Before humans had yet understood the concept of a home – let alone a hotel – we sheltered in caves for warmth, comfort and safety. They were practical and offered natural protection from the harsh elements and predators on the outside. The original hotel, one could argue, and once a fire was lit, these territories became sanctuaries.
Positioned on the outskirts of Canterbury, in Kent, and attached seamlessly to Boughton Golf Club, a new unexpected hotel has emerged. The Cave Hotel is not really like a cave at all. Instead, it is a well-designed luxury hotel that cleverly removes all who check in from the stress of modern life. It shelters an authentic design scheme – from the room layouts right down to the technology that works behind the scenes – that was inspired by owners James Tory and Jonathan Callister’s own experiences during their many years of checking in and out of some of the world’s finest hotels. “We have lived hospitality for years,” Callister told Hotel Designs. “Having travelled the world, we have injected the best design and architecture that we have experienced into this hotel.” The result is a well-rehearsed and well-timed arrival onto the luxury hospitality scene.
On the outside, the 41-key boutique hotel is an isolated gem, surrounded only by undulating hills in the county that is known as the Garden of England. But inside, the hotel shelters a very different vibe, one that challenges conventional hospitality and hotel design in Kent and beyond.
The arrival experience creates a powerful first impression with a modern take on the nomadic lifestyle (times have evolved since caves were our homes). Walk past the heavy curtained entrance, and the lobby becomes a comfortable den that features a high-vaulted ceiling and dark warm tones – a secluded sanctuary far away from the outside world with an atmosphere that is automatically muted and relaxed. It is complete with low-level furniture and contemporary shelving, which provides textured décor as well as clever boundaries between spaces.
An exposed elevated walkway above – accessible via lift or stairs – leads to the ‘Firepit’, a sleek bar and restaurant, which serves up a contemporary sharing-plate experience. A burst of flavours of world cuisine meet and fuse together in the fresh, re-imagined menu. The smokey, barbecue aromas of the American west combine with the delicate spiced tastes of the far east to create ambitious dishes that excite.
Upstairs, the 41 guestrooms and suites are serene havens, and further reveal intuitive design features inspired by the owners’ travels. The lighting, for example, is set simply via moods (chill, romance and blaze), which automatically adjusts the temperature and harshness of the light in the room, allowing guests to simply personalise their own hotel experience from a touch of a button.
With no expense spared – and leading its market in terms of using 21st century technical innovation – the hotel puts emphasis on guests’ digital needs and demands. Each room is complemented with state of the art Wi-Fi, super-fast internet, bespoke 65″ Smart LED televisions with music, digital art and connectivity for laptops and smart phones.
Even the function of the bed has been carefully considered from concept through to completion, with there even being an area under its structure where guests can store their luggage. “It was a a big bugbear of mine,” said Callister, “checking in to a hotel where there was no where to put my suitcase after I had unpacked. It was therefore an important element to include when designing the bed, and was it was only achievable by designing everything bespoke.”
“I have never slept in such a comfortable bed and mattress in my life.” – Hamish Kilburn, editor, Hotel Designs.
In addition to the beds being functional and stylish, the mattresses are also unique to the hotel. They have been designed bespoke by manufacturer Harrison Spinks. The brief from the owners was to create a mattress that guests would sink into but also felt secure on. “This idea came from sleeping on so many hotel mattresses that didn’t offer the right level of support or comfort,” Callister explained. “I was yet to find a mattress that met my two demands [as a modern traveller].”
“We provided Johnathan and his team the opportunity to sample a range of hospitality beds, each with its own unique look and feel,” said Stephen Truswell, Hospitality Sales Director at Harrison Spinks. “Once we had established the look and specification, we moved on to feel. Because we have the facility to provide different tensions, our showroom allowed them to select the tension that would deliver their guests the ultimate night’s sleep.”
In my editorial opinion, although bed and mattress preference differs from person to person, it was the most comfortable sleep experience I have ever had in a hotel, which is a testament to both the hotel and the manufacturer.
While the guestrooms offer their corner of luxury and unparalleled comfort, the jewel in the crown is the custom-build penthouse, which is located on the fifth floor at the end of the architecturally lit corridor and offers more than a bed for the night – it is an experience; a unique space and an opportunity to explore a cutting-edge smart hotel in style. Framing what are unreservedly the best views of the gold course and surrounding landscape of rolling hills, the expansive suite, at just under 3,000 sq ft, features a unique space that is layered with technology to enhance and enrich the consumer journey.
The living area is flooded in tech – from the Gallo acoustic speakers to the personalised Lutron lighting and blinds. To add personality into the space, a distressed leather bar from Timothy Oulton provides the perfect minibar. Adjacent to it is a large dining table, which filters into the suite’s private kitchen. A separate work area in the lounge plays well into the new ‘workcation’ travel trend that has emerged in recent months. Once the work emails are answered, guests can sink into what the hotel describes as “the most comfortable sofa in the world”, which was imported in from America.
The style of the bedroom within The Penthouse is similar to other rooms within the hotel, but the bathroom is an open-planned area of indulgent luxury. Complete with a freestanding bath, a large shower and dark, moody and textured stone surfaces (giving a nod to the inside of a cave, perhaps), this area further provides laid-back character and seductive design.
Meanwhile, downstairs on the ground floor the spa and wellness area may be small but it is fit for purpose. Complete with a sauna, steam room, hydro-pool and a gym, the wellness facilities are there to cater to modern demands of luxury ‘bleisure’ (business/leisure) travellers.
The hotel recently appointed award-winning hotelier Robert Richardson to take the helm as General Manager, who believes The Cave Hotel’s independent status gives it an advantage in a post-pandemic world. “As an independent hotel we can be boundlessly creative in our approach to providing a memorable guest journey,” he said. “The natural beauty of the stunning Garden of England, our close proximity to London, and the singular vision of the hotel owners has all been combined to create a destination venue never before seen in Kent.”
What makes the hotel that much more interesting – other than it just being a superb luxury countryside hotel with an urban personality – is its expansion plans. It may well be an independent hotel at the moment, but the aim is for The Cave Hotel in Canterbury to be the first of what is said to be many hotels that will open in the portfolio in and outside of the UK.
As I come back down to earth to check out of The Penthouse, I can see how The Cave Hotel’s effortless style and thoughtful design would work in metropolis’ around the world. It’s refreshing to immerse myself in a hotel that answers to the hefty demands of modern luxury travellers. With its luxe contemporary design and laid-back atmosphere throughout, the hotel in many ways erases conventional hospitality and replaces it with a completely new hotel experience that makes a lot of sense in the tech-fuelled ‘new normal’ world we live in today.
Main image credit: The Cave Hotel