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As part of an occasional series, we're taking a closer look at the regions of Britain you've told us you want to explore. In Part One of our beginner's guide to the Lake District, we looked at the best of what to see and do in the national park. In part two, we're looking at where to stay and, for those without a car, how to get around - it's much easier than you might think.
The best places to stay
We're focusing our recommendations on the area around Windermere - it's an ideal base for first time visitors due to its numerous facilities and proximity to the transport network, but also because of its excellent range of places to stay.
At the very top end of the scale, you simply cannot beat the space, setting and sumptuousness of the family-run and multi-award winning Gilpin Lodge and Lake House, with the six-bedroom Lake House a mile up the lane particularly ideal for special occasions and peaceful get togethers with family and friends.
Set amongst 80 acres of private grounds on the banks of its own small lake, the house oozes luxury and tranquility, with an impeccable mix of contemporary furnishings, artworks, antiques and fresh flowers. Bedrooms are light-filled and seriously large - space really is in abundance here - with vast beds seemingly taking up no room at all and warm country interiors that aren't remotely twee.
An indulgent afternoon tea is served in the fire-lit lounge, which overlooks the shady gardens and lake jetty and is full of magazines, maps and interesting knick knacks. The pampering continues with a large indoor pool and sauna, outdoor hot tub and in-room spa treatments, though you can easily shun all that and get back to nature via one of several trails in the grounds which lead to panoramic views of nearby mountain ranges.
The hotel is renowned for its modern English cuisine, and dinner at the main lodge is a real occasion, to which you are whisked by chauffeur at your leisure. There's ample opportunity to relax at the bar, or to explore the nooks and crannies of this equally glamourous property before settling down for the evening in one of the four separate dining rooms. Should you wish to stay somewhere slightly larger but equally mellow, the lodge itself has twenty rooms and suites and is one of England's finest country house hotels, as recognised by the AA who voted it their Hotel of the Year for 2011-2012.
Gilpin Lodge and Lake House is located south of Windermere, about a ten minute taxi ride from the station.
Just outside Bowness, Lindeth Howe is another, larger country house retreat once owned by Beatrix Potter, with a gorgeous garden setting and fabulous views across Windermere to the mountains beyond. Swat up on Timmy Tiptoes and Pigling Bland in the hotel library; they were both illustrated here - or just admire the many subtle Potter reminders and photographs dotted about the property.
The imposing country pad has 36 modern, comfortable rooms decorated in a fresh but traditional style; a number have lake views and there's a couple of very roomy suites with ample sitting area and fireplaces. Downstairs there's a cosy sitting room and bar where you can leaf through the menu before dinner - the Lake District is a region that has gained a well-deserved reputation for fine food and, along with Gilpin Lodge, Lindeth Howe's restaurant is another highly-rated venue. The seasonal menu features a wide range of locally sourced produce, so we say splash out and opt for the extravagant multi-course tasting menu to get a real flavour of the creativity on offer, then burn it all off in the pool or fitness room, or on one of the hotel's guided walks or cycle routes.
Lindeth Howe is situated on a hillside above Bowness-on-Windermere and is within easy walking distance of the town.
Other nearby country retreat-style properties include The Samling just south of Ambleside, which has just been crowned the 2012 Best Dining Restaurant in the World at this year's Boutique Hotel awards; nearby Holbeck Ghyll, and Linthwaite House just south of Bowness.
For an in-town or more economical option, try the 12-room Hawksmoor Lakeland Guesthouse; Jericho's - a restaurant with rooms on a quiet street in the centre of Windermere; Laurel Cottage guesthouse, a Victorian B&B dating back to the 1890s, or The Hideway at Windermere - run by two former members of our own inflight services team!
When to go
There's no denying it gets a bit nippy round these parts in winter but there are far fewer crowds, and if you're prepared to wrap up warm this can be a great time of year to visit. There is simply nothing like a bracing walk across frosty fells on a crisp, wintry, blue sky day in the Lakes, and the sunsets at this time of year can be spectacular.
During spring the Lake District truly comes into its own. The weather tends to be bright and settled, fields of prancing new born lambs roll against a backdrop of Wordsworth's daffodils, and the entire landscape reawakens.
Summer is a very special time in the Lakes, though many other people are of the same opinion and you will need to hunt just a bit harder to find solitude, if that's what you're after. However, the infinite shades of green and long golden evenings make up for any minor traffic jams, and there's a stacked calendar of festivals and other events.
Finally, nothing comes close to the spectrum of colours you'll experience in the autumn when wooded slopes and forests are ablaze in shades of russet, copper and gold, and the late afternoon sun glitters on the water. It can be wild and windy, and heavy showers may strike at any time of course - but they often pass quickly and the ever-changing skies only heighten the magnificence of the scenery.
In Part One we alluded to the sustainable transport policies being advanced in the Lake District, and this includes pay-as-you-drive electric and low emission cars and electric bikes as well as more traditional ways of getting from A to B.
If you're arriving by train but feel you cannot do without a pair of wheels, consider hiring a Mini Clubman from Windermere Station via Co-wheels or a 2-seater Renault Twizy from the Langdale Hotel and Spa, available from as little as £6 per hour. Find more information at Go Lakes.
Electric and standard bikes can be hired at dozens of places throughout the Lakes; try Country Lanes at Windermere Station or the electric bike point at Windermere Canoe Kayak for starters. Gilpin Lodge also have two electric bikes for hire, as does Lindeth Howe, and there are charging points at various locations throughout the national park.
Buses criss-cross the Lake District and give you the opportunity to take in the sweeping panoramas with no distractions, especially from the top deck of one of the open-top varieties. A new bike bus service also runs on weekends and bank holidays from May - September, with a daily service during peak summer (15 July - 31 August). The 800 service can carry up to 12 bikes and runs from Windermere Station to Whinlatter Forest Park via Ambleside, Grasmere and Keswick.
Other popular bus routes include the open-top 599 Lakeland Experience from Kendal to Grasmere via Windermere Station and the 517 Kirkstone Rambler from Windermere to Patterdale, via the awe-inspiring Kirkstone Pass.
Last but not least - take to the water. There are plenty of ferry, cruise and steamer options available on Windermere, Coniston, Derwentwater and Ullswater lakes for example, and if you purchase a GoNow Lakes Card, you can travel by boat and bus all on one ticket.
Taking the train to Oxenholme with Virgin Trains is the most straightforward way to reach the Lake District from London. Typical journey time is just 2 hrs 49 mins on a state-of-the-art tilting train, with regular departures throughout the day.
Oxenholme Lake District is the junction for the branch line to Kendal and Windermere, with the connecting journey to Windermere taking around 20 minutes.
Booking in advance and travelling off-peak is the best way to get great deals - including some fantastic First Class bargains. Return Advance Standard fares start at £32; use the Best Fare Finder on the Virgin Trains website to find the best prices and remember you can upgrade to First Class on weekends and bank holidays for just £15 each way.
For more information on visiting the Lake District - including more than 900 accommodation options and last minute bookings - visit the official tourist board website at www.golakes.co.uk.
Header photo of Gilpin Lake House © Gilpin Lodge & Lake House
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About the author: MaxineMaxine Sheppard
Maxine is the editor of the Virgin Atlantic blog. Travel and music are her joint first loves, and despite having written for Virgin for more years than she cares to remember she still loves nothing more than jumping on a plane in search of new sights and new sounds.