s the nuns might have been familiar with duck, they wouldn’t have been lucky enough to have a tasty double hit: a succulent plump breast contrasting with a flaky confit leg served with red cabbage purée and sprouting broccoli. Nuns would have celebrated Friday with a fish dish but Humphreys has two options on the menu. There’s haddock simply served with chips and mushy peas or lemon sole.
Puds range from traditional treacle tart and clotted cream, through the deliciously decadent dark chocolate and orange parfait to a healthy carpaccio of pineapple with star of anise. There’s a connoisseur’s collection of English cheeses on offer too, served with home made chutney, plum jelly, balsamic onions, crackers and grapes.
Ideally located just a few miles from Junction 7 of the M5 and short taxi rides from Great Malvern and Worcester railway stations there’s easy access. Day-trips to The Elgar Route, Worcester, Royal Worcester Porcelain, Regency Cheltenham and the Cotswolds are all within easy reach.
The nearby Malvern hills provide spectacular walking terrain with the pretty town of Malvern sat at the foot of the hills.
Other nice touches
Look out for the woodwork of Robert “Mousemen” Thompson who incorporated mice into his carvings.
Take the lift down to the basement not just to view the wine cellar but also the nuns’ carefully preserved bakery with original bread ovens.
The basement is also home to the Games Room and Snooker Room.
Prices for a night begin from £149 for a double room with breakfast included.
The best bit
Stanbrook Abbey Hotel, a Grade 2 Listed building, is a magnificent slice of English history, a calming and luxurious retreat from the frenetic 21st Century. A grand creation to the glory of God that recalls quieter and simpler times when people found peace, serenity and tranquility in the world around them.
Disclosure: Our stay was courtesy of Hand Picked Hotels.