The best holiday homes to rent in the UK

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Home-grown takeovers have evolved in recent decades from cutesy cottages with lots of pine to remote shepherd’s huts and converted windmills. Now they are even sharper and smarter with more design swagger. Here are Britain’s best houses to rent for a staycation.

  • The best holiday homes to rent in the UK

    Wolterton Hall, Norfolk

    A long, looping driveway through a Charles Bridgeman-designed landscape leads to this Palladian-inspired stately. When the Walpole family handed it over in 2016, after almost three centuries in residence, it was time for a facelift. It’s impossible not to be drawn in by the stories of the charismatic new owners, Peter Sheppard and Keith Day. ‘This 18th-century Chinese goldfish bowl was probably used to christen Nelson,’ says Sheppard as he wanders past a chair used in Prince Charles’s investiture, which sits beneath a Chris Levine holographic portrait of the Queen. These pieces are in the crimson royal room, the damask wallpaper of which was so lusted after by Sheppard that he sourced, bought and used the last rolls ever made.

    The renovation of the mansion has been a huge success – a clever mix of textiles, styles and eras has created unstuffy, liveable spaces. The main part of the house, available to settle into this summer, takes centre stage. Walpole family paintings and intricate tapestries gifted by Cardinal Fleury lord over rooms illuminated by chandeliers and antique Venetian lampposts. Sheppard and Day’s additions soften the historic edges: hot-pink Gio Ponti chairs, contemporary English roll-arm sofas, Persian rugs curiously purchased from a Dutch Buddhist monk, and a healthy dose of up-to-speed engineering. One bathroom has a hidden Champagne fridge, and there’s a rain shower which cascades from the full-height Georgian ceiling.

    Of the four apartments to rent, the East Wing is the largest. Selwyn Leamy artworks line the staircase to the loft, a triple-aspect zone of tranquillity, while the other bedrooms have period furniture pieces, Howard-style chairs and Colefax and Fowler fabrics. And for privacy, the Garden House, set away from the main building, has a walled garden for summer barbecues. A heritage hit with a grounded type of grandeur – modern yet still very much fit for a duke. By Paula Maynard

    Address: Wolterton Hall, Wolterton Park, Norfolk, NR11 7LY


    Telephone: +44 1263 76896


    Price: From £2,630 for three nights in the East Wing (sleeps 14)


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  • The best holiday homes to rent in the UK

    Bibury Farm Barns, Gloucestershire

    Owners George and Polly Phillips spent two years transforming this old farmyard – it took a couple of drawn-out appeals to planning, a few panicked conversations with the bank, countless interiors proposals and a seriously good deal from Cotswolds designer Pippa Paton to turn the family land into a perfectly of-the-moment business.

    Across the five barns, now reimagined as sleek, crisp hangouts, Paton’s look is tougher than the area’s ubiquitous Daylesford narrative, with agricultural artefacts including stone troughs and pitchforks as art. They work just as well for hunkering down – log burners, deep sofas – as they do for gatherings, with cedar hot tubs, huge dining tables and doors that open out onto the courtyard and great field of a garden.

    In Grain Store, the largest space with five bedrooms, the ground floor could hold 50 friends without blinking. A sense of solidity is prevalent: wide floorboards, big beds, lengthy kitchen islands, copper bathtubs, oversized showers and double-height ceilings, beamed with ancient oak and lit with industrial steel pendants or an antler chandelier. Sunshine floods in through walls of glass, casting shadows through the fiddle-leaf figs.

    Bedrooms have a moody kind of light play: greys on grey, a tonal Kelly Hoppen taupe-ness with linen throws and leather piped cushions. Bathrooms are dark, warm, stashed with botanical 100 Acres products. Framed black-and-white photographs of the recent mud-splattered floors and aluminium roofs are an arty reminder of the place’s agricultural roots. Not that the cows next door will let anyone forget. One of the UK’s prettiest villages Bibury is right on the doorstep – walk down after breakfast to explore before the crowds spill in. And the rest of the Cotswolds – with its pretty pubs such as Northleach’s Wheatsheaf Inn, antique shops, arboretum walks and charming towns – is there for the taking. Country smarts with heft. By Issy von Simson

    Address: Bibury Farm Barns, Bibury, Gloucestershire GL7 5PB


    Telephone: +44 1285 706188


    Price: From £3,150 for a three-night long weekend in the Grain Store (sleeps 10)


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  • The best holiday homes to rent in the UK

    Kingshill Farmhouse, Kent

    ‘In summer it looks like the savannah,’ says Gareth Fulton, gesturing out the window to the widescreen Isle Of Sheppey skies and horizon-flat marshes, snaked with water and stalked by swans and grazing sheep. In the distance, a flight of swallows swoop over the Swale in the Thames Estuary beyond. It might only be just over an hour from London, but the 3,300-acre wetlands that make up Elmley National Nature Reserve feel far more remote. Fulton and his wife Georgina moved here in 2013, taking over her family farm set amid the bird reserve.

    Since then, they’ve slowly added cabins and shepherd huts to overnight among the rushes. But for bigger broods there’s now Kingshill Farmhouse, which opened last summer. This elegant six-bedroom space was a brick shell when the Fultons started work, an original 18th-century farmhouse with a Victorian addition fused onto one end. They’ve taken it back to the bones, restored and modernised it, adding a glass-sided kitchen extension to make the most of the nature-filled views and sky-blazing sunrises.

    The navy marble-and-brass kitchen is fitted out for lazy lunches and get-together suppers around the long table or out on the terrace (on the Fultons’ tip, pick up a joint from MB Farms en route). Alternatively, food can be brought to the door, including breakfasts of bircher muesli with Kentish apple juice and feasts of local lamb tagine or beef and root-vegetable stew. The covetable interior design by Francesca Rowan-Plowden has a layered, lived-in feel: oyster plates turned wall art; fluffy dried pampas grasses in Surrey Ceramics pots; rugs from Romney Marsh Wools; cushions by sustainable Whitstable studio Fable & Base. There’s help-yourself whisky in the snug for a nip in front of the wood burner, backgammon and bird bingo in the library, and books everywhere. Plus bedrooms to suit everyone, such as the garden-inspired one with a metal bath at the foot of the four-poster and the kids’ room in the beamed loft with twin raised beds. This is a pace-resetting spot to flock to in a special corner of the country. By Fiona Kerr

    Address: Kingshill Farmhouse, Minster-on-Sea, Isle of Sheppey


    Telephone: +44 1273 692300


    Price: From £1,700 for two nights (sleeps 14)


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  • The best holiday homes to rent in the UK

    57 Nord, Wester Ross, Scotland

    Spied from a boat on the far-stretching Loch Duig in the north-west Highlands, this is one of the best cabins in the UK. It sits above the loch shores, the silvery-glass and fine-grained larch exterior seeming to embody some spirit of sympathy with an eternal landscape, while also having boldness, youth and originality.

    Inside is an open-plan masterpiece of air and light. Immense glass walls roll back to let in the breeze sweeping down from the vast scree slopes of the Kintail mountains, shutting firm against more dramatic weather – a given here. The whole vaulted-ceilinged structure feels thrillingly like a viewing platform: out to the 13th-century Eilean Donan Castle below, the lichen and irises fraying the edge of the water, the spreading circular ripples of water, waves bucking and slewing in a storm. Owner Mumtaz Lalani, who trained as a sommelier, and spent much of her youth in Norway and Finland, worked with young designer Suzi Lee (Outside In Studio) to embrace western Scotland’s Norse-Gael heritage.

    That Scandinavian influence is reflected in the interior details: an opal-and-brass chandelier from Danish Nuura spreads a pale, snow-like peace. Curtains by Scottish brand Bute Fabrics are flecked in the swooning blue of a spring dawn, and yet the effect is one of intense amber warmth. Sliding doors between bedroom, bathroom and living room give the yawning openness of one relaxed and fluid space. The bespoke oak canopy bed is enormous – as if being in a wheelhouse that you can’t bring yourself to leave, lulled by how the sun hits the curved surface of a black table beyond. As much a sensory experience as it is a house. Gallery-like, and yet infinitely genial, domestic, welcoming. By Antonia Quirke

    Address: 57 Nord, Wester Ross, Scottish Highlands


    Telephone: +44 1273 692300


    Price: From £900 for three nights (sleeps two)


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  • The best holiday homes to rent in the UK

    The Shipwreck, Cornwall

    Set on the cliffside near the 17th-century fishing village of Portwrinkle, this cabin is more resurrection than ruin, entirely fashioned from wood recovered from Kodima, an actual shipwreck that sailed her last into nearby Whitsands Bay. It was crafted in the early 2000s and then bought and renovated in nine months by Plymouth couple Rob and Jo Kavanagh, inspired by their shared love of the sea, through his sailing and her childhood holidays. Now the home is a masterclass in maximising space.

    A puzzle of pocket doors and loft cupboards; an old-fashioned trunk serving as a coffee table; a TV that swings between rooms; and a squeezed-in window seat for gazing out to sea. The kitchen is the beating heart of the place, while the sitting room has a prepped-to-go fire heater. There’s a custom-made Witt and Berg steel bath in the master, bunks for the children, and the shower room has a rock-pool-shaped basin, mirroring those glistening outside.

    What pulls everything together, like the buttons on a sailor’s trousers, is the nautical theme. Spot illustrations of sails throughout the centuries on walls and the odd shell or message in a bottle on shelves – all without too much seaside schmaltz. Because it’s the real deal; the couple has made sure their home, which they intend to retract for their family’s sole use by 2025, is safe from whatever the elements may fling at it, as if it were a real boat. Besides, there’s just no escaping the sea here – its repetitive chorus fills your eyes, ears, lungs, bones. Watch a neon sun melt into it from the bath or bed, the slouchy sofa or bouncy wicker egg chair on the terrace. Or, on the beach itself, while feasting on all-local scones, clotted cream, raspberry jam and even Cornish wine from the weekend hamper. By Becky Lucas

    Address: The Shipwreck, Portwrinkle, Whitsand Bay, Cornwall


    Telephone: +44 1637 881183


    Price: From £1,195 for a three-night long weekend (sleeps two adults and two children)


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    See more ideas with our edit of the best holiday cottages in Cornwall.

    15 of the best holiday cottages in Cornwall

  • The best holiday homes to rent in the UK

    River Cottage, Devon

    The only way to reach the whitewashed farmhouse, at the foot of the Axe Valley where Dorset rolls into Devon, is by tractor. A bumpy approach passes paddocks of pigs and wandering cows in the 66 acres of West Country fields taken over by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. It’s been 20 years since the chef’s River Cottage programme first aired, following his mission to be self-sufficient with food.

    Since then, his ahead-of-the-curve organic ethos has become mainstream, but River Cottage was championing local produce long before sustainability and zero waste became the zeitgeist of the restaurant scene. Fearnley-Whittingstall fronted campaigns to improve fishing practices in Europe and end supermarket food waste; opened a cooking school at River Cottage HQ to teach home chefs about seasonality and nose-to-tail recipes; and started supper clubs in the converted barn.

    Now, for the first time, three bedrooms have been added for a full-on sleepover. The biggest one slopes wonkily from one end to the other, a reminder that this is indeed a 17th-century house, with a window seat overlooking the folding hills and a secret door leading down to the living room. House manager Nash Lewis-Oliver is around to pull out wellies for tramping on the grass and light the wood stoves, leaving the fridge stocked with elderflower Champagne and wine from Penzance’s Polgoon Vineyard.

    A five-course homegrown supper (smoked beef brisket, roasted squash with labneh, brill with crispy roots) is whipped up by chefs in the kitchen, the door left open for nosy guests to take a peek, and served in the flagstone-floored dining room. It’s also where, in the mornings, there are endless supplies of sourdough toast, steaming pots of coffee and eggs from the chicken coop. For all its principles and ethical campaigns, the River Cottage is an absurdly comfy, fatten-you-up weekender. By Sarah James

    Address: River Cottage, Trinity Hill Rd, Axminster EX13 8TB


    Telephone: +44 1297 630300


    Price: From £600 per night (sleeps six)


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  • The best holiday homes to rent in the UK

    North Farm, County Durham

    The stirring sister of Yorkshire, this north-east county is far less genteel yet still poetic with its lumpen fields, Jurassic waterfalls and distinctive castles. And the moment you cross the threshold of the muscular farmhouse, 15 minutes from Darlington, it’s like entering a world where a NyLon sensibility meets an understanding of true Englishness.

    Owner Rita Konig is a transatlantically renowned interior designer whose childhood holidays in Scotland, years living in Manhattan and patrician London upbringing (she is Nina Campbell’s daughter) all come into play in this reimagined space. Konig artfully delivers a new-but-been-here-for-generations feel. The star of the show is the apple-green drawing room with tapestry-style rugs, ornate carved side tables and heavy, double-lined curtains.

    There is surprisingly varied art (large Japanese chrysanthemum prints; fin-de-siècle oil paintings; vintage film posters) and a hearteningly American attitude to hot water – Konig wanted each guest to be able to bathe if not simultaneously, then consecutively. And there are plenty of bathrooms but no en-suites, as she believes firmly in corridor life which is indeed rather jolly – particularly since North Farm’s hallways are covered in charming, faintly old-fashioned wallpaper. The kitchen is dominated by a large scrubbed table and looks out across fields and fruit trees. It is a real take on how to live: gather around the table while the clanking of the washing up happens in the pantry, and be unbridled in getting wet and muddy knowing that there’s a gleaming boot room in which to wash off the mess, then sink into those fabulous sofas and headboard-backed beds with their scalloped linen. Amid the rugged landscape, this is an example of country life that’s utterly effortless. By Annabel Rivkin

    Address: North Farm, Walworth, Darlington, DL2 2LY


    Telephone: +44 7775 815669


    Price: From £2,500 per week (sleeps 14)


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    Keep scrolling to read more reviews from the July/August 2019 issue

  • The best holiday homes to rent in the UK

    The Bunny, Oxfordshire

    Best for feasting

    Before bare-brick walls, pearly soft furnishings and locavorism became ubiquitous, there was Daylesford organic farm near Kingham, which opened a little shop in 2002. It has since become an empire of deli-cafés, spas, clothing and body lines, and spoon-whittling workshops – all manna for the Chipping Norton set. But owner Lady Carole Bamford is now just as well known for the Wild Rabbit, the Daylesford-served gastropub with rooms in the village itself, which has gained Michelin rosettes and spawned imitators since opening in 2013. Now, the Wild Rabbit has opened five cottages. Across the road at the Bunny – there’s also the Dove, Robin, Little Owl and Lark – the connection is instant: not just that signature creaminess, but the organic milk in the fridge, the home-made flapjacks beside the Aga, the Bamford bath products in the bathroom. Stairs with branches for spindles lead up to two beamed bedrooms, with views onto a lavender-edged garden. The living room, with its open fire, cowhide rugs and cashmere throws, is tailor-made for a certain kind of soft-focus cosiness. Outside, Kingham is the Cotswolds in distillate form: all stone and thatch with just one shop but two big-hitting gastropubs (the other, the Kingham Plough, is still excellent despite The Fat Duck alum Emily Watkins selling up) and Alex James’s cheese farm. The nearby villages of Stow-on-the-Wold and the Slaughters are dreams of England. Like the Bunny, they’re either too perfect, or just perfect enough. By Francesca Babb

    Address: The Wild Rabbit, Church Street, Kingham, Oxfordshire, OX7


    Telephone: +44 1608 658 389


    Price: From £400 per night for two nights minimum, including breakfast (sleeps four)


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  • The best holiday homes to rent in the UK

    The Pump station, Kent

    Best for bunker hunkering


    They call it Britain’s fifth quarter: the shingle expanse of Dungeness on the Kent coast, a nature reserve and pharmacopoeia of plants and occasional houses wrought from Victorian railway carriages, all jutting from flint, glittering with rain and Channel tides under pewter skies. A vast nuclear power station dominates the promontory – neither Rivendell nor Mordor, it’s something in between, twinkling mythically through the long evenings. No trees obscure the view from the Pump Station. It is a Delphic, one-storey curiosity; a poured-concrete cube that was used for a covert D-Day project during World War II. Converted by interior architect Fiona Naylor and her photographer husband, it retains its utilitarian façade, but with immense windows at the back, hugged by Corten steel. It seems to float in its setting; unlike Derek Jarman’s famous shingle garden nearby, here the pebbles, studded with willow shrubs, thistle and borage, stretch into infinity, turning to silhouettes as the sun clambers down the sky. Before dusk, a dusty ruby glow surges through the windows. The 108-square-metre space inside is mostly open-plan oak and original arched-concrete beams, with three bedrooms and two bathrooms. Part beach hut, part bunker, it is peaceful, warm as toast; fabrics are the colours of coastal plants, bird’s eggs and stone. Looking from a distance – the sea is 10 minutes’ walk away, and the nearby Dungeness Snack Shack, selling just-caught-lobster rolls – you notice how the steel has oxidised to the shade of russety lichen, and that the original pebbledash rhymes, sublimely, with the shingle. By Antonia Quirke


    Address: Dungeness Estate, Kent, TN29


    Telephone: +44 1227 464 958


    Price: From £900 for three nights (sleeps eight)


    Price: From £400 per night for two nights minimum, including breakfast (sleeps four)


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  • The best holiday homes to rent in the UK

    Thorpe Manor, Oxfordshire

    Best for house parties

    Georgian high society was never much into Swedish hot tubs, Negroni sharpeners and fire-pit suppers. But what’s clever about Henry and Natasha Teare’s conversion of this Grade II-listed manor house on the edge of the Cotswolds is that they’ve created a vibe of unstuffy modern hedonism, without compromising the place’s red-stone splendour. When Henry inherited the 17th-century Banbury pile from his stepfather Derek Ancil, a jockey and horse trainer who once won the Hennessy Gold Cup, it was as tired as Red Rum in the early 1990s. He and Natasha quit jobs in the city to spend three years overseeing a top-to-toe renovation that included unearthing the original flagstone flooring in the entrance hall. Each of the 14 bedrooms has been named after one of Ancil’s horses: such as Prince Bon Bon, with its wildflower pictures on pale-pink walls, and cosy Merryman, with mustard headboards and lemon-and-white striped curtains. In one bathroom there’s an avocado-coloured Roman bath, in another a set of jockey scales. Butlers are on hand with morning flat whites, sipped beside the drawing-room log fire with the papers – and they double as cocktail makers in the velvet-filled bar. When it’s time to eat, everyone gathers in the kitchen as the chef slow-cooks lamb over the fire pit. Clay-pigeon shooting, falconry and archery are all available on the 200-acre estate, but simpler pleasures are closer by: afternoon games of croquet; lazing under tartan blankets in the oak-panelled cinema. For all its history, it’s a house for hunkering down with friends and forgetting the world. By Emma Love

    Address: Banbury Ln, Thorpe Mandeville, Banbury, OX17


    Telephone: +44 1295 711 006


    Price: From £10,000 for a three-night weekend stay (sleeps 28)


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  • The best holiday homes to rent in the UK

    Glenfeshie, Cairngorms

    Best for wildlife spotting

    The general narrative for smart Highlands stays in recent years has been to play with tradition rather than stick to it. Indeed, Glenfeshie Lodge’s owner Anders Holch Povlsen, a Danish businessman and Scotland’s largest landowner, has been part of that trend, bringing various degrees of Scandi minimalism to his four other rentable houses set on 221,000 acres. But Glenfeshie Lodge, near Braemar, is the one that sticks most closely to its 19th-century roots. The grey-stone hunting lodge, standing proud over a mist-cloaked valley, is said to be where Sir Edwin Landseer painted The Monarch of the Glen, the stag on Walkers shortbread tins. There’s a strand of Scottish Victoriana to the house and its surrounding 45,000-acre estate – from being met by head gamekeeper Davie McGibbon, in Glenfeshie tweed plus-fours, to sleeping in a floral-print, four-poster bed. But a more timeless plan underpins this place: striding up the 1,118-metre Sgor Gaoith for views down to Loch Einich and across the Moine Mhor (Great Moss), McGibbon explains how his team are keeping deer numbers down to regrow these woodlands and welcome red squirrels, pine martens and endangered black grouse and capercaillie. A golden eagle, flying towards an afternoon sun over Coire Garbhlach, appears like a totemic endorsement of Holch Povlsen’s scheme to rewild all of his land. At dinner, chef Richard Turner serves local venison with hedgehog mushrooms and purple sprouting broccoli foraged from the walled gardens of Aldourie Castle, about an hour’s drive away, and eaten with stag-antler cutlery. It tastes like the Highlands, done just right. By Gabriel O’Rorke

    Address: Glenfeshie Estate, Kincraig, Kingussie, Scotland, PH21


    Telephone: +44 1540 661 619


    Price: From £9,500 for two nights full board for eight people (sleeps 10)


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  • The best holiday homes to rent in the UK

    The Riding House, Dorset

    Best for eccentric character


    There is a faint smell of a tack room in the comfortable sitting room of the Riding House. The leathery scent comes from a far wall, where there are rows of shiny saddles on sturdy beams, a reminder that this is indeed a 17th-century stable block. The building is the latest piece of a massive restoration on Dorset’s Shaftesbury estate. Nick Ashley-Cooper became the 12th Earl of Shaftesbury in 2005 when his older brother died of a heart attack at just 27. Ashley-Cooper had been a successful DJ and music promoter in New York before moving back to the crumbling ancestral seat. In 2010, he and his wife Dinah Streifeneder, a vet, began turning the main house, St Giles, into a home as colourful as its past. Now, the next-door stables have been converted into an eight-bedroom guesthouse. It is a place of new and old, where the brick floors, intentionally rough paintwork and frayed-wood partitions remind you that you’re sleeping in ancient stalls. Theatricality runs through it all, with Pierre Frey velvet used as wallpaper hung on wrought-iron poles and a giant, bronze horse head in the entrance hall. Other touches are faintly spooky, such as the mantrap hanging beside the bar, or the leg emerging from a wall in one room. ‘We didn’t want it to be safe,’ says Ashley-Cooper of the project. ‘We wanted it to be bold, brave, an experience.’ Stays on a country estate have never felt so thrilling. By Sally Shalam

    Address: The Riding House, Wimborne BH21


    Telephone: +44 1725 517 214


    Price: From £1,800 per night (sleeps 18)


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  • The best holiday homes to rent in the UK

    Glen Affric Estate, Inverness-shire

    Best for outdoor adventures

    Dudley Coutts Marjoribanks, 1st Baron Tweedmouth, gave the world some lasting gifts in the second half of the 19th century. The banking scion, East India Company director and Liberal politician also dabbled in canine genetics, breeding the first golden retrievers. In 1872, he completed a Highlands hunting lodge beside a loch in Glen Affric, gifting it to his daughter. Like the golden retriever, the 10,000-acre estate has aged well, and remains popular with the huntin’, shootin’, fishin’ set. The current laird and lady are David and Jane Matthews, Pippa Middleton’s in-laws, who own the Eden Rock hotel in St Barth’s. Management is overseen by Masterpiece Estates, an offshoot of the Oetker Collection, which, on top of the Caribbean mainstay, runs Le Bristol Paris and The Lanesborough in London. The Victorian feel of the lodge has been preserved, with some thoughtful contemporary additions, and now guests are provided with a designated host. Mine was James Middleton, Kate and Pippa’s bearded brother, a genuine outdoorsman who clearly loves the land in a way that goes well beyond the payroll. What to do? This is the serious Highlands, about an hour’s drive south-west of Inverness. So you stalk deer or shoot partridge – or clay pigeons, if you are squeamish. You fish, ride, hike, sail on the loch or sunbathe on its startlingly lovely beach. You eat and drink like a Tweedmouth. Or you simply sit still and gaze out of a window, almost moved to tears at what some say is the most beautiful glen in Scotland. By Steve King

    Address: The Glen Affric Estate, Inverness-shire IV4


    Telephone: +44 20 7079 1621


    Price: From £67,200 for exclusive, seven-night use of the estate for 10 people (sleeps 20)


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  • The best holiday homes to rent in the UK

    Gairnshiel Lodge, Cairngorms

    Best for European crafts

    This 18th-century hunting lodge, set in a heathery valley near the confluence of the River Gairn and River Dee on the vast Invercauld Estate, was taken over by a family of low-profile Belgian billionaires. Gainshiel has been painstakingly revamped in a pared-down European style – furniture is mid-20th-century classic, often in dark, matte tones, offset by intriguing, eclectic vintage pieces such as the gorgeous reclaimed wardrobes, with hand-forged nails as knobs, by Belgian dealer-designer Joris Van Apers. All eight rooms are similarly lovely, though they vary considerably in size; and the social spaces are at once smart and cosy, while the kitchen gives the entire place a wonderful sense of groundedness and warmth. The shooting is excellent in the right season but the estate is blissfully quiet the rest of the time, its gently undulating, picturesque hills perfect for exploring on foot or by bicycle. Its neighbours include the Queen, the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and Swiss art dealers Manuela and Iwan Wirth. Although an invitation to Balmoral or Birkhall might be too much to hope for, you may well bump into the owners at the butcher’s shop in nearby Ballater. And there are the contrasting styles and attractions of the Wirths’ astonishing Fife Arms. In terms of its proximity not only to exceptional natural beauty but to assorted royalty, plutocracy and art-world aristocracy, Gairnshiel Lodge might just be one of the hottest houses in the UK right now. The Highlands have not been so chic since the days of Victoria and Albert. By Steve King

    Address: Gairnshiel Lodge, Cairngorms AB35


    Telephone: +44 7512 246 363


    Price: From £16,200 for seven nights, including breakfast (sleeps 16)


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  • The best holiday homes to rent in the UK

    Bledington Barn, Oxfordshire

    Best for off-beat country kicks

    What do you get when Catherine Chichester, formerly of Christie’s auction house, turns a Cotswolds cowshed into a cosy, modern cottage? The answer isn’t just a fine piece of alliteration, but a stay full of surprise. There are aspects of this 300-year-old stone barn, which was renovated in 2008 with the initial intention of hosting visiting family members, that follow a certain thread: original beams and doors; rustic ladders turned into towel rails; a large painting of a cow. Upstairs in the church-like space, the three bedrooms – heavy on upcycled wood – look out beyond the house’s garden and a little stream. But the real fun of Bledington Barn is where it goes left-field. The light-flooded, brick-paved living area in the open-plan ground-floor space is overlooked by a Buddha-head statue peering down from the mezzanine. On one wall hangs an 18th-century suzani, an embroidered tribal rug from Central Asia; on another, a contemporary spaniel painting that is just the right side of kitsch, but might nevertheless raise Chipping Norton eyebrows. This place feels personal rather than designed for beige safety. The kitchen could be the setting for a rustic cookery show, with its Gaggenau oven and hamper packed with prosecco from Lady Carole Bamford’s nearby Daylesford Organic Farm. But the barn is also deep in gastropub territory, with Bledington’s 16th-century King’s Head Inn, named Britain’s best in The Good Pub Guide 2018, just a stumble away, as well as the famed offerings in Kingham, a bracing two miles north. This is the Cotswolds at its quirkiest and most fun. By Francesca Babb

    Address: Bledington Barn, Oxfordshire OX7


    Telephone: +44 20 8740 3097


    Price: From £2,014 for seven nights (sleeps six)


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  • The best holiday homes to rent in the UK

    Eden Hall Cottage, Norfolk

    Best for seaside stays

    Arriving at this flint-stone building, near Bacton Beach on Norfolk’s north-eastern curve, is like approaching the schoolmaster’s house. The cottage, first constructed in the 18th century, was once part of a boarding school. But inside a different scene emerges: less serious institute, more modern Montauk beach hangout, filled with space and sunlight, in neutral indigos and Edwardian greys. Vicky White, who converted the house with her husband Chris, runs Plum & Ashby, which trades not only in seaweed-and-samphire candles and pomegranate body washes, but also a certain post-Kinfolk aesthetic, treating its near-30,000 Instagram followers to greyscale kitchens and cute photographs of Bertie, the couple’s fox terrier. It was when out walking Bertie that the Whites found the building on a relatively undiscovered stretch of Norfolk coast, somewhere between elegant Holkham and the pleasure-beach scene of Great Yarmouth. They knocked down internal walls while retaining some wonky floorboards and beams, eventually opening the five-bedroom spot to guests last year. Now, it is curated but understated: salt-battered oars in the living room; column radiators and brushed-brass fittings. The kitchen, once three pokey rooms, is barn-like with under-floor heating. Marshmallow-soft sofas welcome dogs as readily as hygge-peddling influencers; children can get lost in the house, if not on expeditions to see seals on the beach at Horsey Gap, or to the curious lighthouse at Happisburgh. Other than Plum & Ashby hand wash, the connection is inferred. Nonetheless, the vibe here is that of a very 2019 lifestyle brand planting a flag in this unlikely location. By Paula Maynard

    Address: Eden Hall Cottage, Norfolk NR12


    Telephone: no telephone number


    Price: From £1,100 for seven nights (sleeps 10)


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  • The best holiday homes to rent in the UK

    The Balancing Barn, Suffolk

    The first Living Architecture project was commissioned in 2008 from Dutch architects Winy Maas, Jacob van Rijs and Nathalie de Vries, who very sensibly decided to let themselves be known as MVRDV. It is located in a silent nature reserve and reached by a 300-metre rough road, and its immediate aspect suggests a chicken shack run by CERN, polished steel tiles taking the mood of the sky and contrasting in any weather with the lush landscaped greenery surrounding it.

    Then you realise that first impressions were very misleading. It is not a small shack, but an exciting, 30-metre-long structure which, for half its length, is audaciously cantilevered out over a plunging decline. Within, despite the emotional warmth of the wood finishes, the uneasy psychology of balancing in space provides a delicious thrill. This is enhanced because, to make sure the point is not missed, the living-area floor is glazed. It is just one example of how architecture can create mood: unsettling, but delightful.

    Address: The Balancing Barn, Thorington, Suffolk IP19


    Telephone: no telephone number


    Price: From £759 for four night (sleeps eight)


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  • The best holiday homes to rent in the UK

    The Shingle House, Kent

    The architects of The Shingle House are NORD, a young Glasgow practice of irreverent reputation. Inspiration came from the traditional tarred wooden fishermen’s huts you still find on this shockingly inhospitable and sinister shingle spit. Some are set at crazy angles to the hammering of the wind. Others have been set upon by a romantic and hardy metropolitan elite: Derek Jarman’s celebrated Prospect Cottage, with its masterpiece garden, is almost next door.

    The Shingle house has crazy angles all of its own. Inside, the spaces are uncompromisingly new and satisfyingly complex for what is quite a small building. Although austere, The Single House is luxurious in the context of Dungeness’s epic scruffiness. But the calm beauty of the house filters the harsh landscape and the ramshackle neighbours. Then there is the power station: our bedroom had a spectacular view of Dungeness B. An advertisement for the nuclear age is not, perhaps, the most obvious holiday neighbour, but the effect is transgressively pleasing. At night, the distant orange sodium lamps and the suggestion of occult power are strangely comforting. As with other Living Architecture houses, the contrasts are there to be savoured.

    Address: The Shingle House, Dungeness, Kent


    Telephone: no telephone number


    Price: From £657 for four nights (sleeps eight)


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  • The best holiday homes to rent in the UK

    The Dune House, Suffolk

    Thorpeness village was a 1910 recreational project, a commercialised garden city, two miles north of Aldeburgh, the Suffolk coast’s celebrity town. It is a strange, even creepy projection of Edwardian fantasies about village life. Built as a totality by Scottish barrister and railway entrepreneur Glencairn Stuart Ogilvie, it is joke-oak cottages around an artificial lake with civic buildings in a ripe Lutyens Tudorbethan style. Primped, manicured and swept, Thorpeness has an unusual number of notices beginning ‘Private’.

    And on the southern approach to this numbing suburbanity in excelsis is the glorious intrusion of The Dune House. It is on one of those coast roads where old Transits and caravans are parked in front of grim bungalows and bungahighs, while wind whistles in the cables overhead. The designers are a Norwegian firm, Jarmund/Vigsnaes, whose reputation is based on buildings responsive, they say, to the drama of the wild Nordic seasons.

    Thus, The Dune House is an assemblage of complex, aggressive, angular geometry set in rustling marram grass. On the upper levels, four vast prisms contain four double bedrooms with free-standing baths and shower rooms: each has a resonant sense of privacy and notable views. The structure is a shuttered concrete core, wholly glazed on the ground floor so that the upper parts – black timber panels and bronze-tinted stainless-steel cladding – appear to float above very little. Inside, the textural language is different: plain concrete for upstands, polished concrete floors, and everywhere else wood, mostly ash. That, and light in its infinite possibilities. The furniture and fittings are like IKEA with a PhD: Arne Jacobsen lights, artisan Norwegian blankets, and chairs including Sam Hecht’s award-winning Branca and Jorge Ferrari Hardoy’s classic Butterfly.

    Address: The Dune House, Thorpeness, Suffolk IP16


    Telephone: no telephone number


    Price: From £783 for four nights (sleeps nine)


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  • The best holiday homes to rent in the UK

    Seren Mor, Pembrokeshire

    Best for families

    On first approach, especially on a dark Friday night, it’s hard to tell that Seren Mor is a house; from behind, it could just be a forgotten slab of Welsh industrial concrete. However, the inside is all timber and views, with terraces wrapping around the two storeys, meaning that each of the five bedrooms has its own space for gazing at the Newport estuary panorama. In the guestbook, everyone writes about the light, and there is indeed something magical about the way it dances on the tidal sands. Horses canter at sunrise and dog walkers brace mid-morning winds; come dusk, the workaday city of Newport, on the other side of the water, fades gently from view. The team behind this project, which has received a Royal Institute of British Architects award, clearly designed it for family life, down to the minutest detail. The walnut-wood, open-plan kitchen has drawers for everything – spice jars have their own slots, and there’s even a filing cabinet for chopping boards. Book shelves are neatly stacked with Evelyn Waugh titles and compendiums of bird names; the Xbox and board games such as Risk are beautifully tucked away. A welcome hamper includes local bacon so thick it would be classed as gammon in England. The beach is just a few steps down the steep garden, past waiting kayaks, an intriguing stained-glass window and a boat house, and onto the miles of sand that stretch and recede with the pull of the moon. Because this sweep of South Wales coast has never quite had the reputation of the west or the north, a stay at Seren Mor feels like uncovering secret treasure. By Becky Lucas

    Address: Seren Mor, Pembrokeshire SA42


    Telephone: +44 1637 881 183


    Price: From £2,395 for six nights (sleeps 10)


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  • The best holiday homes to rent in the UK

    Beach House Brancaster, Norfolk

    Best for interiors shopping

    The driftwood and razor-clam shells of Brancaster, that great expanse of North Norfolk sand, are a 20-minute walk away from this beach house, yet it seems as if they follow you into its gallery-like, whitewashed space. A sculptural floor light in the mezzanine entrance hall is built into washed-up wood; at the foot of the stairs, there’s a shimmering artwork of donkey-ear shells; on the kitchen walls there are nostalgic seaside photographs, including one of Great Yarmouth’s Britannia Pier café. The house is the creation of Davina Barber, who left a career as an art dealer in London to return home to the East Anglian county and start Norfolk By Design, an agency championing local artists and makers. The Beach House is its manifestation: almost everything can be bought, in line with a wider global trend for shoppable stays. A house filled with regional art could spell kitsch danger, but the prevailing sense is of playfulness and taste; in the living room, a baby-blue, abstract line drawing by photographer Harry Cory Wright is eminently buyable, as is Frank Falvey’s wonky ash bench and the reissued Seaweed wallpaper in the master bedroom, first designed by Edward Bawden in 1927. But, more than an exhibition, the five-bedroom pad is a family home-from-home, with cheeky children’s bedrooms and a kickabout-ready walled garden. A hamper of goodies from nearby Creake Abbey food hall (sea-salt chocolate brownies, Norfolk Kiwi ale) provides sustenance for coastal-path walks through salt marshes and reed beds, spying oyster catchers on the way to the wide beach. A move to Norfolk’s salty wilds may end up being as tempting as a piece of art. By Paula Ellis

    Address: Beach House Brancaster, Norfolk PE31


    Telephone: +44 7967 369 573


    Price: From £1,500 for seven nights (sleeps 10)


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