Many years ago when I was a young under age alcohol drinking teenager living in a small village outside Winchester, Hampshire my friends and I would go to what was then called the `Southgate Hotel` to sneak inside the stale smelling bar to pretend we were 18 and sip martini and cinzanos believing we were the height of chic......................
In 1994 some one had the good heart to transform my illegal drinking den into the first Hotel Du Vin, a hotel built on its reputation of quality and turn it into something so chic, smooth and luxurious that I had to pinch myself the first time I revisited it.
This is now one of several Hotel Du Vins and has been an adult retreat for me for 3 times now - I like to think that both myself and the hotel have improved with age !
The Hotel Du Vin Winchester is located at Southgate Street.,Winchester - the catherdral city of Hampshire. It is walking distance from the train station and only 5 minutes from the top of Winchester High Street.
The hotel itself has one of those rare luxuries city accomodation - lots of parking ! This is to the side and behind the hotel and we have never had any problem in finding a space.
From the car park you walk into the rear courtyard area of the hotel. I have stayed twice in the summer and this is a gorgeous area with good quality seats,tables and umbrellas and where you can take coffee or an evening drink. The hotel itself is a lovely georgian building with all the brick work showing and period features like sash windows. As you walk into the back of the hotel and through to the reception you are made to feel like you are entering an old friends country house ( if I had any such friends!). The floors are old stained wood and there are tables with books and flowers on here and there. The reception desk is just that - a nce old table not big imposing desk. Staff are smart but not too imposing and they always take the time to comment on where you have come from and information about what Winchester has to offer.
All rooms are individual and have the names of wine regions.
The first time we stayed here it was as a wedding present from some very good friends in 1998. We stayed then in one of the garden rooms. These are located away from the main building and through the garden - they are obviously the old stables for the property. These are like small bungalows with two windows to the front and a vey imposing georgian style front door. These are ideal for the summer as you get your own courtyard garden to the front sectioned off from those next to you with tables and chairs. It is lovely to sit out here with a glass of wine reading the ample amount of free quality magazines that they provide for in the rooms.
The garden rooms are large with and bright. They have a large bed full to the brim with eqyptian cotton and soft pillows. The decor is chic and understated - arm chair, small table, desk, wardrobe...but you also get a TV and CD/DVD player which is a bonus. ( The hotels has DVDs for loan but you need to bring your own CD`s).
The bathroom is large with the deepest longest bath I have ever seen - I think I could have swam 20 lengths in it ! The shower is above the bath and the sink is one of those quality huge square ones that are about the size of my bath at home. There is the normal supply of whte soft towels and robes.
I have stayed in a garden room twice now ( the last time only this summer) and it was as good as I had remembered and hadnt seemed to be subject to the normal wear and tear expected.
I also stayed last winter in one of the superior rooms. This was on the first floor and was amazing. It has the normal huge bed and gorgeous bedding - whilst at the end of the bed infront of an old victorian fire place was a free standing bath. The room was so large that it all just fitted. This room also had an amazingly large old looking wooden wardrobe and a state of the art plazma screen on the wall - a strange mix of the very new with the very old...but there is something very decadent about watching a plasma screen whilst in a bath drinking wine !
One of the best things about this hotel are the small touches - like fresh mlk in a jug to have with your tea , and a coffee pot rather than a frieze dried tube of brown granules. PLUS all the `freebies` are very much for you - there is a sign in the rooms asking you to take them with you !!!!!
I have only once used the restaurant facilities and that was on our first stay. The restaurant gets very busy with non residents - a friend recently had to book some 10 weeks in advance for a Saturday night. It is still very much wooden tables and floorboards and lots of bookcases stuffed with old books in a realistic way rather than reproduced.
I cant give you any real guidance on the food as all I recall is the dining room being very smokey - although this may well have changed now . The hotel is renown for its wine and so if you are a conoisseur no doubt you would enjoy. However, I also remember the sweet that I had being the best thing that I had ever tasted .......what it was !
We also had breakfast on this first occasion. I think that this is expensive ( currently £13.50 each for cooked) and whilst being a very pleasant well cooked fry up we have opted for a bacon roll on the way home at Tescos recently for a fraction less.
Because of where the hotel is located it is easily walking distance to some very good restaurants. I favour `Mr So`s` chinese - but staff at the hotel are always pleased to guide you to what you may fancy.
Whilst this may not be the cheapest hotel in Winchester, it is far above any of its centrally located opponents ( Such as The Wessex). It has been transformed from an old relation that you wanted to be ashamed of and smelt a bit to a `grande dame` oozing taste ...and the only thing that smells now are the fresh flowers and polished wooden floors.
See the website Hotelduvin.com for full details - I usually book direct with them. Prices range from £130 for a room to £190 for a suite/garden room - this is for the room not per person.
And I am pleased to say that you can no longer get a warm cinzano and lemonade here..................!
I hope that you have found this review helpful and thank you for reading it . I will rate this hotel as poor for family friendliness as I have never seen anyone with young children stay so presume it is not that appealling.
Such is my weekend boredom that on any given Saturday or Sunday, I find myself looking through the Travel Supplement of the broadsheet newspaper I have to hand that day, playing the 'Hotel du Vin Challenge'. The idea is simple, just browse through the pages and see how quickly you can spot some mention of the hotel group. You'd be amazed just how little of a challenge it actually is. I don't think I've leafed through the Guardian or Telegraph over the past few months without some mention of this group, ranging from full page reports awash with numerous compliments, fleeting references to the hotel in any report mentioning a city where they happen to have a hotel or various top tens where you are sure to find one of the hotels or the group in general scooping one of the awards. Hence you'd have to have been living on Mars not to have heard of the group, and thanks to the unashamedly complimentary slant, you'd be forgiven for thinking that the Hotel du Vin group had single-handedly masterminded a revolution in the hotel industry never seen before. Anyway, I am ashamed to say we were not immune to such propaganda, and full of expectation, not to mention much curiosity, we had for some time intended to stay at one of the hotels. Incidentally the hotels are based in six cities around the UK; Brighton, Birmingham, Bristol, Tunbridge Wells, Harrogate and Winchester. It was strange to find a hotel group that nobody ever said anything even slightly negative about. When we planned a trip to the Goodwood Festival of Speed we decided that we would satisfy our curiosity with a stay at their newest hotel (at that time) in Brighton. We booked over the telephone (no online bookings!) at a rate of £130 for the standard room, not including breakfast. The rate also did not include car parking that came in at a steep £15 extra per day. A little closer to the date of our stay, we decided to change our booking over to the Hotel du Vin in
Winchester. We were tempted by the slightly more reasonable rate of £110 and also the fact that the hotel had a free car park. More importantly Winchester had a Fullers pub and the pull of London Pride and Summer Ale was just too much of a temptation!. We arrived for our two night stay, easily finding the hotel which is pretty much in the centre of Winchester, just a short walk up the High Street, on Southgate Street. The hotel is housed in a traditional Georgian style building, with a courtyard behind ideal for summer drinks. We parked our car in the leafy car park and went into the hotel through the garden via the rear entrance. The style of the reception area is very low-key, much more like an entrance hallway in a house with a desk stuck in the corner. The desk is very low and so you stand around feeling rather awkward as people push past you trying to get out of the front door, and waiters hurry through to the wine cellar and restaurant. You could be forgiven for thinking this was some subtle way of making guests feels less powerful as you stand awkwardly at the desk like a schoolchild waiting for a reprimand from a teacher! We were checked in by the rather unfriendly young receptionist and shown to our room, up a narrow flight of stairs and round some winding corridors with snakes of coir matting shifting under our feet. The walls are lined with numerous prints and the overall effect is quite homely if a little cluttered. All the rooms are named after wines, and we also noticed one named after our beloved Fullers! I guess if you get a room named after a brand of Champagne you've struck lucky; ours was Villa Maria, a pretty good not too expensive wine (so the standard room then!). You really need to worry when you get the Blue Nun room (joke). I was immediately struck by the size of the room, it was rather cramped. On entering through the door, the fitted wardrobe was on the right, meaning you couldn't open the wardrobe an
d the door at the same time. Straight ahead was the door to the bathroom. We excitedly anticipated the bathroom as every review you read raves (and I mean RAVES) about the bathrooms. Turning left you were immediately in the bedroom, which was a roughly square shape with three tall windows overlooking the street. The bed took up most of the space with two bedside cabinets alongside, one containing a minibar. We had also heard glowing references to the huge beds that Hotel du Vin had, but ours was just a standard double ? quite a letdown. On the right hand side of the room was the dressing table and also a small unit with the small TV on top. The room did have a small CD player, which looked to be the only addition to the room above the norm. We also had a tall free standing fan in the room, as the weekend was quite hot, but this made very little difference ? the room was HOT and stuffy. It only served to make the room look more cluttered and took up valuable space. We opened all the windows in an attempt to relieve the discomfort. The long anticipated bathroom was a shock ? tiny. We were left dazed and confused as to the various phrases we had read over and again about the wonderful Hotel du Vin bathrooms. As soon as you opened the door you were hit by the intense heat in there. The shower was over the bath, whereas you would have expected a separate shower in a hotel with this reputation. It was so compact that you felt quite claustrophobic and the sweltering heat turned the room into a sauna as soon as you tried to have a bath. There was very little space to place your toiletries, and I managed to knock the shower gel and shampoo provided onto the floor as I tried to manouevre in there. (The toiletries provided are actually quite appealing, in glass wine bottle shape bottles - amazingly I didn't have broken glas all over the floor!) Our first night was pretty unpleasant. The room continued to be hot, the fan had very little ef
fect, only caused a rather disturbing noise and the shouting and hullabaloo from outside meant that you had to choose between being kept awake by the heat or the noise if you opened the windows. I can't remember the last time I have spent such an uncomfortable night because of the heat in the room ? there was not a breath of air anywhere. Oh how we yearned for air conditioning. It is amazing how soon you get used to hotels with air conditioning, and whichever way you look at it, in a hotel that has such praise heaped upon it, you don't expect anything to make your stay actually uncomfortable. We soon realised that the room lacked a clock as well, so you had no idea what time it was when you woke up in the night ? not great when you have to be somewhere early in the morning and don't want to oversleep. I think the last time this has been a problem was years ago when certain Travelodges/Travel Inns sometimes did not have clocks. Even these lodges have realised that this is a basic item every guest now expects. We spent a day out at the Festival (with a detour en route to attempt to clean the car after the roosting birds in the 'leafy' hotel car park had well and truly christened (i.e. covered) the car in a way only roosting birds can!). That seconf evening we had chosen to dine in the hotel bistro. We enjoyed a cocktail in the garden which a very pleasant location ? and the cocktail was good too. The cocktail menu is a classy one with a good selection of champagnes and champagne based cocktails, as you would expect. I chose a Kir Royale, and my husband one of the other appealing champagne cocktails. We then made our way inside to the bistro which appeared quite small, and we were rather unfortunately seated at a tiny table right next to the bar, which made you feel that you weren't really dining in the restaurant at all. We did manage to order a bottle of Canadian wine though, which was one of the highlights, and a choice w
hich seemed to impress the Sommelier ? there's a first time for everything! I ordered tempura prawns for starter which were good if not fantastic, and were quite a generous portion. This seemed a pretty basic bar-food type item to find on this French inspired menu. I felt the edge had definitely been taken off my main course. My husband chose Rosti with Roquefort Cheese which he was very pleased with. For main course I chose a chicken dish with fine beans and baby onions. The chicken was nicely cooked and the accompaniments well chosen, but in style it did remind me of a dish I had eaten at Rick Stein's St Petroc's Bistro in Padstow, and this only served to demonstrate that the dish was not as good as it could have been. It was a bit like a poor substitute for the original. My husband's Dover Sole was good, but again only served to highlight similar dishes that he had enjoyed more at other restaurants. Overall though my husband said he really enjoyed his meal, but I did come away feeling a little disappointed. The complex richness of the flavours of my meal seemed to show a lack of finesse and I could think of various similar dishes I had eaten elsewhere which were much more carefully constructed. After another disturbed night, we checked out on Sunday morning, for the first time in more years than I can remember, looking forward to my own bedroom and my own bathroom at home. We mentioned the fact that the room did not have a clock, and the receptionist (now slightly better humoured) said that no, none of them did. What a really weird idea. Such a basic amenity, and they don't even have it! We did notice whilst strolling in the garden that the hotel does have some garden rooms in a small stable-like converted outbuilding with lovely cottage gardens outside and places to sit outside your door on a small patio. These would have been absolutely charming, and if I were to return to the hotel it would only be in
one of those rooms. It seemed strange that neither on the hotel's website or on the little-more-than-useless hotel guides these rooms are not mentioned. Talk about a well kept secret. I am left dumbfounded by the press reports about these hotels. I can only assume that some journalists are getting some pretty good backhanders or freebies to constantly promote the brand. Although the hotel did have a certain shabby charm, and it definitely was the place to be with well-to-do or wealthy clientele (Ian Botham was there when we visited), I feel that the praise is disproportionate. We really regret the fact that we changed our booking to the Winchester hotel, as perhaps the new and modern influenced hotel in Brighton would be totally different to the first Hotel du Vin in Winchester. A couple of weeks after our stay the Brighton Hotel won the best hotel in the UK award in another of those newspaper polls, and it turns out the rooms have air conditioning and plasma TV's! Whether all these incentives actually exist or whether they are like the huge beds and amazing bathrooms that we found were non-existent, who knows, but I would be curious to find out. If I was visiting down south, it would be nice to have a stop in Brighton, just to satisfy our curiosity once and for all. I guess that would settle whether we avoid the chain at all costs in future. Next year we are staying at a Malmaison for the first time and I will be really interested to see how that chain compares, being in a similar 'trendy, boutique hotel style' category. The brand does lack that certain something from beginning to end. The website though attractive is of little practical use. The room rates are extremely vague and there is no way to book online. The room facilities are not mentioned at all, and only sound-bites (amazing showers etc etc) exist. No more useful information is contained within the tiny hotel guides that you can request online, so before you sta
y you assume the hotel must have everything you expect, only to find this is not the case when you arrive. So now as I play the weekly Hotel du Vin challenge, it is with a certain sense of cynicism and amusement ? I would say the real challenge is to see through the sound-bites and propaganda!