Oh la la, you don’t have to travel across the Channel for a spot of French luxury on a getaway break: just 30 miles north of Newcastle, in fact.
Anyone who has driven to Scotland on the old A696 route as it meanders through the ruggedly charming Scottish borders will be familiar with the old Percy pub which hugs the road as it winds its way through Otterburn.
Though it’s rich in history, a history which stretches all the way back to 1216, The Percy Arms had been left unloved on the side on the road until it was bought by Sunderland-born businessman Duncan Fisher, whose successful Apartment Group portfolio also includes The Palm in Sunderland, a string of trendy bars in Newcastle and much sought-after wedding venue Newton Hall in Northumberland.
With this site, they’ve created a hybrid wedding and gastro-pub venue, with Le Petit Château on one side of reception and William De Percy Inn and Crêperie on the other.
As anyone who’s visited any of the other Apartment Group sites will know, decor with personality is their speciality and this site has character in spades. Original, listed features are celebrated here, and complemented by a shabby chic meets Art Deco meets French château vibe.
Think British racing green velvet sofas, exposed brick walls, chintzy booths, huge gilded mirrors and chandeliers to die for. If Jay Gatsby was to holiday in Northumberland this would have been his go-to bolthole.
We stayed in one of the grand double rooms. Each bedroom is different and ours had a striking hand-painted mural spanning one wall, all jungle leaves and exotic flowers. It’s not the only talking point in the room: there’s also the gold, vintage style bed and at its foot a copper bath deep enough to lose yourself in.
The little touches which make a big difference continue with the French brand L’Occitane toiletries and a complimentary cocktail kit in your room where you can whip up your own French Martini. There’s also Netflix in every room for those wanting to chill.
French windows, complete with a window box filled with pansies, open out onto the perfectly-manicured grounds, which is an oasis of palm trees, an elegant fountain and lush greenery.
The centrepiece is the chapel, a purpose-built alter where French flourishes meet the quirkiness of Hobbiton.
Providing there’s not a wedding on, hotel guests are free to wander the grounds and stop for a game of Boules.
While Le Petit Château is drawing people in from around the region, The William De Percy Inn still maintains the comforting atmosphere of a local pub - complete with a warm welcome for four-legged punters.
Its locality informs the food and drink menus with Northumberland-brewed ales on draught, such as Alnwick Amber Ale, as well as a colourful cocktail list, another trademark feature of Apartment Group venues.
The food too comes straight from Northumberland’s rich larder, with meats from local farms and herbs picked from the site’s own garden and a nod to nearby Scotland with options such as haggis and sausage roll.
The latter’s one of a good choice of hearty dishes, ranging from classic British fare, such as beer battered cod and chips, landed at North Shields, to the more exotic local fish Khao Sao Soup. There’s also crêpes served until 5pm. We’d missed them, but I certainly could have been swayed by a very North Eastern ham and pease pudding version.
Instead, we went for the Camembert to share (£13.50).
The melted, creamy French cheese was served with a round of fresh, warm rosemary and garlic bread from Trotters bakery in Northumberland and a pot of sticky balsamic.
For mains I had the 7oz fillet steak (£25.95), which comes with hand cut chips, whopping onion rings that are almost the size of a side plate, beef tomato and flat mushroom.
As good as the onion rings looked, I swerved them and the sinful-looking fat chips for extra salad, which wasn’t a problem for our waiter Derek who was incredibly helpful. He’s worked in hospitality all over the world and he really helped to make our night at this village getaway special.
The steak, which I’d asked for medium rare, was a buttery pink and plump with flavour, and came with plenty of salad.
Prices are really reasonable for a gastro-pub and even more so if you book as part of a midweek deal where you have a two course dinner, stay and breakfast from £75 per person.
After you’ve risen to the sound of the almost permanent bird song at this picturesque spot, breakfasts are a medley of France meets Northumberland, with options ranging from croissant and continental cheeses to a belly-busting William’s Stack, two poached eggs on muffin with hollandaise sauce, bacon, mushroom and black pudding.
If you have time, you can walk it all off afterwards with a stroll around Otterburn Mill on the edge of Northumberland National Park, which is a charming mix of woodland and stream-side strolling.