Armour, topiary and heirlooms are part of the furniture at England's stately homes. Epic, sweeping and perfectly preserved, it's impossible to understand the scope of Britain without witnessing its countryside and regal heritage. Stately homes – created for and resided in by the aristocracy – were designed for receiving the noblest guests, and now they come adorned with state-of-the-art spas, golf courses and fine dining restaurants, too. There's nothing quite like indulging in country food and fine wines by an open fire as the wind whistles outside and frost ices the grass.
Finches tweet from frosted branches and swans float downstream, past the moat and porticoed entryway; stepping inside Amberley Castle is like trespassing into the realm of Guinevere and Sir Lancelot. Trellised windows gaze upon stone turrets that have stood strong for near-on a thousand years, Mediaeval moats and topiary gardens. The joy of sleeping in history is that interiors are adapted to the architecture – ours forged an oversized bathroom with jacuzzi, open fireplace and access to the 14th century Tower. Reason to visit alone is Amberley's Relais and Chateaux restaurants to dine on the finest castle cuisine surrounded by the ancient splendour of suits of armour, open fires and Norman architecture. Situated next to Arundel, the antiques capital of the U.K., Amberley Castle has been everything from summer palace to royalist stronghold and hunting lodge, welcoming everyone from Elizabeth I to Charles II and Henry VIII... And now you.
Near Arundel, West Sussex, http://www.amberleycastle.co.uk/
Cliveden is among the most renowned private residences in the world - the name alone is synonymous with grandeur, history and power. Queen Victoria was famously 'not amused' at the decision by the Duke of Westminster to sell this Grade I listed jewel to the Astor family. Knowing that every British monarch since George I has visited alongside showmen such as Charlie Chaplin, Winston Churchill, George Bernard-Shaw and President Roosevelt assures of being in the finest company – rooms encompassing sunken bathtubs, rare paintings, libraries and dressing rooms are named after Cliveden's famous visitors. Multi award-winning Andre Garrett now helms the restaurant here making Cliveden and the surrounding villages in this little pocket of Berkshire a Mecca on the gastrotourism map, with what must surely hold the highest Michelin star-to-restaurant ratio of anywhere in the world.
Taplow, Berkshire, http://www.clivedenhouse.co.uk/
Cruise the grand, Gatsby-esque driveway to the ethereal white mansion of Stoke Park, former seat of the Penn family, founders of Pennsylvania, traverse its stone steps and pass the porticoed entryway and Doric columns and it's all gigantic crystal chandeliers and priceless antiques where staff stand on ceremony and a bath butler is available to curate your welcome soak. The light of the open fire glints reflections off the gleaming silverware and lights the faces of the hallowed ancestors of visitors – from William and Mary to King Charles I – of this aristocratic retreat. Days spent strolling the Capability Brown-designed gardens unveil endless secrets – from the Doomsday Book-listed churchyard to the Harry Shapland-Colt designed golf course hidden around the 350 acre estate. If all that exploring's left you yearning for some R&R, the golf buggy awaits to whisk you to the multi-accolade-winning SPC Spa.
Stoke Poges, Buckinghamshire, http://www.stokepark.com/
Make sure to book a State room at the Mansion House here – that's what the Queen did during her honeymoon year, returning with the Duke of Edinburgh to celebrate anniversaries ever since. The gleam of heirloom silver and goldware refracts off gravity-defying crystal chandeliers. Service is so subtle it's practically invisible: achieving the seemingly alchemical feat of being utterly discreet while predicting and meeting your every need. The symmetrically genii of the topiary looks delightfully manicured against the rugged, ancient trees so symbolic of the English countryside. Luton Hoo presents the true stately experience via one thousand acres of parkland, rivers, lakes and nature trails beyond the Capability Brown-designed formal gardens (and if you miss London for one second there's a fleet of customised Hanson Cabs to ferry guests around the estate).
Luton Hoo, Bedfordshire, http://www.lutonhoo.co.uk/