Laura Ashley has styled my world since I was a teenager.
In the Seventies, my favourite summer smocks were from her flower-sprigged collection and, a decade later, I almost went down the aisle barefoot in a creamy cotton shepherdess dress from her bridal range.
Ever since I turned my first home into a testament to chintz with her wonderful floral fabrics and wallpapers, her house and home catalogues have been my bibles. In fact, I still have a stash of them dating back 25 years.
So, imagine my joy on discovering my favourite British destination for a weekend in the great outdoors now boasts an indoor retreat straight out of the pages of one of those interior magazines.
The beloved British brand has gone into the hotel business, partnering with Corus Hotels, owners of the Belsfield, a former Victorian Italianate mansion which sits regally above majestic Lake Windermere and has unrivalled views over to the Langdale Pikes and Fairfield Horseshoe.
After a multi-million pound refurb conducted by Laura Ashley’s interior design stylists, the luxury Grade II listed boutique hotel opened in July.
We drove up on a Friday night after work, arriving in the pitch black, the glamorous, glowing, all-glass showstopper of a reception, a beckoning beacon of warmth.
The trip to our room, one of 62, each filled with the brand’s finest furniture, fabrics, ornaments and mirrors right down to the last twinkling tealight, as is every corridor, sitting room and dining room, was like stepping into one huge advert. Had there been an online catalogue in the foyer, I’d have gone on a shopping spree before dinner.
Every comfort is there - underfloor heating and big, fat towels in the small but perfectly-formed Art Deco-style bathroom, Egyptian cotton linens and luxuriously deep pillows and quilt on the king-sized bed, a jug of proper milk and a jar of old-fashioned sweeties on the tea stand…
All of this and, we discovered next morning, a lake view to die for.
Classic British elegance inside, with wonderful views of the Lake District National Park visible from virtually every window, the hotel is understandably a wedding hotspot. One was happening on the Saturday night of our weekend stay in the ornate and elegant main dining room and glamorous cocktail bar, yet the impact on us was zero. The service never missed a beat in the deep red warmth of the brasserie next door.
I never want to stay indoors in the Lakes, but this visit, I had to be forced to descend the hotel’s garden terrace, explore Bowness on Windermere’s pretty huddle of shops and tea rooms and head for the car ferry at Bowness Nab; the husband had a plan.
We crossed to Far Sawrey and walked for hours along the wooded western edge of the lake to Wray Castle, a Victorian folly.
After a reviving cuppa the ferry bus picked us up at the castle’s jetty and at Ambleside we hopped on to the cruise boat back to Bowness for a hot shower and dinner.
I reckon it was a day Mrs Ashley herself would have loved.