Now we’re allowed to hotel hop again, many wonder: is it actually worth doing? Can you relax enough to have any fun? Armed with masks, anti-bac and my trusty Zipcar (shameless plug), I went to find out – in the forever fabulous Cotswolds.
Still teeming with glorious country walks and stunningly quaint (if a little quieter) streets, it’s just two hour’s drive from London. Perfect for a quick local break, restrictions permitting.
Here’s a handful of our favourites, faithfully reviewed by yours truly. Staff are bending over backwards to keep guests safe and give a welcome as warm as ever (visors and all!).
In a nutshell: a beyond dog-friendly yet super luxe collection of huts, treehouses and rooms in amongst 400 acres of glorious nature. Extensive grounds allow families to roam (wellies of all sizes provided!), but couples can still bask in total privacy.
We’ll start with The Lodge, the beating heart of The Fish hotel and home to the Bar, Games Room, and Hook restaurant. Immediately soothing, think low lighting, ultra-modern fireplaces and uncluttered serenity. Well spaced out couples enjoy a G&T with the dog at their feet (freshly shampooed in the outdoor copper dog tub).
Many play board games, which are painstakingly cleaned and zip-locked after each use. This is a fine stand-in for the usually popular Doggy Afternoon Tea, on hold ’til the end of the year to allow better distancing (it came complete with Pawsecco. Yep, really).
Accommodation ranges from stylish double rooms with dreamy walk-in showers to toasty lakeside huts (book Boaty McBoatface just for the Insta likes). The list of magical Treehouses reads like Snow White’s morning roll call, but we loved Stumpy best, proudly sticking out amongst traditionally handsome neighbours.
An extensive choice of room service is available should you prefer not to mix with anyone, but Hook’s safety measures are so stringent, we felt at ease sitting down for a three course meal. If you prefer to snuggle up and watch the TV, rest assured the remote controls have been sterilised, then sealed in a smart paper bag.
Book Boaty McBoatface just for the Insta likes...
The vibe is supremely grown up yet friendly, living up to their motto: ‘exclusive dining for everyone’. Waiters ask before pouring wine (or water, I suppose) for the table, wear masks at all times, and hand sanitiser dispensers are never out of reach (labelled ‘free alcohol’. Clever). We devoured sourdough bread with seaweed butter (a highlight for carb lovers), countless oysters, a stunning cheese soufflé, seafood bouillabaisse and warm chocolate fondant. All excellent.
There’s plenty to do nearby, making use of more wide open spaces and fresh air. Around 40 minutes’ drive from the Farncombe Estate are the delights of Blenheim Palace, which counts a butterfly house and pleasure gardens among its charms. Upmarket organic food empire Daylesford is close by, or you could take a punt in Oxford, weather permitting.
If your kids (or you!) love animals, stop by Birdland Park & Gardens or All Things Wild, the latter complete with bug hunting expeditions, go-karts and mini golf.
In a nutshell: an English garden lover’s private paradise. This grown ups-only country house invented romance (and it’s teeming with secluded engagement spots).
Strolling the kitchen garden in the hazy Autumn sunshine led by Head Gardener Jen, we felt we’d truly found heaven. Six bee hives provide honey for keepsake jars (and breakfast), free range chickens lay tomorrow’s breakfast and hundreds of Crown Prince pumpkins line a huge greenhouse while their fate is decided – soup, salad or decorations, they’re so stunning it seems a shame to disturb them. Colour-rich dishes in The Potager restaurant centres around the freshest produce plucked (well, except the Vincisgrassi – which goes heavy on the cream, less so on the veggies. Yay).
At Barnsley House we discovered the most stringent of COVID-proofing. We were kindly reminded to pop on our masks upon check-in, and spotted individually bagged, freshly-washed blankets piled by the roaring fire. Notes are placed around bedrooms explaining the absence of the usual magazines and books, reminding guests that cleaning staff will not disturb unless asked to do so.
Gone are the days of chocolates placed on the pillow at turn down service, now replaced with complimentary masks inside stylishly stamped brown bags (much cuter than it sounds, and don’t worry, there are still snacks galore). Every soft furnishing is cleaned between bookings (and there are a lot of them in our immaculate, two tier Stables Suite). Even the air con vents are sanitised between stays.
At Barnsley House we discovered the most stringent of COVID-proofing...
If you can drag yourself away from the supremely comfy beds and roll top baths, Bibury village is at the end of a short (and hilly) cycle. Bicycles are scrupulously cleaned before departure, which gives one a few minutes to pore over the map (a stunning reveal awaits those who round the bend to The Swan Hotel for a swift half).
Returning gleeful and exhausted, you can head to the pocket-sized Barnsley spa for a restorative dip in the outdoor jacuzzi (130 mins of spa time is £130, including a 55 minute treatment). Elsewhere The Garden Room with its field views provides a picturesque private space to dash off a few emails, and there’s even a 30 seater cinema (and right now, it’s likely you’ll have it all to yourselves – bliss).
In a nutshell: fairy tale-like, comfortable glamping that everyone can get on board with. A collection of cosy and unusual dwellings dotted about a large garden complete with its own bar, kitchen, hot showers and a woodland walking trail.
Technically just outside the Cotswolds but moments from it, we couldn’t leave out Talton Lodge – the scene of our favourite outdoors-y weekend this summer. This is a festival-style glamping spot so magical it can (almost) fill the Glastonbury-shaped hole in 2020 & 2021 (you’ll have to make your own entertainment, but mind you, we heard Taylor Swift’s free). Less luxe-y (and thus less pricey) than The Fish and Barnsley House, it’s full of back-to-nature fun.
Self-catered guests can kip in the cosy Barn (best for those who prefer to sleep indoors, thank you very much) or the Kitchen Garden, where you can choose from toasty warm tipis, yurts and even a washed up boat on stilts. There’s even an outdoor bar.
If the weather’s fine, keep everyone busy with outdoor table tennis, boules, mini croquet or a ramble around the surrounding 34 acres of woodland and orchards.
Fairy tale-like, comfortable glamping that everyone can get on board with...
Treasure hunts, bike hire and cookery courses are also available upon request. Blowing a gale? There are tons of DVDs and games in the Barn.
Make sure you work up an appetite for a self-catered feast cooked up on the barbecue, outdoor pizza oven, or my personal favourite, the giant paella pan.
Wherever you choose to sleep, there’s a wood burning fire perfect for late night marshmallow toasting and story time, while your gang basks in its magical glow. Then simply roll into your super soft bed, piled with blankets and furry hot water bottles.