Hunter wellies at the ready! Jacket, scarf, gloves and hat packed. Check. Swimming costume. Check. I’m ready for Cowley Manor, an old manor house in the heart of Cotswolds, England built more than 100 years ago and beautifully restored.
Cowley Manor is surrounded by 55 acres of beautiful land, including woodland and three lakes–plus its own cricket pitch. Next door to the main house is St. Mary’s Church, so if you fancy getting married and not going too far to celebrate afterwards this is the spot. Upon arrival, note the classical exterior with an imposing entrance. Stepping inside, take in the beautiful bare wooden floors in the hallway, the contemporary yet comfortable furnishings, well-chosen artwork and quirky touches, such as a pipe-smoking moose in the nod-to-the-mod-West bar.
Pop on your wellies and explore the grounds. If you haven’t got your own, don’t fret, there are plenty of them outside the front door to borrow. There’s a number of different paths, but I chose the one that takes us past lakes, through the wood and eventually to the local pub–for no particular reason of course. During the summer they place a few large Fat Boy beanbags under trees and beside the lake for relaxing and picnicking. General Manager Andy Boardman’s favorite spot is beside the bottom lake with a waterfall; totally private and trés romantic.
DINING DONE LOCAL
Food at the Manor is superb. The head chef believes in using locally sourced, seasonal produce and is also a keen forager, particularly around the grounds and local area. He and his team bake all their own bread. For example, at Christmas he made over 1000 gingerbread stars for guests. On the breakfast buffet they have a great selection of cereals and fruit, more homemade breads and croissants and the most delicious yoghurt (go with the gooseberry flavour) from the local farm. Dinner the night before, roasted plums with mascarpone mille-feuille, went down like a dream after the roast Cotswold duck.
ROOM AWAY FROM HOME
Staying at Cowley Manor is more like staying with some friends in a large house than a hotel. Every room differs from another, some small and some large, but all decorated very uniquely. Staff are friendly and attentive, but relaxed. You can sit on the sofa in the lounge and read a newspaper all day and no one will mind.
The Spa, C.Side, has recently been renovated and now boasts an outdoor deck, dubbed Pool.Side, which in summer transforms into a cocktail hour haunt (side note: I am assured by Andy that the Mojitos are fantastic). During the winter, you can still take a dip in the heated outdoor pool. That is if the enormous green slate-lined indoor one is not enough. There was something rather calming (or crazy?) about doing my lengths with the steam rising off the pool in the twilight of a January evening.
C.Side Spa has won many awards for its design, as it is built into the side of the earth and is virtually unnoticeable from the main house. The treatments use Green & Spring products, the brand with herb, flower and plant ingredients native to the British Isles created by Cowley’s owner Jessica Frankopan in 2009.
MORE TO EXPLORE
Apparently everyone asks about activities around the estate before they arrive. The answer is Cheltenham and Cirencester are both close by, you can walk for miles, you can go horseback riding, hot air ballooning, but truth is once guests arrive at Cowley, many of them don’t leave for the duration of their stay. Not having any pressure to do anything in particular is perfect–other than a game of pool perhaps.
If you’re required to return home bearing gifts, you still won’t need to venture far. The Manor’s on-site boutique, The Village Shop, stocks many lovely pieces of jewelry (Lola Rose and Pippa Small) and clothing (Vilebrequin and Melissa Odabash).
If you want classical décor, traditional chintz and stuffy service then Cowley is not for you, but if you like something a little different in the English countryside, stay here. Whatever the time of year or weather, I’m sure you will enjoy it.