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Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Family business provides winning formula

WINDERMERE’S Gilpin Hotel & Lake House has just won the hospitality industry’s equivalent of an Oscar. CLAIRE CRISP speaks to owner John Cunliffe and discovers why the luxury small hotel is a ‘family’ business in every sense of the word

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HONOUR Gilpin Hotel owners John and Christine Cunliffe with their Cateys Independent Hotel of the Year Award HARRY ATKINSON

A FAMILY-RUN hotel in Windermere, the Gilpin Hotel & Lake House, has scooped the Hotel of the Year – Independent Award at the Cateys, the hospitality industry’s equivalent of the Oscars.

Owner John Cunliffe, who runs the luxury hotel with wife Christine, says: “I knew we’d been shortlisted, but I had no idea we were going to win and didn’t think we would – as there was such fierce competition.”

As it was, John says he was ‘surprised and thrilled’ when they were announced as the winners and they received their award from actress Joanna Lumley at a glittering ceremony at the Grosvenor House Hotel in London earlier this month.

While the hotel already sports a number of accolades, including for Best Small Hotel 2010 in the national tourism awards held by Visit England and the AA English Hotel of the Year 2011-2012, the latest award can only help to boost business at a time when many hotels are struggling.

John says: “It makes a very nice hat-trick for us! At any time we are in an extremely competitive area – the Lake District has a lot of good hotels – and it’s by no means an easy economic time, so something like this that attracts publicity and helps us to stand out from the crowd is wonderful.”

He adds: “More and more people book hotels online and so to see the awards on our website is particularly important.”

John and wife Christine, celebrate their 25th year at the hotel this year, so the award makes a particularly special ‘anniversary present’. The pair took over the hotel in 1987 and John says: “Actually it’s quite an interesting story. Originally I got to know Gilpin Lodge as a house in the 1940s when I was sent up here to stay with my grandmother, to get away from the War in London.”

While the house was sold in the 1960s after the death of his grandmother, it once again became John’s home after he and wife Christine decided to start their own hotel in the 1980s.

“After my grandmother died it had a series of private owners and when we saw it advertised, it was as a private five- bedroomed house. We have built on that to create the hotel as it is today,” he explains.

John and Christine both come from a hotel background and met as teenagers at Battersea College while studying hotel management. They went on to work all over the world for the Trust House Forte group before deciding it was time to set down roots in the Lakes: “The house came onto the market just at the time when we decided we wanted to do our own thing.”

These days they have transformed the original house from a five-bedroom residence into a 20-roomed hotel with an adjoining six-bedroomed Lake House annexe, which has its own private lake and spa.

As well as being multi award-winning, the Gilpin has also been a member of the prestigious Relais & Châteaux since 2006. It is an organisation that recognises in particular, excellence in hotels of a small, and largely privately-owned, nature.

For both John and Christine, this emphasis on service and luxury had always been a priority: “Our background is very much in luxury hotels – at the Cafe Royal and Grosvenor House – properties of that ilk.”

It is their knowledge of the luxury side of hospitality that sets the Gilpin Hotel apart from many Lake District hotels – each of the hotel’s garden suites has its own six-person hot tub and in-room spa treatments are available year-round. The hotel’s restaurant offers fine dining using locally sourced ingredients and a wine list featuring more than 200 specially selected wines.

Nowadays, John and Christine’s son Barney and daughter-in-law Zoe, have also become part of the team at the family-run hotel. John feels that it is the family’s personal investment in what they do, that really makes the service at the Gilpin stand out from the norm: “The fact we are a family hotel is hugely important, particularly from the viewpoint of the guests. When we started out on this venture 25 years ago, we were determined to do two things – to meet every guest and get to know them.

“That’s as important to us today as it was then.”

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