There’s something wonderfully comforting and uplifting about driving through those rolling hills of North Yorkshire that are “the Dales”.
But when that view has the backdrop of a clear blue sky gradually turning deep blue as the winter sun sets, setting alight the snow-topped hills with a fireside glow, you know you’re not only in God’s own county, but you’re actually in God’s own kitchen and you’ve been asked in from the cold to sit by the Aga and have a cuppa.
There could have been no better prelude to a midweek night away than that scenery unfolding as we pootled along the darkening lanes towards Settle.
And if that was the appetiser, the starter was equally satisfying, as we turned into the drive of the Falcon Manor and got our first glimpse of the hotel, a fine example of classic Victorian Gothic architecture.
The Grade II listed building was lit to perfection by both the uplighting and lowering winter skies as we pushed open the large oak door and entered the stone porch.
A comfortable chair, dog bowl and wellies told us all we needed to know about what this hotel was saying to guests - welcome, relax, and make yourself at home.
A recent refurbishment, the hotel blurb says, was “to create a truly contemporary Yorkshire Dales country house hotel. Stylish and sophisticated but not at all stuffy, offering the warmest of welcomes, a shelter from the inclement weather and just reward for your exertions out on the fells and moors.”
Through the porch was a fire burning away in the dog grate, complete with (stone) dog curled up beside it on the flagstone floor. So, job done in the first two minutes.
An abundance of candles in copper-coloured holders, a not-too-over-the-top Christmas tree and the smoky fire smell just added to the welcome. There was a muffled cosiness to the entrance and reception area which wrapped itself around you like a warm rug.
This is definitely country house meets contemporary, offering solid comfort but tastefully modernised, a little like the food, but that would come later, first we were shown to a large and comfortable bedroom.
The Falcon is big on weddings, and it’s clear to see why. The postcard setting must be a gift to a wedding photographer and the size of the hotel would be just right for a special occasion, without being ostentatious.
As this stay was a combined shopping trip (we’d cleared the shops of Skipton of their Black Friday bargains on the way up) and bit of mum and daughter relaxation time we had booked a twin room.
The room was comfortable and warm, with a statement free-standing bath taking pride of place on a platform in front of the bay window. Now maybe this is a generational thing, but one of us would have much preferred that space to be used for some comfortable seating - somewhere to sit down and have a nice cup of tea, especially as there was only one chair in the room.
The view extended beyond the grounds and outdoor seating to the hills beyond, a vista cut through with and a stunning railway viaduct - having the Orient Express steam by would have really finished off the scene, but it wasn’t to be.
Alas the bath didn’t get wet, but the perfectly lovely shower room did - very wet, including the floor. Again perhaps more style over practicality but I fear that bathroom floor and door will be replaced rather sooner than the owners would want it to. Speaking of the owners James’ Places, the group to which the Falcon Manor belongs, are about leisure rather than business. At least that’s what we were told when we asked why there was no telephone in the room. The majority of us are never more than a hand-reach away from our mobile, but that doesn’t help you when you want to ring down to reception to ask for a shower cap in the morning and you don’t really want to scare the guests by nipping down in your nightie.
Having said that the staff would have no doubt dashed upstairs with one before you’d finished asking because, without exception, they were extremely helpful and as warm and welcoming as the open fire and candlelit glow we walked into.
Pre-dinner drinks were enjoyed in the contemporary bar area as we perused the menu. Meals can be taken in the bar area or in the restaurant, which had the same cosy glow at night but was light and airy the next morning.
There are birds everywhere in this hotel - not real ones but ducks, pheasant, snipe and the like adorn the cushions and curtains throughout. But in the dining room they’ve really gone to town on the bird theme with some feather lightshades that look like fluffy clouds - you’ll either love them or hate them but you can’t not notice them!
I’d been told the food was “robust” and “traditional” but that was to do it a dis-service.
I’d have been more than happy with that, especially given the prices on the menu, but the food was more refined than robust (still more than enough to fill up the heartiest appetite) and with some lovely twists and very pretty presentation it was definitely pushing beyond even decent brasserie/bistro food.
For starters one of us had Goats cheese fritters, mulled poached pear and endive salad with toasted hazelnuts and local honey and the other opted for King scallop gratin, creamed leeks, Gruyère cheese and fresh baked bread. (starters are around £7 each)
From the mains we selected slow braised brisket of beef in Bowland ale, roast shallots, stock pot carrots, and buttered savoy and mashed potatoes (£14) and a rump of lamb, apple braised red cabbage, root veg puree, green beans, Dauphinoise, port and thyme jus. (£18.50). As full as we were it seemed churlish not to try a dessert. We both fancied a taste of Dark chocolate fondant, white chocolate ice cream, orange curd. (£7) but we were told the fondant hadn’t worked so chef had made chocolate brownie instead - that was delicious and the orange curd was particularly tangy and mouthwatering.
Breakfast was perfunctory in the help yourself department (the orange juice had run out, the choice of cereals very limited and the croissants less than boulangerie fresh and fluffy). But the freshly made porridge was, in the words of baby bear, just right (although maple syrup should be a choice not a given) and you could not fault the cooked breakfast if the Eggs Benedict and Eggs Florentine we had were anything to go by. So compliments to the chef(s) all round on some super ingredients (many sourced locally of course) well cooked and presented.
Full marks for cosiness and friendliness too.
There’s a lovely little lounge to relax in where even those chilled to the bone from the outside elements would quickly thaw thanks to a scorcher of a wood-burning stove.
Walking off breakfast is a very pleasant experience, whether that’s a stroll into Settle (five minutes away) or pulling on your hiking boots to tackle the hills.
With some real bargain mid-week offers to be had this little getaway is certainly one that deserves to be tried and won’t break the bank, a real Yorkshire welcome and real Yorkshire value.
Currently the Falcon Manor is offering dinner, bed and breakfast from £99.
The offer is based on two sharing a standard double room, although superior room and suite upgrades are available.
The offer runs on all remaining bedrooms up to December 23, 2016.
For more detials follow the link to the Falcon Manor here