The five-star traveler to the smaller cities of England has a problem: there are often no such luxury category hotels. You best option therefore is to choose the nicest room in a country coaching inn of the kind that characters from Charles Dickens used to frequent.
In the charming southern English city of Salisbury, famed for its cathedral spire and proximity to prehistoric Stonehenge, a good choice is The Red Lion Hotel, now part of the Best Western chain but owned for four generations and over 100 years by the local Maidment family.
This not only looks the part of a former coaching inn, where mail coaches would lodge weary travelers on their long journey from the west country to London, that is what it really used to be. Indeed, there has been a hotel of sorts on this site since 1220 when the cathedral was built.
As usual in the UK you have history by the bucket load. The original coaching yard where the mail coaches drew up outside the reception is now a garden for al fresco drinks from the bar and pub snacks.
Inside the reception opens into the 1220 Bar which celebrates the foundation of the establishment, and into a comfortable sitting area for afternoon teas. Also adjacent is the restaurant for breakfast, lunch and dinner, a comfortable room with a skylight which has an atmosphere from yesteryear.
Unfortunately the service has not improved much over the centuries. We overheard one gentleman complaining that his breakfast was 25 minutes late and when the waitress replied, 'OK', he said, 'Not it is not OK!'
However, the excellent eggs and best back bacon were well worth the wait, although tea rather than coffee is generally to be recommended in the UK. There was even an ample buffet for those who wanted something lighter.
The 51 rooms are also surprisingly good for an English hotel of few stars. At the top end the bridal suite is probably the best choice. You get a view over the quiet inner courtyard, a small sitting room, king-sized and comfortable bed and a separate shower. Everything was in working order and the decoration fresh.
We were offered a free upgrade to a four-poster bedroom but turned it down. Visitors to the UK are often caught out by four-poster beds which can look alluring but are frequently several hundred years old and terribly uncomfortable.
Actually the standard rooms in The Red Lion looked perfectly adequate, and one even had a medieval fireplace as an added attraction. We also liked the enormous grandfather clock downstairs in the reception that was an antique of some distinction and the collection of prints and paintings.
The only downside was the bill which came to $300 a night including the substantial English breakfast. On the other hand, you are situated right in the centre of Salisbury with all the sights close to hand, and the hotel is a historic experience in its own right.
We arrived in the UK on an Emirates Airlines' Business Class flight from Dubai which is undoubtedly the best way to arrive with the choice of London Heathrow or Gatwick airports. Inflight service and passenger comforts are the highest standard available on this route.