As the story goes, a chef, baker, trainer, designer, entrepreneur, and gardener walked into a bar. What did they create? Birch. Staycations are where it’s at right now. Has Shara found the perfect one at Birch hotel? A Soho Farmhouse meets creative arts festival in 55 acres of nature, just 30 minutes north of London…
Birch Hotel – what to expect
We leave North London, and just 30 minutes, yes, 30 minutes later, find ourselves at the brand new and hotly anticipated Birch. Set in Hertfordshire among 55 acres of land, the urban retreat provides a whole new concept, like nothing you’ve seen before.
It came about when a chef, baker, trainer, designer, entrepreneur, and gardener came together to create what they see as the ultimate city escape. The aesthetic is chic and modern, with a design ethos that focuses on minimising waste. So, design team Red Deer reused and repurposed existing material from the site, parts of which are really old – the mansion house was built in 1763 and is Grade II-listed. Now, the 140 rooms are simple – think no TV – but you won’t miss such ‘luxuries.’ The whole idea is to entice you out of your room, you see, because what really sets the hotel apart are the experiences on offer, and the community nature.
Classes and workshops galore are available at Birch and there’s something for everyone. You could try your hand at pottery, glassblowing, candle making, bee keeping, gong baths, board games or spoon carving. The less active could head to a film screening, while the super active would enjoy the dedicated wellness centre complete with HIIT, breathwork classes, al fresco yoga, a nightclub-style spin studio and more. Visit later this year and the spa will be open, while if you hold off until next year, the heated lido will be.
I tried pottery. At first I was reluctant to commit to something for three hours – it’s truly not my nature to chill – but before I knew it, I was completely relaxed, enjoying what felt almost like a meditative experience with a Margarita on the side. Emma Louise Payne is the teacher and the ceramicist responsible for the more than 1,000 ceramics dotted around the hotel. She is an incredible teacher with so much talent.
I also tried soda bread making. The hour-long class is really interactive – it’s led by Birch’s head baker and pastry chef Sohail Hussain, formerly at The Dorchester. He taught us how to mix, experiment with, twist and of course devour delicious soda breads. It’s both a delightful and delicious start to the weekend.
Birch is a community vibe in the truest sense of the world. While there are Soho Farmhouse-esque touches, here it feels more like a festival. There is a working farm and lots of collaborations. No one is immersed in their laptops. Instead of taking selfies, people chat to each other. It would be the perfect place to holiday solo. The idea of Birch is that it’s a members club anyone can join – there is no committee. You then get access to all the cultural events, you can plant a tree in the grounds, use the 20 event spaces, and more. It’s like nothing I’ve ever experienced.
Food and drink is an utter highlight at Birch. The Zebra Riding Club, set up by Robin Gill is the main restaurant, where food is hearty and farm-to-table, with seasonal, locally sourced dishes. Don’t miss a grounds and garden tour with farmer Tom Murphew to see where and how much of your food is grown. Also head to The Frick, an excellent bar where the Primitivo is £5 per glass and superb. The Garden Sour and Margarita cocktails are also excellent. There are natural wines on tap, which change regularly to showcase wines from small independent family growers. In time, Birch will create its own wine blend.
The second restaurant, Valerie’s, is named after the estate’s 1920s socialite owner Lady Valerie. Casual and relaxed, there is a wood-fired oven, Georgian features and delicious meats and fish. You can also order up a BBQ or picnic to be enjoyed anywhere in the grounds.
Breakfast is a highlight, making the most of the onsite bakery. Try fresh croissants and pain au chocolat, cheese and marmite buns and Bircher muesli.
This is more of a do-everything-space than a hotel – it’s the new way to holiday. You won’t be bored, or lonely, and you will utterly recharge, no matter how you choose to use Birch hotel. This weary Londoner will be back.
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