West-central England might not be on your list when planning your next trip to the United Kingdom, but the Cotswolds (‘wolds’ designates the region’s gentle hillsides), is worth the detour for the idyllic countryside scenery and taste of that upscale living the region is renowned for all over the country. The area’s quintessential English villages made from local Cotswold stone nestle close to sprawling fields of grazing sheep, winding rivers and quiet countryside roads. The Cotswolds is where celebrities like to escape for the weekend; top model Kate Moss even got married in the pretty village of Little Faringdon. The area is undergoing a revival with its grand manors, farmhouses and roadside inns and we’ve listed three of our favorites below.
A paragon of farmhouse chic: Dormy House
Nowhere else combines a friendly welcome, extremely efficient service and top-notch facilities with such comfort, charm and style than the Dormy House. From an iPad room directory with all your desires already typed in, to heated bathroom floors, the hotel that’s part of the sprawling 400-acre Farncombe Estate aims to please. And after our preview of the Temple Spa slated to open February 2014, with its infinity-edge pool, mud and steam baths, and a Veuve Clicquot Nail Bar, the hotel is only getting better. Dormy House had us as soon as we stepped onto the driveway, where Rodney, the cheerful doorman, came to meet us and help with our luggage. Designed right down to perfection, the rooms put other designers to shame. Individually designed by British studio Todhunter Earle Interiors, the rooms combine a cozy but chic English farmhouse aesthetic with a meticulous eye for detail. The best room is No. 17 in the Lodge building adjoining the original 17th-century house, where several drawing rooms glow with burning log fires and The Potting Shed bar and restaurant, a modern take on a traditional hunting lodge, serves wholesome local fare such as Cotswold chicken and leek pie.
The Queen of British cool: The Wheatsheaf Inn
The Wheatsheaf Inn is where Kate Moss’ friends all stayed when she got married in the area in 2011, and if it’s good enough for the international supermodel’s friends, it’s good enough for us. A typical roadside inn that looks quaint enough, it hides an exceptional experience. A relaxed but lively atmosphere, stylish rooms and some of the best fare in town are what you can expect from a stay here. Ask for deluxe room No. One that, besides a distorted painting of actor Jack Nicholson, has a magnificent bathroom stocked with sumptuous Bamford products from the ultra stylish Daylesford Organic Farm Gloucestershire, (aka the Fortnum & Mason of the Cotswolds) and a freestanding stainless steel bathtub. As a whole, the inn is unpretentious and down-to-earth, be it from service at the bar (which doubles up as the reception desk) to the restaurant, where the extremely personable staff knows how to make diners feel right at home with dishes such as fillet of cod with caponata and aioli paired with garlic creamed spinach and buttered new potatoes. There is also a surprising 30-or-so-page wine list — and a sommelier on hand all the way from France.
Where old meets new: Cowley Manor
The grand 17th-century Cowley Manor is surrounded by 55 acres of land, and your heart may leap of excitement as soon as you pull up outside the grand stone façade adjacent to charming little Church of St. Mary’s. Although Cowley Manor looks like something right out of Pride and Prejudice, inside, it’s got a more modern vibe that keeps it from feeling dated. With plenty of nooks to curl up with a good book, or to enjoy a multitiered afternoon tea selection while gazing out at the picturesque gardens and lake, Cowley is a perfect balance between contemporary comfort and Old World charm. Colorful and generous in size, with a modern four-poster bed, the hotel’s appropriately named ‘Best Room’ is a winner, especially with its private terrace. However, we’d happily settle for one of the slick ‘Exceptional Rooms,’ too. Although each one of the 30 rooms has its own unique touches, the ‘Exceptional Rooms’ have a den adjoining the room in a conservatory that opens out onto the garden, as well as a bathroom upstairs (stocked with 100-percent natural Green & Spring products) above the bedroom. The jewel in Cowley’s crown, however, is the C-Side Spa. Surrounded by glass walls with a green slate-lined indoor heated pool, the spa is the element that turns the hotel into more of a weekend retreat rather than a simple stopover.
Photos Courtesy of Dormy House, The Wheatsheaf Inn and Cowley Manor