Neighbour to the imposing York Minster cathedral, Grays Court is a family-run, five-star boutique hotel brimming with a 900-year-old history and infinite charm. Tucked away on a cobbled courtyard in the Minster’s shadow, the hotel’s front entrance—flanked with gnarled plane trees strung with cheerful bistro lights—is at once inviting and secretive. Once inside, you’ll find plenty of snug rooms and timeless hallways made for exploring.
The ground floor features old stone columns that may date back to Roman times, timber beams, and wood-burning fireplaces. There’s also an enchanting English garden at the back, which shares a 300-metre stretch with York’s famous city walls (you can see tourists walking along them throughout the day). Upstairs you’ll find the oak-panelled, 90-foot Long Gallery, decorated in the Jacobean style and boasting plenty of overstuffed armchairs and sofas in which to snuggle, as well as a well-appointed bar, to which—if no bartender is present—guests are invited to help themselves on a wholesome honesty system. There’s a magical library that seems outfitted by a latter-day explorer: dusty leather volumes line the shelves, along with mystical figurines and corals and trinkets from the sea.
On this floor, there’s also the elegant Bow Room restaurant serving local, seasonal produce and a full breakfast for guests. The room is the hotel’s most refined, featuring high grey walls, dramatic bay windows overlooking the garden fountain and worldly photographic prints by photojournalist David O’Neill.
Up another flight of stairs are the eleven guestrooms, each decorated with antiques and unique touches such as decorative gas fireplaces, wooden models of old ships, or upholstered footstools. The arched halls of the hotel are covered with fraying oriental rugs, as Jo Malone diffusers send warm scents tumbling down the long corridors, soft-lit with lamps, or at nightfall by candles housed in hurricane glasses. Each piece of décor seems hand-picked, considered, and important. The light features—whether it’s a group of shiny hanging globes or a silk-wrapped table lampshade—are particularly appealing.
Grays Court doesn’t have the sleek polish of some five-star establishments, but it has warmth and character inspired by owner and manager Helen Heraty and her family, who also live on-site (you may even spy one of their delightful dogs roaming the gardens). The staff—some of whom are part of the Heraty family—are an absolute dream: courteous and welcoming in every respect.
Each of hotel’s eleven rooms is decorated in accordance with the general mood, with old-fashioned chairs, oil paintings, and weighty wallpapers. But the historic furnishings aren’t oppressive or heavy-handed; instead, the restraint results in a few key pieces that give each room personality, without the overbearing heft that can arise from decorating in a classic fashion.
Standard rooms (Williams, Fairfax, Clyff, and Aske) are just that—basic and unfussy. In my opinion, the best rooms are Cumberland, with its views of the ancient York city walls and gardens, the two-story Edwards, including copper bath on the second story, Mortimer for its handsome views of York Minster, and Willoughby, which has a four-poster William IV canopied bed. Down-filled linens cover the antique beds—which, though charming, some taller guests may find a bit of a tight squeeze.
The bathrooms are startlingly modern in comparison to the rooms, so much so that it feels as though you’re walking into a different time period. It was a little jarring, and I found myself wishing for an aesthetic connection—especially in the Willoughby room where I stayed. I adored the fresh scent of the Clarins toiletries, though I would have loved to have seen an English brand represented (especially since in all other aspects, the property seems highly focused on using local products). Both the rooms and bathrooms were immaculately clean and inviting. Oh, and it’s delightfully quiet!
The Long Gallery is a cosy spot for sipping on well-crafted Old Fashioneds in cut-crystal glasses, ice clinking against twirls of burnt orange rinds (a highly recommended pre- or post-dinner activity!). The Long Gallery also serves an afternoon tea, which I’m told is one of the best in the city, though I didn’t get the chance to experience it during my stay.
Seating 22 people, the Bow Room is an absolute gem and it’s not to be missed—even if you’re not staying at the hotel. It serves fresh, locally and sustainably grown fare, and some of the produce (such as rhubarb, herbs, and edible flowers) even comes from the hotel’s own organic garden, fronted by a head gardener with the delightful moniker of Jules Fern. The restaurant serves a great breakfast (a mix of buffet and hot dishes), lunch and dinner, as well as special holiday menus.
Dinner was a wildly impressive five-course affair, starting with an amuse bouche of smoked eel and caviar, before a wonderfully creamy butternut squash velouté, perfectly cooked beef fillet and slow-cooked cheek, plus an epic cheese plate for dessert. At £45 a head, most Londoners (myself included) would consider this an absolute steal—especially when considering the amount and quality of the food presented. The wine list was a little limited, but we were told that it’s about to be updated.
Who goes there?
The crowd at Grays Court is mainly couples of all ages, which seems an appropriate target audience, since it’s a bit small for families. But the romantic, tranquil ambience and sophisticated amenities (gardens, bar, restaurant) perfectly suit couples looking for a quick weekend jaunt. The property is also a popular event venue for pretty, intimate weddings and small occasions.
Out & about:
The ancient city of York is made for discovering and Grays Court is well positioned for just that, as it’s right next door to York Minster and about a five-minute walk from both the Museum Gardens and Dean’s Parks.
Though the Bow Restaurant should not be missed, if you’re looking for something a bit different check out nearby tapas restaurant Ambiente.
The worst thing:
A soap dish in the bathroom wouldn’t go amiss.
The best thing:
How welcome you are to explore the house or sit for hours in the library. Instead of feeling like a paying guest, this makes you feel like an embraced family friend. It’s hard not to want to return.