At Jewels of Britain hotels, the past comes shining through

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Associate editor Caroline Scutt checked out some properties that are billed as "the Jewels of Britain." Her report follows:

LONDON -- The British Tourist Authority selected some of Great Britain's finest country house hotels and exclusive city properties to be marketed together as the Jewels of Britain. After getting a closer look at several of these touted properties, I concluded that they are indeed gems -- each with a very different luster.

The Greenway

Set against a backdrop of gently rolling Cotswold hills, the Greenway is a striking country estate dating from the start of the 17th century. Used as a U.S. military intelligence center during World War II, the property was converted into a hotel in 1947 and today has become a popular base for exploring the neighboring Cotswolds.

Proprietors David and Valerie White and their staff extend a warm welcome to guests and provide a relaxed and inviting atmosphere. The main house is elegantly appointed with traditional English furnishings and antiques. The guest rooms are individually decorated and feature modern conveniences, including satellite television. Although the newer rooms in the coach house are larger, the guest rooms in the main house have more character.

Active, outdoorsy types will find an array of activities in the area to keep them busy, such as golf, clay-pigeon shooting and horseback riding, all of which can be organized through the hotel. Should the weather be less than perfect, there is the option of curling up with a favorite book in a comfy chair in front of a roaring fire in the main lounge.

The Conservatory Dining Room offers wonderful views of the garden and the Cotswold hills and a menu that lives up to the restaurant's reputation for fine dining.

New Hall

This 13th century, moated manor house was the oldest of the three properties I visited. An imposing structure with masonry dating back to 1250; a staircase and stained-glass windows from the 16th century, and the almost palpable presence of ghosts who are said to have lived here for hundreds of years collectively create a surreal atmosphere.

The magical ambience and posh, eclectic decor make it easy to forget that this property is owned by one of Britain's hotel chains. New Hall belongs to Thistle Hotels' unique Country House collection. Surrounded by 26 acres of gardens and parkland, New Hall also makes it easy to forget where you are -- only seven miles from the bustling city of Birmingham.

The hotel is managed by Ian and Caroline Parkes, who make every effort to anticipate guests' needs. I was particularly impressed by the little touches. Upon entering my room each night, for instance, I found my pajamas folded and placed on my pillow, a pitcher of ice water on my bedside table and handwritten messages slid under my bedroom door.

As expected in any older building, the bedrooms vary in size and layout, each individually decorated and adjoined by spacious bathrooms.

Hollington House

From the moment guests cross the threshold of the entrance hall with its high ceiling, rich wood paneling and large fireplace, they are immersed in the indulgences that were commonplace among British nobility at the start of this century.

This Edwardian country residence was built in 1904 and carefully restored and turned into a hotel by John and Penny Guy in 1992. The amount of personal attention and detail that the couple put into the restoration is extraordinary -- from the carefully chosen antiques to the quilted pillow coverings, designed and handmade by Penny Guy.

Outside, the house is surrounded by 28 acres of woodland gardens, many of which are tended by John Guy. A croquet lawn, a tennis court and an indoor swimming pool and sauna facility also can be found on the grounds.

Each spacious bedroom is individually decorated with the same care that went into the public spaces. And the couple's enthusiasm extends far beyond making this house a showpiece. Their warmth and personal interest in each of their guests are what make Hollington House more than just an upscale country-house hotel.

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