The rolling Cotswold hills boast some of the loveliest countryside in England and outstanding hotels with sleek spas and roaring log fires. Here’s a shortlist of favourites
There are so many hotels to choose from in the Cotswolds, it's hard to know where to look when booking a few nights away. I think each of these is well worth serious consideration, and all are brilliantly located for getting a sense of 'real' Cotswolds countryside and charming villages.
The Greenway, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire
The owners of this ivy-clad retreat, just outside Cheltenham, really thought about everything when it came to kitting out their Elizabethan manor house. There are plenty of historic features - original fireplaces, beams, coach house rooms in the old stable block etc - but modern touches include super comfy beds, striking interior design, plasma TVs and sleek bathrooms.
As you might expect there's an elegant restaurant, led by acclaimed Head Chef, Paul Mottram, where dishes (heavy with local produce) can be pleasantly surprising. Take the honey roast pork belly for example, served with sautéed langoustines.
The fabulous grounds are another big draw - you can simply relax and play croquet in the garden by the terrace, or explore the eight acres of formal gardens where you'll come across an ornate lily pond and giant yew hedges.
The Greenway, which takes its name from the pre-Roman path running beside the building which dates from its construction in 1584, is part of the exclusive von Essen group of hotels, pretty much ensuring high quality. But thankfully the prices are not astronomical and there are often good packages to take advantage of. When I was writing this there was a January sale on with luxury rooms from ₤110 a night. And shopaholics will be pleased to know you can combine a break with a personal consultation and shopping in the local boutiques with resident style guru, Stuart Weir, who's worked with countless celebrities.
Basically, it's fit for royalty, so perhaps it should come as little surprise that The Greenway was the late Queen mother’s favourite base for many years during Cheltenham Gold Cup race week.
Doubles from around £100
www.thegreenway.co.uk, +44 (0) 1242 862 352
Country hotels don’t have to be twee, as Cotswolds88 demonstrates. Located in the chocolate-box village of Painswick, near Cheltenham, it’s an 18th-century Palladian mansion with 18 playfully themed bedrooms boasting gorgeous views over the Cotswold hills. The surrounding countryside is a Mecca for those who want to muddy their wellies on long walks.
The hotel’s interior is hip, bright and exuberant, with splashes of yellow, stripes and outrageous statues. Some find it pretentious; I found it fun and uplifting. It feels like a tongue-in-cheek rock star’s country manor, with a refined exterior but bold zebra-print chaise longues inside. The restaurant serves up locally sourced food and you can enjoy spa treatments in the comfort of your bedroom (luxurious Frette bed linen earns it an extra tick) or the treatment room. Bathrooms have a Jacuzzi bath or power shower and posh toiletries, but opt for a Detmar room if you can, for a four-poster bed, fireplace and great bathroom. Just leave the tweeds at home! This is well suited to young couples who like the sound of an unconventional, cool country hotel. It's also good value for money for the area, in my opinion.
Doubles from around £155.
A quintessential Cotswolds stone house dating back to the 13th century, Buckland Manor oozes sophistication. Reassuringly traditional, it’s set in 10 acres of peaceful grounds with a stream, small waterfalls, croquet lawns and tennis courts, and is well located to explore Stratford-upon-Avon and the village of Broadway - possibly my favourite in the Cotswolds, with its galleries, antiques shops and tea rooms. Broadway is an incredibly picturesque two-mile walk away through fields and a coppice. A decent pub is handily located on the route in.
I enjoyed a blissfully relaxed stay here, during which I reflected upon how, if I had a bolthole in this part of the world (a girl can dream) this is how I’d like it to look, with a huge log fire in the lounge, wood panelling and big squishy armchairs. Bedrooms - some with four-posters and open fires - are elegant, spacious and showcase lush countryside views. We were in the Oak Room on the ground floor, with a large open fireplace and carved four-poster bed. My only criticism s that the bed was a little soft and on the small side. But I loved the home-from-home feel, emphasised by the fact bedrooms don't have locks and you just hang a bow on the outside to show when you're in. It feels very safe, but probably not advisable to leave valuables lying around.
The Manor’s restaurant makes use of home grown herbs and produce from the neighbouring Vale of Evesham. Dishes include the likes of lobster lasagne and carpaccio of Cotswold venison, and the wine cellar boasts an impressive 8,500 bottles. It's also lovely to sit on the large terrace and soak up the sun on a pleasant day, perhaps with a glass of Pimm's. Service is faultless and nothing's too much trouble. Of course you can have breakfast in bed, of course we’ll tell you where the best walks are, of course you can check out late. And if you want pampering, a spa is set to provide the icing on the cake in 2010.
Doubles from around ₤275.
A stylish spa retreat three miles outside the market town of Tetbury (a treasure trove for antiques lovers), Calcot Manor Spa manages to make you feel both somewhere special yet also right at home. Set around a pretty courtyard of lime trees, ancient stone barns and stables, it’s perfectly placed for a hearty injection of country air and invigorating walks.
The hotel is luxurious but informal, with warm muted tones, modern flair and indulgent bedrooms. If you’re after a romantic weekend-a-deux, Norfolk and Devon have the requisite four-posters, and if you like the sound of a quaint cottage, Cambridge and Malmesbury fit the bill. It’s child-friendly too, with a kids’ Playzone and family bedrooms tucked away from the main house. Thankfully, though, the spa is adult territory, with two swimming pools and a groovy outdoor hot tub facing a blazing log fire, just begging to be enjoyed with a glass of champagne in hand. Time in the gym might be well spent too, as the Conservatory restaurant spoils you with hearty, unfussy food. Don’t miss the pork belly with seared scallops. I recommend this especially for families with adults who don't want to miss out on pampering.
Doubles from around £226.
Whatley Manor has all the ingredients for a decadent weekend away. The gourmet restaurant has two Michelin stars and the Aquarias spa is rated among the best in the country, offering La Prairie treatments that slather you in caviar, plus thermal cabins and indoor/outdoor hydrotherapy pool. I enjoyed popping from one cabin to the next, inhaling camomile steam and blasting my pores in the Caldarium before a thorough, mucky scrub in the Serail mud chamber. There’s also a VIP suite for romantic couples feeling in the mood.
The grade-II listed Cotswold stone hotel has glorious views over landscaped gardens and green meadows beyond, and there are quintessential olde worlde villages to explore nearby. Inside the hotel, the style is a seamless blend of old and new. Bedrooms have exposed beams and Bang & Olufsen TVs, enormous beds and bathtubs with inbuilt sound systems. Very 21st century. There’s also a 40-seat cinema, a casual brasserie and a head chef who honed his skills at the renowned Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons. My dinner of hare loin followed by wild duck breast was nothing short of superb, with caramel soufflé the ultimate way to round it off. The hotel is well suited to most, but particularly spa aficionados and foodies.
Doubles from around £290.
Country hotels don’t come much cooler than Cowley Manor. As soon as I arrived at the Italianate stone mansion to be shown to a lovely room with a freestanding bath at the end of the bed, I knew I was in for a treat. Unsurprisingly, the hotel - set in 55 breathtaking acres with a lake, stone lion statues and bridges crossing a river - is a firm celebrity favourite, with Hugh Grant and Kate Moss among its fans. The grand, oak-panelled restaurant uses mainly local, organic produce, some home grown (those celebs wouldn’t expect anything less) and there’s a fun, leather-clad billiards room and suave bar where the hotel suggests you can “watch the sun set or chill by the fire”. The decor is flamboyant to say the least, with cow-hide seats, and some rather unusual papier-mâché animal heads adorning the walls in the bar and billiards room. Room categories are divided into 'good', 'better', 'great', 'exceptional' and 'best'. I particularly liked the Green & Spring toiletries, combining ingredients like marshmallow, shea butter and Cowley spring water.
For a change of scenery, The Green Dragon Inn, a 10-minute walk away in Cockleford, has log fires, a really buzzy atmosphere and excellent food (I tucked into a really impressive homemade goats cheese and artichoke tart in the bar area). It also appeared to have lovely rooms that are well priced, if your budget doesn't stretch to Cowley Manor. The town of Cheltenham is also nearby. If you want to just hole up at the hotel, there's more than enough to keep you satisfied - especially the slate and glass C-Side spa, with excellent indoor and outdoor pools and a vast range of pampering treatments. There's also Anya Hindmarch goodies to browse in the boutique (set in renovated stables).
In my opinion, this is one best suited to young couples and groups of friends, and also singles looking for a quiet break.
Doubles from around ₤245.