Travel: A perfect gourmet break in Lancashire
Driving along the winding roads between Lancashire's rolling green hills on a summer Saturday, I was immediately struck by the area's natural beauty.
After being behind the wheel for nearly three hours, the sudden plethora of picture postcard views temporarily took my mind off my rumbling stomach and the hunger which was building for our weekend 'gourmet' break.
We were slightly late for check-in at The Lawrence Hotel in Padiham, but on arrival we couldn't have been made to feel more welcome by owners Michael and Hannah, who had officially opened their new 15-bed establishment just a week earlier.
Â A small boutique B&B near the town centre, The Lawrence is a smart grade-two-listed building with a pretty exterior complimented by several perfectly-manicured planters and hanging baskets.
Inside is equally impressive - think understated glamour with some art deco touches - and with the paint still fresh in many of the plush new rooms, it's clear The Lawrence is big on first-impressions.
The desire is for guests to enjoy their stay to the fullest, with several in-room conveniences offered including spa treatments, room service dinners and breakfast in bed. And it's dog-friendly too, which was a big tick from us having pet whippet Snoopy in toe.Our signature room had many aesthetically-pleasing features, including a free-standing 'tub' bath, trendy art deco lamps and a big rainforest shower, as well as a couple of modern amenities like the Samsung tablet and Amazon Echo speaker.
The town and surrounding area is home to some great casual dining spots and award-winning restaurants, none better than The Freemasons in the tiny 'chocolate box' village of Wiswell.
Dogs and fine dining don't usually go hand in hand, but at The Freemasons everyone is welcome. Sitting elegantly on top of a hill, it's the North West's number one gastro-pub and multi-award winner thanks to the exquisite menus created by chef and owner Steve Smith.
From the outside it looks like a local village pub with a regular drinking clientele, and it's exactly that. But once stepping in and clasping eyes on the array of beautiful rustic dining tables, you immediately realise there's much more to it.
By that I mean the fabulous fine dining food and the three-course a la carte experience we enjoyed was quite a treat. Tongue-tingling delights included the freshest of heritage tomatoes with English Mozzarella, melt-in-the-mouth Herdwick rump lamb and spiced kofta and a beautiful Wiswell Moor-inspired Amalfi lemon meringue pie.
There's an impressive drinks offering too, with an excellent selection of cask-conditioned ales and a cellar which boasts more than 250 wines from around the world.Â
A drizzly Sunday saw us drive into the stunning Ribble Valley. First destination was historic Clitheroe Castle, which has dominated the town's skyline for over 800 years. And not being deterred by the bad weather, we successfully managed to incorporate the daily dog walk while taking a look around the impressive castle grounds.
There's plenty more to see in Clitheroe and you shouldn't leave without a visit to Holmes Mill, the town's popular new gourmet destination.
Holmes Mill houses a brewery, food hall, restaurant and hotel all on one site, offering so many food and drink delights you are spoilt for choice. Half a day could be spent in the food hall alone and it's no surprise the Mill has given a major boost to the town's economy.
There's also a great beer hall where dogs are welcome, so as long as your pooch happy to stick to water, it's worth sticking around to sample some of the fine Bowland brews.
Our final food stop was at The Emporium brasserie, which started life as a modest cafÃ© 20 years ago but gone on to become one of the area's most sophisticated dining destinations.
There's a great range of food from antipasti and pizzas to a full a la carte menu. Bustling with life, it's the ideal place for a meet and eat stop with friends and is also a popular haunt for celebrities who are often seen enjoying the relaxed, glamorous, but not overstated atmosphere.
In my eyes Lancashire has certainly climbed the foodie league table and I, for one,Â will definitely be returning for a second course.
The Lawrence Hotel '“ thelawrencehotel.co.uk Boutique B&B, rooms from Â£79 to suite Â£189
The Freemasons at Wiswell - freemasonsatwiswell.comÂ Lunch Wed-Sat 12'“2.30pm; Dinner Wed & Thurs 6'“9pm; Fri & Sat 6-9.30pm; Sun 12noon'“6pm
The Emporium - theemporiumclitheroe.co.ukÂ Mon'“Thurs 9am'“11pm, Fri & Sat 9am'“12am, Sun 10am'“9pm
Holmes Mill - holmesmill.co.uk Check website for various opening hours
Go to Visitlancashire.com for more information on places to stay and visit