Swinton Park, North Yorkshire
The 20,000-acre estate borders the beautiful Yorkshire Dales National Park and is dotted with around 90 properties including Swinton Park, the ancestral seat of the Earl of Swinton. Parts of the building date back to 1695, although the tower and turrets were added in the early 1800s. The castle is now a 31-bedroom hotel with plump sheep and fallow deer grazing outside its ivy-clad walls.
Play: There’s grouse shooting, falconry and horse riding, but the main draw is the acclaimed cookery school. At the helm is chef director Stephen Bulmer, formerly of Raymond Blanc’s Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons cookery school in Oxfordshire. There’s an emphasis on local ingredients plucked fresh from the kitchen garden and surrounding estate, including venison, lamb and wild garlic. For beginners, the half-day Ultimate Sunday Lunch will help you master essential skills like roasting and carving, while talented home chefs will enjoy the two-day Cooking with Star Quality masterclass.
Stay: Who wouldn’t want to sleep in a turret? The Turret Suite is split over three floors and connected by a steep curved staircase, but it’s worth the walking to wake up here.
Rates: From £185 (about A$270) per night, half-day cookery lessons from £75 (about A$109.)
Bovey Castle, Devon
The castle at the heart of this small estate within Dartmoor National Park is not actually a castle at all. Instead, it’s an impressive Elizabethan-style manor house built in 1907 for Viscount Hambleden. It exudes old-school opulence, with oak panelling, soaring ceilings and huge carved stone fireplaces. Now a five-star hotel, it’s surprisingly unstuffy and attracts outdoorsy types drawn to the rolling green hills and wild moorlands.
Play: The estate offers plenty of classic sporting pursuits, such as fly-fishing and clay pigeon shooting, but for something a little more left field, try crolf. “It’s a mixture of golf andcroquet, a kind of cross-country croquet match,” explains resort desk supervisor Craig Loveday. Hefty hammer in hand, the aim is to whack a wooden ball through a series of six hools (three-way hoops) in the least number of strokes. It’s slightly eccentric and lots of fun. Finish your day with a traditional tipple at a cider and sloe gin making workshop in the Long Barn, using fruit picked from the estate.
Stay: If you really want to splash out, the pick of the 63-bedrooms is number 18. The private balcony offers uninterrupted views of the estate and Dartmoor beyond.
Rates: From £249 (about A$363) per night, crolf £15 (about A$22) per person, gin workshop £20 (about A$29) per person.
Coworth Park, Ascot
Just 45 minutes from central London, this 18th century mansion and polo estate in the beautiful Berkshire countryside is surrounded by blue-blooded neighbours. The venerable Guards Polo Club, founded by the Duke of Edinburgh in 1955, manages the estate’s polo fields, while Ascot racecourse and Windsor Great Park are also nearby. Coworth Park is now a luxury hotel, spa and equestrian centre owned by the Dorchester Collection hotel group. In a word, it’s divine.
Play: You can wander down to the polo playing fields to watch a world-class match or even saddle up for a lesson. Instructor James White gets novice non-ridersto practice the four main polo shots on a wooden A-frame, before graduating to a majestic polo pony that responds to the lightest of touches. Hitting the ball with a crack of the mallet is hugely satisfying.
Stay: It’s worth staying here just for a soak in the stunning, freestanding copper bath that you’ll find in every room. Don’t skimp on a spa treatment either – the Luxury Diamond Facial is 65 minutes of pure bliss, priced from £100 (about A$156).
Rates: From £235 (about A$342) per night, private polo lessons from £160 (about A$249) per person per hour.
Goodwood, West Sussex
Country estates don’t get more glamorous than Goodwood. Home to the sports-mad Dukes of Richmond for over 300 years, the almost 12,000-acre estate combines the bucolic charm of one of England’s largest lowland organic farms with the high-octane thrill of world-class sporting events, such as the classy Festival of Speed motorsport show and Glorious Goodwood horse racing carnival.
Play: Goodwood is also steeped in aviation history, with the aerodrome serving as a Battle of Britain air base. Today, it boasts a busy flying school where you can relive Britain’s finest hour in the cockpit of a two-seater warplane. It’s no tame joy flight, though. Pilot Paddy Bolton executes exhilarating aerobatic manoeuvres in a 1943 Harvard IIB, from leisurely loops to tight barrel rolls, while calmly advising when to clench your stomach muscles to counter the g-force. Flying upside down over the patchwork-like pastures of the South Downs and sailing villages of Chichester Harbour is pinch-yourself-fantastic.
Stay: At the recently refurbished Goodwood Hotel, an 18th century former coaching inn on the estate decorated in earthy tones. Go for one of the character rooms with an impossibly comfortable four-poster bed.
Rates: From £110 (about A$160) per night, flights from £325 (about A$474).