A former colliery town on County Durham’s coast may seem an unlikely location for five-star lodgings, but then Seaham Hall is a master of disguise. Nestled in 37 acres of parkland, this blindingly white Georgian pile has the air of a private country residence, minus the fustiness. Its grand pillared entrance leads to a lobby with stained-glass ceiling, which peels off to a snazzy sports lounge, grand chandeliered restaurant and art-festooned corridor that bridges old and new, opening out to a light-flooded vaulted atrium. Behind the veneer of its dolls house facade and gleaming courtyard wing is a chequered history.
From marital home to military hospital – ‘‘mad, bad and dangerous to know” 19th century poet Lord Byron, wed heiress Annabella Milbanke here in 1815, before the property was turned into a TB sanatorium. More cossetting than clinical, the 1930s wards have been reinvented as 21 stately suites, dressed in swathes of velvet, deep-pile bespoke carpets, textured wallpapers and vibrantly patterned fabric headboards.
Their luxurious marble-clad bathrooms, meanwhile, flaunt wall-mounted TVs and ‘made in England’ Temple Spa bathroom amenities. Despite Byron’s doomed marriage, romance ripples through the sprawling site, from the 13,400sqm sybaritic spa, to its decadent Ada Lovelace mezzanine suite. Much like the revolutionary figure’s mathematician daughter, Ada (who wrote the first ever algorithm), the suite has beauty and brains– with twin slipper baths overlooking a very Jane Austen scene of rolling lawns, as well as impressive gadgetry.
For all Seaham Hall’s modern trappings and 18th century opulence, a trip to the seaside is a must. You can take a short rosy-cheeked ramble to the town’s shingle beach, strewn with multicoloured sea glass worn smooth by churning waves, a century after being discarded by a local bottleworks. You never know, the scene may even inspire a sonnet or two…
From US$250 per night / seaham-hall.co.uk
IN THE NEIGHBOURHOOD
Subterranean secrets Medieval foundations aren’t all that lie beneath this grand foursquare mansion. During a brief period of dereliction in the 1820s, its cellars were used to smuggle Scottish Spey whisky onto ships at Seaham Harbour, bound for prohibition-era New York. The exclusive single malt is only available to buy in England’s heritage Royal Palaces (or from the hotel restaurant’s mirrored cabinet).
Best of British
Seasonal dishes that fly the British flag have earned The Dining Room a coveted spot in the 2019 Good Food Guide. Standouts include the Craster kipper tart (smoked 50 miles north up the coast), warm River Test eel and 45-day saltaged Galloway beef grilled over charcoal embers. Sit back and enjoy the view, of Lord Byron that is, dressed in all his finery above the mantelpiece.