Famous resident William Wordsworth's 1820 guide first enticed visitors to explore Cumbria’s Lake District, and the alluring Forest Side hotel rekindles the trend today. How so? It began with a thoughtful renovation of a gorgeous Gothic mansion, during which original Victorian fireplaces were saved and once robust gardens were restored. Add to that fluffy Herdwick sheep grazing on the grounds, a former L'Enclume chef in the kitchen, and country-chic interiors without a spot of chintz.
11am, but flexible, subject to availability. Earliest check-in, 3pm.
Double rooms from $246.56 (£191), excluding tax at 20 per cent.
A full-English breakfast is included in the room rate.
In a nod to the estate’s past, the wooden dining-room floorboards were recycled as dining-room tables, Victorian fireplaces were salvaged, and many of the original garden details were uncovered and resurrected.
At the hotel
Forty-three acres of grounds and gardens, and free WiFi throughout. In rooms: flatscreen TV, work desk, kettle and teas, coffee-making service, custom-crafted beds and Bramley bath products.
Our favourite rooms
Designer James Mackie perfected the contemporary country look throughout, but for a room with a postcard-perfect view, the Superb is, well, just that. Coveting the cushy Wools of Cumbria carpet as you pad around the room? Admire the source as you gaze out at the Herdwick sheep roaming in the meadow.
Bring a composition notebook for writing verse as the Lake poets did.
A room designed for guests with mobility issues and their assistance dogs is available on request. Also, the restaurant, bar and guest lounge are all wheelchair accessible.
Up to two well-behaved pups are welcome in each of the six designated rooms in the north wing for £35, which includes dog treats, a bed, blanket and towels. Just let the hotel know when booking. Dogs are not allowed in the lounge areas or restaurants. See more pet-friendly hotels in Lake District.
This boutique getaway is best for adults and older children; it's suited to nature-loving over-12s keen on outdoor exploration. Please note: it's over-eights only in the restaurant. Rollaway beds and cots, and WiFi baby-listening are available.
Opt for a spot in front of the large bay windows for a front-row seat of the the forest bank, garden and surrounding hills.
Aim for a contemporary play on cashmere and tweed.
Helmed by chef Paul Leonard, the hotel's restaurant is known as one of the finest in the Lake District. Making the most of Cumbria's natural bounty, Leonard makes liberal use of the hotel's kitchen garden and nearby farms, where lovingly-grown vegetables and first-rate meat can be found. The resulting menu is creative, original and rooted in the Cumbrian countryside. Loosen belts for one of the tasting menus offered at dinner — either the six-course 'the L'al Un' and ten-course 'the Grand Un'.
Order a signature English martini – gin, chamomile-infused English vermouth and chartreuse – and allow yourself to be sucked into one of the deep velvet couches in front of the wood-burning stove. Afternoon tea with a selection of nibbles and almost-too-pretty-to-eat pastries is served 3pm–4:30 Wednesday to Sunday.
Breakfast is available 8am to 10am daily; lunch (noon–2pm) and dinner (7pm–9pm) are served Wednesdays to Sundays; the restaurant is closed Mondays and Tuesdays. The bar is open daily until 11.30pm.
The Forest Side is scenically set in the village of Grasmere, smack dab in the middle of the Lake District National Park.
Manchester and Leeds Bradford Airports are both within two hours drive from the hotel.
The nearest train station is Oxenholme, approximately 45 minutes away.
If you’re planning to cruise around the surrounding countryside, a car is a must. The drive from London is roughly five hours via the M40 and M6, and onsite parking is free.
There’s no proper helipad, but skilled pilots can land at their own risk in the field below the Forest Side (just mind the deer).
Worth getting out of bed for
One could happily fill the hours ambling the 43 acres of woodland surrounding the Forest Side. Putter around in the kitchen garden and just try to name all 25 of the herbs and 100 plus vegetables planted there. Or search the fellside and spot roe deer and red squirrels. If venturing off the grounds, the village of Grasmere is just a 20-minute walk along the Old Coffin Trail. Pop by Dove Cottage, the former home of poet William Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy, for a guided tour and a peek into life at the turn of the 19th century. Afterwards, sample something sweet at Sarah Nelson’s Grasmere Gingerbread. Taste for yourself if the spicy-sweet treat created in 1854 is truly the world’s best gingerbread. For a different view of Wordworth’s beloved countryside, set sail with Windermere Lake Cruises; the famed body of water is just a 15-minute drive south of the Forest Side.
If you liked the ale on tap at the Forest Side, take a trip to the source: Hawkshead Brewery in the village of Staveley a 30-minute drive away. Stop in the beer hall for a small-batch IPA or malty red ale paired with a snack from the beer tapas menu, or go in for the table-tipping Brewer’s lunch or herb-crusted confit duck leg. You can also go behind the scenes on a 45-minute brewery tour offered each day at 1pm. On the other end of the dining spectrum is the Samling, an elegant restaurant just a 15‑minute drive south. Indulge in a knock-out tasting menu with an equally spectacular setting. One hour away, check out the dining room at Hipping Hall, one of Forest Side founder Andrew Wildsmith’s three boutique hotels. Here you’ll feast on rustic classics with a modern twist from Lancashire-native chef Oli Martin.
It was over dinner in Grasmere-set luxury hotel Forest Side, in the Lake District, that the Woody Allen quote ‘If only Dionysus were alive! Where would he eat?’ suddenly came to me. It's always struck me as a curious line – if only because Dionysus would surely be more concerned with where he’d drink, non? But back to Grasmere, and the thought which came to me in the hotel's restaurant – an airy, smart-casual place with a controlled-temperature wine cellar and an open kitchen; for dishes made using produce that’s been foraged, pickled, distilled and hunted locally, or grown in the kitchen garden, even Dionysus would have put down his drink.
I love the confidence of an open kitchen (pots gently clattering next to diners), but with chef Paul Leonard in charge – who has worked with Marcus Wareing and Andrew Fairlie, no less – such confidence is understandable. Leonard’s tasting menus – 10 courses or six, both at the distinctly reasonable prices of £85 and £65 respectively – are a things of precision and wonder: allium flowers, small wedges of pork and duck, curds, shaved elderflower and black pudding which you virtually inhale. Is the restaurant the best thing about the Forest Side? It's certainly the thing it's best known for, already having earned a Michelin star and inspiring much chatter from besotted locals, but the hotel's otherwise low-key atmosphere is deceptive. As it turns out, you can have chipper staff at posh hotels. The hotel is not a vehicle for the restaurant; rather, they are perfectly paired.
Forest Side is an imposing, slate-built mansion, originally designed for an industrialist in 1853. It sits on the outskirts of Grasmere, a village famed for its rambling opportunities and gingerbread, up a drive lined with Herdwick sheep. Inside, it's standard luxe – which is not to sniff at it – distinctly unthreatening after a six-hour drive, the mood is calm Poirot-on-holiday. A wide, sweeping staircase sits in the middle of the building with large rooms discreetly shoehorned into corners, so as to minimise noise. Our room, a master suite, is a little heavy on the neutral palette but truly, that’s the only thing to take issue with. The bed is very comfortable (thanks to the custom-made, fleece-stuffed Harrison Spinks beds). The bathroom, with its automatic lighting, push buttons and walk-in shower, is the sort of thing you aspire to install in your own home but likely never will. Even the air-conditioning is perfectly pitched; though the au naturel option (open windows) presents a glorious, glass-fronted balcony for optimum views. The eco-meets-heritage look (Lincrusta walls in the stairwell; crushed-velvet sofas; gold pineapples on the mantelpiece; and tables fashioned from reused floorboards) isn't for everyone; but despite its flashy safeness, you won't tire of it over a weekend.
I should know. I arrive in Cumbria with a cold, which put me to bed for 36 hours. As it transpires, there are worse places to be ill. A view of the darkening sky over ‘the lion and the lamb’ rock outcrops over Helm Crag is certainly better than the tip of the Gherkin when you've a slight fever. Too sick to get dressed, we decide to order room service for breakfast the next morning. These menus are usually truncated. Not here. Our poor waiter lugged up tray after tray of heavy pottery: eggs Benedict, grapefruit, eggy bread, duck egg and soldiers, most of it restaurant-hot, and delivered out of hours, too. And, we should add, with the sort of temperament you simply don't get in London – every single member of staff (a mix of locals and Europeans) has the sort of cheer, patience and benevolence you dream of. Truly, service like that warrants a gold star.
Still, back to my illness: following an early night and the 10-course menu (stellar: I wasn’t too full, nor wanting for anything), I manage to get up for a walk on the last day. The ever-helpful staff are even moreso when it comes to dishing out printed-out maps. I also make it downstairs for breakfast – worth it for the crumpets and juice selection alone – and a potter around the garden, which was damp but flourishing in autumn.
There is more to Forest Side than meets the eye. Granted, landscape-wise, this is quite a meeting: Easdale Tarn rises up behind the gold beech leaves at the back of the mansion; from the back rooms, Helm Crag punches into the sky, and its lion and lamb both rear up over the road – the last thing you see before you draw the blinds. Still, if you are of a Dionysian sensibility and do want a drink, the wines are biodynamic and peerless. One wittily-titled Old Fashioned in the hotel's delightful heritage bar would probably floor any reveller. Even Dionysus…
Whenever you book a stay at a Smith hotel or villa, we’ll invite you to review it when you get back. Read what other Smith members had to say in Forest Side’s Guestbook below.
The food, as always, was excellent. Well worth a visit. It's excellently located for access to hiking trails (particularly Helvellyn).
Stayed on 9 Aug 2019
The setting is beautiful, we sat outside and just stared at the scenery. The hotel staff were amazing – nothing was too much trouble.
To have food on a Monday or Tuesday except for breakfast which was amazing.
Stayed on 22 Jul 2019
The hotel is in a beautiful situation with well-kept gardens. Watch carefully for the relatively small sign showing the entrance to the drive. The welcome at reception was friendly and helpful and the room was well-prepared and spotless. We had the smaller of the two tasting menus for dinner and the quality was, overall, of a standard one would expect from a Michelin star establishment. Some of the courses were superb; Kevin Tickle is clearly a talented chef. The sommelier and servers were knowledgeable and attentive without being obtrusive. Overall it was a top-class dining experience. Breakfast was similarly first-rate and our check-out experience was efficient.
This being a Michelin star hotel and restaurant, don't expect the add-ons to come cheaply. Drinks prices are at the top end of the scale, although the wine list is interesting and diverse.
Stayed on 4 Jul 2019
The rooms are lovely, the hotel is beautiful, the grounds are delightful and the food is delectable – what more can I say! Its quiet and peaceful also and Grassmere is a lovely village, surrounded by mountains to climb. The drinks and wine are expensive, however, so be prepared.
Noise or entertainment. Gourmet meals are very good and well served by great staff, so don't expect ordinary food.
Stayed on 4 Jul 2019
Nice location, Grasmere is a picturesque village. Hotel staff were very friendly. Hotel tastefully decorated throughout, with attractive bar and lounge. Stayed in a cosy room, which although not large was pleasant. Great breakfast.
We booked a Monday and Tuesday in November, last minute. Was disappointed to get email from the hotel day after booking saying the restaurant is shut on Mondays and Tuesdays (except breakfast). Would be good if this was more obvious prior to completing the booking, would not have booked knowing that. Hotel almost too quiet, guessing as result of restaurant being shut.
Stayed on 19 Nov 2018
A beautiful room, perfectly designed. Attractively designed public areas with attentive but discreet staff. Most importantly a stunning dinner well deserving its Michelin star accompanied by an interesting selection of complementary wines, well described by a good sommelier. I cannot recommend this hotel highly enough.
Stayed on 11 Nov 2018
We loved everything! The hotel surroundings and location are beautiful. The food itself was delicious. The bedroom was lovely and comfortable. We would certainly travel the 4 hours to visit again!
Use of loan – bring your own to walk in the grounds.
Stayed on 3 Nov 2018
Our one night break here. The staff are pleasant, welcoming and informed. The accommodation was most comfortable with an extremely comfortable bed. The food was exquisite and even though we opted for the six-course taster instead of the 10-course menu – it was more than sufficient. The attention to detail in the dining room is superb and nothing could be faulted. We did have our dog with us and the room would have been ideal (as the door let straight to outside) but there was an adjoining room and we were near to the staff entrance so he did hear other noises! Having said that, they provided everything that he needed and he too was very comfortable!
A lively atmosphere – this is a quiet hotel but the dining room had a buzz – it is not really quiet as the decor includes a lot of hard wood.
Stayed on 21 Oct 2018
This hotel is located just outside the beautiful village of Grassmere, the hotel itself is pretty impressive. All the staff are very friendly and go out of their way to make you feel at home. They gave us some print off maps for exploring, so we did a beautiful walk from the hotel that started from the Swan pub just down the road, it took us high up behind the hotel with amazing views over Lake Windermere, then finished at the hotel itself overlooking the beautiful garden which provides a lot of the food for the kitchen. The room was lovely, we stayed in Silver Birch, which is a cosy room, however it has plenty of room with everything you need. We received our beautiful gift from Mr and Mrs Smith and a complementary newspaper in the morning. The food in this hotel is amazing, it has a well earned Michelin star, the food is either foraged or from as local as possible and the staff are very knowledgeable about where it is from. We had the grand'un and we literally couldn't move by the end of the meal, we were so full. The breakfast was equally as beautiful with lots of choices on offer and all served to you table. We would 100 per cent return here.
The only slight negative was in the room I think we were above the kitchen so we could hear the fans and movement, however this didn't disturb our sleep.
Stayed on 23 Sep 2018
We loved the style and design; no details have been overlooked. The breakfast is superbly cooked and presented. The smoked cod and poached egg is my favorite. Of course all the bedroom and bathroom touches are simply gorgeous, so you will feel in the lap of luxury. The Michelin starred dining for dinner is the real highlight, but not every night, as it is too sophisticated (and costly). We stayed for five nights and had two nights in the dining room, and three nights out at other places in Grasmere. It worked out well. Gorgeous place, and we'll be back!
Don't expect dogs, children, noise, or trivial pursuit in the lounge. This is a seriously upmarket place for the foodies, and those who appreciate luxury.
Stayed on 20 Sep 2018
Food was amazing, drinks on terrace in the sun were great. A beautiful stylish laidback hotel.
Stayed on 7 Jul 2018
The attention to detail, the location, the food and wine, the service, excellent in every way! Grasmere village was interesting, super location but it was raining and we had just 1 night at the hotel on the way back from Scotland, so to be honest was nice just to be in the hotel.
BySally Ann, SilverSmith
Stayed on 2 Jun 2018
From the first view of the hotel on driving in, to the amazing (upgraded) room, to the beautiful grounds, this is the perfect base for a Lake District trip.
Late nights (which is perfect for what we were looking for!).
Stayed on 14 May 2018
Everything. Beautiful rooms, fabulous views and food to die for. Don't expect to lose weight! Loved it.
Stayed on 30 Mar 2018
The rooms, bathrooms and food were all quality.
Rave parties, and a noisy nightlife.
Stayed on 15 Mar 2018
The room was beautiful and the ambience was relaxing. Without exception the staff were all lovely from being greeted at reception to the night security. Food was fantastic. We are vegetarians our dishes were amazing. Thanks to the chefs and service staff.
The Mr & Mrs Smith gift you're promised because we didnt get one.
Stayed on 3 Mar 2018
The restaurant was fabulous and the room wonderful. Our rating would have been higher if the music issue noted below did not exist.
Perfection. We had an issue both nights being able to hear music from the lounge (which was below our room). Although the bedroom was wonderful with a lovely balcony, avoid rooms above the lounge (unless you don't plan on retiring before 12:30am). Most problematic was that this occurred both nights despite asking for resolution the first night.
Stayed on 16 Feb 2018
Great food of course – that's what you go for. Rooms are a high standard and there's great relaxing areas. If you haven't had whisky in your porridge before then this is the time to try it – just before your full Cumbrian breakfast. If you're staying for two nights then why not have a bar meal at Tweedies – fantastic beer collection, great atmosphere and good honest food. Sets the baseline nicely for your gourmet experience the following night.
Stayed on 2 Feb 2018
We booked into a 'Cosy Room' which was in the main building and really was a very decent size. Nice touch to have chilled water in the room, fresh milk for the tea and coffee and the Bramley products to use in the bathroom. Breakfast each morning was absolutely delicious. Helpful walking sheets were available to make the most of the local walks from the hotel.
Feather pillows - I was slightly disappointed these were not an option when I asked - personal preference I know, but I just prefer them.
Stayed on 2 Jan 2018
The exceptional food, particularly 'the Grand 'un' tasting menu. The friendly, informative staff, cosy bed and the bedroom with lovely toiletries.