There’s nothing quite like waking up to an abundance of greenery and the intake of cold, crisp, fresh air. We’ve found the best hotels, in arguably the prettiest countryside in the UK, which will make you want to stay longer than a weekend…
Barnsley House, Near Cirencester
If you dream of somewhere not too large, but not too small, somewhere effortlessly chic yet close to nature; if you fancy a hotel with a discreet spa, an intimate cinema and a famous garden, then look no further than this gorgeous Cotswold retreat. The handsome 17th-century manor house, surrounded by the complex yet natural garden created by renowned horticulturist Rosemary Verey, has never looked more stunning since it became sister hotel to the admirable Calcot in 2009 (see below).
No two bedrooms are the same, but all are cool and comfortable, blending classy furniture and state-of-the-art facilities (such as home cinema surround sound and plasma screens in the bathrooms) that blend with traditional elements like old beams, stone fireplaces and wooden floors. As for the lovely Potager Restaurant, elegant, fresh and unfussy food is served in a cleverly mirrored white and cucumber green room, which leads to a pretty terrace overlooking that entrancing garden.
NAME TO KNOW… Head gardener Richard Gatenby. Ask him how the five-year restoration project of the iconic laburnum walk is progressing.
Doubles from £209 +44 (0)1285 740000; barnsleyhouse.com
Calcot Manor, Near Tetbury
Calcot suits many events – honeymoons, family gatherings, celebrations, spa breaks, country weekends – with equal success. With its roots going back to the 14th century and Cistercian times, the present stone manor became a hotel in 1984. Since then, the surrounding farm buildings have been revived and brought into appropriate play over the years: Calcot is brilliant at moving with the times. Today, it has 35 guest rooms, refreshed and reinvigorated, a gorgeous spa, The Barn for private events, an Ofsted-registered crèche and two restaurants.
Rooms in the manor house are designed with couples in mind, while family rooms and suites are housed in converted cottages and barns; deluxe suites come with their own private garden. As well as the open fire cooking of The Gumstool Inn, the hotel’s principal restaurant, The Conservatory, cuts a scintillating dash for more of an occasion. The sweeping, open-plan space is a buzzing, easy-going, all-day arena, with a diverse menu to match.
NAME TO KNOW… The spa’s Francesca Rowland, who is Calcot’s guru on anti-ageing and can advise on skincare dos and don’ts.
Doubles from £209 +44 (0)1666 890391; calcot.co
Cowley Manor, Cheltenham
From the outside, it’s a stunning Italianate manor house in classical lake and cascade-filled grounds; inside, a flawlessly hip hotel, with 21st-century good looks. And although the style is cool, the welcome is warm from the ever-helpful staff. After checking into your state-of-the-art room – in six categories with plenty for families – you can while away time playing pool in the padded leather Billiards Room, drinking in the funky bar or relaxing on the elegant stone terrace, a suntrap with fabulous views.
If you’re inclined to go walking, there are wellies by the front door, or bicycles for those who want to feel the wind in their hair. Although the restaurant, Malt, is a magnificent panelled room, the atmosphere is relaxed and the menus (including for children) concentrate on honest, seasonal British food. Star of the show, however, is the modernist spa, C-Side, and its two pools. Contemporary bliss-out and stone grandeur, seamlessly blended. Cowley Manor has never looked or felt better.
NAME TO KNOW… Chef James Graham, who always forages around the grounds. Ask him what to look for while out walking.
Doubles from £195 +44 (0)1242 870900; cowleymanor.com
Ellenborough Park, Cheltenham
An outstanding address on the outskirts of Cheltenham, Ellenborough Park is an immaculately restored, sumptuous Cotswold stone manor. Parts date back to 1500, bristling with turrets and towers. In the 1830s, it was home to Lord Ellenborough, who became Governor-General of India. The feel of the Great Hall and the Minstrels’ Gallery recalls the exoticism of India and the scandalous behaviour of Ellenborough’s beautiful wife Jane Digby.
The designer responsible for reinventing the interior is the masterly Nina Campbell, whose 61 classically English bedrooms are furnished with antiques and heavenly beds. In the Beaufort Dining Room, the service is discreet and the food contemporary, sophisticated and delicious, while in the relaxed Brasserie, it’s classic British and Cotswold based. There’s also an outdoor pool, an intimate spa and a private path leading to Cheltenham Racecourse. During race meetings, where better to stay?
NAME TO KNOW… One of the concierges Jonathan Bennett, who is the hotel’s very own historian. With a wealth of knowledge on Ellenborough, ask him for a guided tour.
Doubles from £159 +44 (0)1242 807720; ellenboroughpark.com
The Feathered Nest, Nether Westcote
A beacon among the new breed of converted inns, the Feathered Nest is as comfortable, stylish and well-equipped as a fine hotel, but smaller and more relaxed. Attractively laid out and furnished, it reflects the passion and professionalism of its owners, Tony and Amanda Timmer. The four countrified bedrooms (Cuckoo’s Den, Cockerel’s Roost, Pheasant Nest and Dove Cote) perfectly blend the practical with the luxurious, kitted out with Nespresso coffee machines, gleaming antiques, DVDs, books and magazines.
And waking to the breathtaking view of the Evenlode Valley is guaranteed to soothe even the most frazzled nerves. In the rustic chic dining room or outside on the shady terrace, the modern British food is as impressive as the bedrooms. Wherever possible, head chef Kuba Winkowski sources ingredients locally, and his menus change with the seasons. Tony wins awards for his wine list, which reflects his interest in ‘boutique’ growers.
NAME TO KNOW… Carl at the bar, who will tell you anything you want to know about his hops, malts and barleys.
Doubles from £245 +44 (0)1993 833030; thefeatherednestinn.co.uk
The Kingham Plough, Chipping Norton
Who can resist popping into a traditional English pub on a village green? Upon entering The Kingham Plough, you would think so far, so traditional – there’s real ale on tap, real locals on the wooden benches, Scotch eggs and chips on the blackboard menu, and steak and kidney pie on the specials. Except, there’s a twist – dining here is not your typical pub, or gastro-pub, fare. Co-owner Emily Watkins, formerly with Heston Blumenthal at the Fat Duck, is in the kitchen with numerous awards under her belt.
Foodies flock here for her highly creative interpretations of bygone British dishes, often based on old Cotswold recipes and inspired by local produce. They then stay for the relaxed and welcoming atmosphere she and her husband, Miles Lampson, have maintained throughout the pub – in the bar and dining room, as well as the charming bedrooms upstairs, which are all equipped with hotel-style comforts. Eat well, sleep well.
NAME TO KNOW… Be sure to ask our front of house manager, Michal, for a wine recommendation. His wine knowledge is second to none.
Doubles from £145 +44 (0)1608 658327; thekinghamplough.co.uk
Lords of The Manor, Upper Slaughter
In a dreamy mellow stone village, surrounded by undulating woods, formal gardens and parkland overlooking lake and sheep-grazed fields, the Lords of the Manor is one of the Cotswold’s most luxurious hotels. It’s also one of its most gastronomic, having held a Michelin star for eight consecutive years. Whether you regard the handsome manor house – parts of which dates from the mid-17th century – as a hotel with a notable restaurant, or a restaurant with delightful rooms (26 of them, with either village or garden views and soft lighting), you will appreciate the gentle, quietly indulgent experience of staying here, looked after by staff who are efficient, kind and unfailingly polite.
As for the food, expect wonderful tasting menus from head chef Charles Smith, who creates inspired seasonal dishes and cites Wye Valley asparagus as his favourite summer ingredient. At breakfast, don’t miss the Burford Brown eggs, poached, boiled or fried.
NAME TO KNOW… Andy, the concierge, who is something of a legend at Lords. Everyone benefits from his unrivalled knowledge of the hotel and surrounding area.
Doubles from £195 +44 (0)1451 820243; lordsofthemanor.com
No.38 The Park, Cheltenham
As well as The Wheatsheaf in Northleach (see page 146), the brilliant Lucky Onion hotel and pub collection possesses not one but two fabulous addresses (see No.131, p.144) in vibrant, elegant Cheltenham. Tucked into a discreetly genteel and leafy part of town, this fine Georgian house has been converted into a 13-room B&B (dine at No. 131). Here, everything is sexy and textured, from over-stuffed, velvet-padded headboards and mohair throws to over-sized lamps and vast log baskets. Bathrooms are heaven, with underfloor heating, freestanding zinc baths and some boast double showers.
The attention to detail is outstanding and the turn-down the best ever: you’ll find a hot water bottle under your duvet and a mini flask of milk with chocolate dipping sticks. Breakfast in the contemporary light-filled dining room is equally original: devilled kidneys or smashed avocado, bulgur wheat and poached egg. Berocca tablets even sit in a jar on the buffet for an instant hangover cure.
NAME TO KNOW… Lee Anna, general manager, and her dog Peggie. With her extensive knowledge of food and drink in Cheltenham, her recommendations are fabulous.
Doubles from £110 +44 (0)1242 822929; theluckyonion.com
he hip place to stay in Cheltenham, No.131 is a restaurant with rooms that opened in 2013 in a white-stucco Georgian villa. It was rescued from dereliction by husband and wife duo, Sam and Georgie Pearman, dedicated, talented hoteliers who also own The Wheatsheaf at Northleach (see page 146) and No.38 The Park, also in Cheltenham (see page 143). The Pearmans refurbished No.131 with flair, paying particular attention to detail but never forgetting its 18th-century heritage. The elegance of the upstairs restaurant is complemented by the relaxed buzz of the downstairs restaurant and bar, Crazy Eights.
Food is seasonal and mainly organic, from a menu that focuses on prime cuts of outstanding local beef and fresh seafood. Georgie’s bedrooms, in three different categories, are heavenly cocoons with glorious Egyptian cotton linen on divine beds, original British paintings, reconditioned antique radiators and, in some, Rogeat Lyon baths. Nothing has been overlooked – not even hot water bottles.
NAME TO KNOW… Head chef Alan Gleeson, whose passion for food – its seasonality and origins – is second to none.
Doubles from £110 +44 (0)1242 822939; theluckyonion.com
The Painswick, Painswick
A glorious combination of eclecticism, heavenly food and creature comforts, all set in one of the Cotswolds’ prettiest towns. Renovated and launched by the new owners, The Calcot Collection, in spring 2016, it has been transformed into a relaxingly chic haven with ace cuisine and fabulous views over the Slad Valley. The Calcot Collection are masters at the art of creating laid-back luxury, having developed Calcot (see page 140), Barnsley House (page 140) and the Lord Crewe Arms at Blanchland (page 184).
Now they’ve worked their magic on this 18th-century mansion, conjuring an arty, subtly funky feel in the sitting rooms and furnishing the 16 bedrooms in soothing tones and characteristic attention to detail. The Painswick is billed as a restaurant with rooms, so expect a strong focus on delicious food: menus are brilliantly inventive and wonderfully seasonal. Breakfast in the sunny restaurant is a delight too; don’t miss the zinging apple and ginger tonic.
NAME TO KNOW… Head barman Dan Smolarek. Ask him to suggest his favourite cocktail, which says all you need to know about Painswick.
Doubles from £129 +44 (0)1452 813688; thepainswick.co.uk
The Sheep on Sheep Street, Stow-on-the-Wold
In the heart of beautiful Stow on the Wold, The Sheep is a fine example of Brakspear’s elegantly updated inns. With 22 homely bedrooms, it now manages to be a traditional, warm and hearty inn yet with a fresh, contemporary, Soho House feel. Like most of the buildings in Stow, the inn dates back to the 17th century, while the cool blue and green tones of its 2016 refurbishment lend a welcome splash of colour, freshness and modernity.
Nowadays, The Sheep draws in guests from near and far and it’s easy to see why: there’s an immediately open atmosphere, perfect for relaxed dining for parties, large or small, all the while looking on to the open kitchen and wood-burning oven under soft lighting. The Sheep also ticks the boxes in summer, with a sun-trap outdoor dining area built around a feature fireplace. Here’s a rural home-from-home that will soften even the hardest of city-dwelling hearts.
NAME TO KNOW… Resident bartender and talented mixologist Robin Stransky. Order a seasonal cocktail using Robin’s blends of fresh juices and local ingredients.
Doubles from £90 +44 (0)1451 830344; thesheepstow.co.uk
Thyme, Southrop Manor Estate
Paradise in glorious Cotswold countryside, Thyme offers luxurious, flexible accommodation in a collection of fine stone buildings. It’s classy, understated and far more than just a hotel. Food is its raison d’être, with first-class chefs, a highly regarded cookery school and produce from its own kitchen farm and gardens. Breakfast is in the stunning Tithe Barn: lunch and dinner in The Swan, Thyme’s charming restaurant and village pub, while The Baa is equally stylish for coffee, lunch, tea or botanical cocktails.
Pamper yourself with a range of Aurelia facials and body rituals in the new spa, opening this year. Rooms (‘Cosy’, ‘Elegant’ or ‘Divine’) are found in the exquisitely renovated Farmhouse, Lodge and Courtyard buildings, all decorated with great attention to detail and furnished with every conceivable comfort. For more independence, go for one of the two cottages (if you are bringing children and dogs, Old Walls welcomes both).
NAME TO KNOW… Seek out chef, gardener and bee-keeper Daryll Taylor in the cookery school. Talk to him about the food ethos at Thyme – he is both knowledgeable and great fun to be around.
Doubles from £270 +44 (0)1367 850174; thyme.co.uk
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Whatley Manor Hotel & Spa, Malmesbury
This beautiful Cotswold country manor hotel, set in 12 acres of gorgeous English gardens, makes a popular choice for Londoners who crave a sybaritic weekend away (and a haven for grown-ups – no children under 12). Close to the quaint market town of Malmesbury, it offers 23 individually designed, luxuriously furnished rooms, in warm colours, with a mix of antique and contemporary furniture and sound and vision by Bang & Olufsen.
Unwind in the Aquarias Spa, where features include an indoor/outdoor hydrotherapy pool, a series of heated relaxation experiences and spoiling treatments. Relax in the 26 stunning garden areas or watch a film in the 40-seat cinema. There’s a refreshing lack of pomp in The Dining Room, where new executive chef Niall Keating’s innovative, seasonal cooking draws inspiration from many different cuisines including Korean, Japanese and classic French. His outstanding creativity is on display with every dish.
NAME TO KNOW… Executive chef, Niall. Ask him if you can visit the kitchen, he loves to welcome guests.
Doubles from £350 +44 (0)1666 822888; whatleymanor.com
The Wheatsheaf Inn, Northleach
This stylishly decorated former coaching inn serves as a hub for the local community around handsome Northleach. It combines an informal, warmly welcoming atmosphere, courtesy of its delightful, dynamic owners Sam and Georgie Pearman, with the attributes of a fully fledged hotel, including glamorous private dining room, relaxing sitting room, charmingly rustic treatment room and English bath and body range, 100 Acres, in every bathroom.
Locals crowd into the Game Bar for coffees, drinks and light meals, or dine under the beady eyes of the doughty Wills tobacco family, whose early 20th-century portraits, bought at auction, decorate one wall of the dining room, gleaming with polished wood. The 14 bedrooms, imaginatively decorated by Georgie herself, are beautifully equipped, with deeply comfy Hypnos beds, Egyptian cotton linens, lovely wallpapers from Lewis & Wood and original artworks. As for head chef Devon Boyce’s locally sourced, simple rustic food, it doesn’t miss a beat.
NAME TO KNOW… Peter Creed, the country director. He puts you at ease and knows The Wheatsheaf and surrounding area inside out.
Doubles from £95 +44 (0)1451 860244; theluckyonion.com
The Wild Rabbit, Kingham
Heralded by two endearing, floppy-eared topiary bunnies flanking the entrance, The Wild Rabbit is both a Cotswold hotspot and a haven of eco-elegance. Just a few fields away from sister enterprise Daylesford, the organic farm shop, café, deli and Bamford Haybarn Spa – the wellness retreat of Carole Bamford, it draws well-heeled locals and weekenders in equal measure to meet, eat, party, chill and – if they want – bed down for the night in great comfort. The moment you step inside, the mellow space invites instant relaxation with open fires, comfy sofas and armchairs.
The restaurant – think boho-chic farmhouse kitchen – lies behind, with its pewter-hung dresser, long wooden tables and busy chefs in view. This Wild Rabbit is sophisticated, convivial and informal and the 12 bedrooms and three cottages – symphonies in designer cream and taupe – are sanctums of rustic-chic.
NAME TO KNOW… Alyn Williams, the Michelin-star awarded chef who will be joining the restaurant in May 2018.
Doubles from £175 +44 (0)1608 658389; thewildrabbit.co.uk
Woolley Grange, Bradford On Avon
A fine Jacobean manor house with 18th-century additions, Woolley Grange is part of the Luxury Family Hotels group. The hotel’s wood-panelled interior – all open fires, antique furnishings, artwork – is impressive but not a showpiece. Children and dogs are positively welcomed and couldn’t be catered for better. The 14-acre garden is one big adventure playground, sporting a climbing frame, fishing pond, heated outdoor swimming pool (in summer) and much more.There’s also an indoor pool, the Woolley Bears Den children’s club and Hen House, filled with games galore.
Adult treats include a croquet lawn and a luxurious spa, roaring log fires in the winter and a relaxed tea or champagne terrace in the summer. The bedrooms are not just family friendly but also full of character. After high tea at 5pm followed by play time in the garden, tuck the children up, don your glad rags and head for a superb, sophisticated dinner, prepared using fresh produce from the kitchen garden and the best local suppliers.
NAME TO KNOW… Head gardener, beekeeper and head of the gardening club, Eliza. Ask her what’s going on in the garden today.
Doubles from £120 +44 (0)1225 864705; woolleygrangehotel.co.uk
MORE HOTELS: The Great British & Irish Hotels Guide