Staying at Middle-thorpe Hall, I was constantly reminded of the words of Henry James that there is nothing the English have so completely mastered in all its aspects as the well-ordered, well-run country house. Richard Broyd has spent more than 20 years perfecting Middlethorpe, and, more than any hotelier in Britain, he understands and relishes every element of country-house life: fine architecture, elegant interiors, tempting food and wines that delight at the first sip. With this comes an eye for proper gravel drives, imaginative gardens and velvet parkland.
No less important is a sense of the changing seasons. At Middlethorpe, even on a dull November day, there was still abundant colour in the garden, and the roses, which are at their most gorgeous in summer, were still in flower. The walled garden, overlooked by a dovecote, is a miniature version of fabulous Villandry beside the River Loire, divided into com-partments by pergolas and espaliered apples. Walls and hedges create a series of enchanting garden rooms.
An imposing warm-red brick pile built in 1699, Middlethorpe is arguably the very best vintage for the English country house. Panelled rooms of splendid proportions, lit by tall sash windows, offer lovely views over the gardens, and, to the north, a grand formal avenue. Theres an abundance of pretty, colourful fabrics, and the portraits and marble fireplaces would repay a guided tour, although most will settle for relaxing in one of the many armchairs and sofas.
Determinedly English, Mr Broyd has always pointedly offered a bill of fare, not a menu. After a sea-bass taster topped with sevruga, we began with breast of woodpigeon and cold fillet of salmon, followed by loin of Yorkshire fallow deer washed down by an excellent house claret. The pistachio crème brûlée came with a succulent Canadian Eiswein.
Middlethorpe stands close to York racecourse, an easy 10-minute drive into the city, where ancient streets are filled with good shops and wonderful sights, such as the Minster, Lord Burlingtons Assembly Rooms, Fairfax House and the National Railway Museum. Driving south from the hotel, youre quickly in open country or on the outer ring with its fast connections to motorways. Castle Howard and Beverly Minster make wonderful excursions. Selby Abbey and Harewood are still closer.
Whenever we returned, the hall porter opened the door like a butler, instantly providing umbrellas and boots when we wanted to walk down to the lake. Mr Broyds hotels have spas, but if you want one of the many therapies on offer, its best to book ahead.
For further details, telephone 01904 641241l or visit www.middlethorpe.com
How to get there: The hall is 1½ miles south of York, where you can catch fast connections to, among others, Kings Cross, London (1 hour, 50 minutes) and Edinburgh (2 hours, 30 minutes). The nearest airport (25 miles away) is Leeds/Bradford.
Shopping: Yorks historic streets still do a busy trade and you can grab souvenirs in areas such as The Shambles. Newgate market, the heart of the city since the Middle Ages, boasts some 110 stalls within Europes largest single pedestrianised area.
Attractions: Fairfax House (01904 655543; www.fairfaxhouse.co.uk) is one of the most distinguished Georgian town houses in the country, famous for its set pieces of 18th-century life. The beautiful Cistercian ruins at Fountains Abbey (01765 608888; www.fountainsabbey.org.uk) date from 1132.
Events: Concerts are regularly held at the 800-year-old York Minster (01904 557216; www.yorkminster.org), the largest Gothic cathedral in northern Europe. Fans of the stage should head to the York Theatre Royal (www.yorktheatreroyal.co.uk; 01904 623568), and the Harrogate Flower Shows (01423 561049 or www.flowershow.org.uk) should please the gardeners.
Walking: Take some sea air, and some fresh fish and chips, when strolling around the picturesque fishing port of Whitby, 47 miles from York. Or take a ride on a steam train with the North Yorkshire Moors Railway (01751 472508; www.nymr.co.uk)
Eating: The Appletree inn in Marton won The Good Pub Guides Yorkshire dining pub of the year (01751 431457; www.appletreeinn.co.uk). And dont forget Bettys Tearooms in Harrogate, York and Ilkley (01904 659142; www.bettys.co.uk).