Calcot Manor – A new breed of British country hotel
Calcot Manor is the most relevant, resplendent paragon of a new breed of British country hotels, up there with Bowood House and Barnsley House. Dating back to the 14th century, this former English farmhouse lies on its own 220 acre-estate of lime trees and stone barns, three miles west of the sleepy Cotswold market town of Tetbury in Gloucestershire. Smart service meets sophisticated know-how, delivered with down to earth friendliness without a hint of pretension. Dogs are welcome by prior arrangement, giving the hotel ample time to arrange one of the rooms that opens onto the outside for ease of access.
I’m instantly enamored of our split-level suite, complete with a grand main bedroom and separate living room area on the ground floor, and a whimsical children’s twin room on the first floor. It’s truly residential in feeling, splendid detailing at every turn. My boyfriend Tom is in awe of the bathroom – a bath big enough for two, twin basins and a shower chamber with enough wiggle room for a Weimaraner and Daschund to go to town on getting clean. He says it feels very American. Growing up in England, he’s used to the water closet style facilities. In the competitive upscale hotel market, bathrooms are no longer the basic utility rooms of most unrenovated country piles. Obviously, they’ve spared no expense on creating an oh-wow-effect bathing haven here.
Scrolling through an online gallery of 34 bedrooms is a joy, each styled distinctly from the next and peppered with playful local curiosities everywhere you look. In room perks include Hypnos beds done up in Frette linens, a large flatscreen TV, Aromatherapy Associates toiletries. Clustered around a botanically blessed courtyard, the ten dedicated family suites are ideal for travel with pets. The original farmhouse hosts nine bedrooms, an idyllic nest for couples with smaller dogs.
The hotel boasts both indoor and outdoor pools, rather rare for the precious real estate in this region, as well as an outdoor hydrotherapy tub. Nestled in a landscape worthy of Alice in Wonderland, the hot tub is the perfect place to lose yourself in a bubbling playground. For more sporty types, hop on one of the hotel’s complimentary bikes and take on the three miles of cycle paths woven around the manor. A bit further afield, you’ll find Berkeley Castle, Slimbridge Wild Fowl and Wetlands Centre, Westonbirt Arboretum and Longleat Safari Park.
The level of service here leaves me absurdly content. There are no immaculately uniformed footmen in the Jeeves tradition, lumbering through the hotel with laden trays. The staff is remarkably young and fresh faced, stylishly dressed down in wooly jumpers and corduroy trousers. This relaxed good cheer translates to an intimate vibe that encourages you to enter into fireside chats with fellow guests. I’m surprised by the variety of clientele, a diverse mix ranging from up-and-coming Londoners browsing the hottest rural property market to Canadians tracing ancestral roots to besotted Swedish newlyweds.
Splurge on a spa treatment; it’s well worth it. Since opening in 2003, Calcot Spa has gone on to win awards and recognition as one of the UK’s best spas. On arrival, you’ll find an impressive facility with a mood-lit courtyard, floor-to-ceiling windows, and a heated outdoor pool surrounded by stone-green slate. By the time I rouse from my indulgent body treatment and swaddle up before a roaring fire, I’m reduced to quivering glee.
Calcot’s fine dining restaurant, The Conservatory, is very fine indeed – a light dappled destination for both lunch and dinner, especially enchanting in the candlelit evenings. The kitchen focuses on the freshest local produce, skillfully cooked via wood-fired oven to bring forth authentic Mediterranean flavors. I like how the table spacing makes for calm, private dining – no competing conversations or awkward, inadvertent eavesdropping. In any case, dinner gives me a chance to peer round at fellow guests. I rather suspect that many Conservatory diners are regulars, sprawling out and indeed using the manor’s common areas to network and entertain; the next best thing to owning a country estate.
From the moment we walk in, it’s clear Calcot Manor is one savvy proprietor’s concept of what a refined country house hotel should be. And moreover, it’s obvious this vision was unsullied by committee – or more loathsome – a focus group of “experts”. Calcot has a strong identity from the get go, a clear voice and stance that I for one appreciate.
Photo: Dogs walk along one of the manor’s walking trails.
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