he truth is that it has no colour that can be described. Even when the sun is obscured and the light is cold, these walls are still faintly warm and luminous, as if they knew the trick of keeping the lost sunlight of centuries glimmering about them.’ So wrote J. B. Priestley in his 1934 travelogue, English Journey, on the honey-gold stone that characterises villages in the Cotswolds.
You’ll know the sort of stone, and the type of villages, from cameo appearances in the Harry Potter franchise, as well as Bridget Jones's Diary, Pride and Prejudice, Downton Abbey and, most conspicuously of all, as the backdrop to Father Brown (the BBC’s second longest-running daytime drama, don’t you know).
Designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in 1966, the Cotswolds covers almost 800 square miles across Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire, Warwickshire, Wiltshire, and Worcestershire. While Chipping Campden, Stow-on-the-Wold and Bourton-on-the-Water constitute the most popular tourist towns, there are myriad castles, country estates and places of interest to explore. Not to mention thousands of miles of footpaths and walking trails.
These are the best luxury hotels from which to explore England’s green and pleasant land.
Lucknam Park, Chippenham
Located at the southernmost tip of the Cotswolds – close to Chippenham and Bath – dog-friendly Lucknam Park reveals its country-manor glamour at the end of a mile-long avenue lined with lime and beech trees. There are only 43 rooms and suites, each individually-designed, and three sole-occupancy cottages. Given that the hotel is set in some 500 acres of parkland, you can go an entire day without bumping into any other guests – until everyone presents themselves at the Michelin-starred Restaurant Hywel Jones for dinner. Elsewhere, there’s the more informal The Brasserie, an equestrian centre and a well-appointed, ESPA-backed spa. Come summer, guests can make use of a personalised picnic service.
Ellenborough Park, Cheltenham
Grade II-listed Southam House, with its honey-coloured turrets and towers, was a baronial hall and then a private girls’ school before it was turned into luxury hotel Ellenborough Park in 2008. Original furnishings include 16th Century oak beams, wood-panelled rooms, great stone fireplaces and winding staircases. Set in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, the hotel has 62 rooms and a private pathway to neighbouring Cheltenham Racecourse, which can be seen from the hotel’s front lawn. Guests can make use of a heated outdoor pool and a spa with sauna and mood showers. There’s an accomplished restaurant inside the hotel, and rolling, wooded countryside all around.
Soho Farmhouse, Chipping Norton
Back in 2015, Nick Jones, founder and CEO of the Soho House group, once again proved himself the members’ club kingpin with the Midas touch by transforming a derelict smallholding some 20 miles north of Oxford into the group’s first ‘resort’. Immediately, the 100-acre estate, with its collection of converted 18th Century outbuildings, became one of the UK’s most talked-about country retreats. You have to be a member of Soho House to stay at Soho Farmhouse – and enjoy its three restaurants, spa, pub, cinema, cookery room, indoor and outdoor pool, gym, tennis court and boating lake. You'll also need to be tolerant of urban warriors under the illusion that they’re experiencing the true British countryside. You’ll find them at the sushi bar.
The Greenway Hotel & Spa, Cheltenham
A 16th Century Elizabethan manor house with its own Elan-backed spa – hydrotherapy pool, tick; al fresco hot tub, tick; fitness suite, tick – The Greenway Hotel & Spa comprises just 21 (generously-proportioned) bedrooms. Guests have two restaurants to choose from, including a 3 AA Rosette contemporary British fine dining option, The Garden Room. Close to Cheltenham (three-and-a-half miles away) and set in eight acres of well-kept grounds, The Greenway is a classic open-fire-and-grand-staircase sort of hotel – an ideal base from which to explore the Cotswolds on foot.
A self-titled village within a village, Thyme is a boutique hotel spread across Southrop Manor’s sprawling 150-acre estate. Made up of several 17th Century honey-stone cottages, a former rectory, a barn and a farmhouse, all of which have been stylishly restored, Thyme initially began life as a cookery school founded by the manor’s owner, Caryn Hibbert, before growing to offer the full gamut of luxury hospitality. It now comprises 31 refined rooms, two restaurants, a bar and a spa. Pack your walking boots for a stroll around the estate’s verdant gardens and wildflower-strewn meadows, or venture beyond the boundaries to visit the market town of Cirencester or William Morris’s country escape, Kelmscott Manor. Foodies shouldn’t miss the cookery school, which offers a year-round programme of classes.
Calcot Hotel & Spa, Tetbury
Dating back to the 14th century, Calcot Hotel & Spa’s tithe barn, now used as an event space, was initially an annexe of Kingwood Abbey, and belonged to the church until the 16th century when Henry VIII dissolved England’s monasteries. The land has remained under private ownership ever since, and over the years has been expanded to include a manor house and several outbuildings, which now collectively serve as the Calcot Collection’s flagship hotel. Comprising 35 rooms (12 of which are child-free), the hotel promises a peaceful retreat in the charming village of Tetbury, with two restaurants, a large spa with seven treatment rooms and indoor and outdoor swimming pools, and excellent playground facilities for children.
Barnsley House, Cirencester
Nestled in the tiny Cotswold village of Barnsley, this 17th Century manor house offers an intimate country escape. The former home of the late garden designer Rosemary Verey, who created outdoor spaces for the likes of Prince Charles and Sir Elton John, Barnsley House is home to four acres of beautifully-landscaped gardens, including a laburnum avenue, a large vegetable garden — the produce of which is used in the two restaurants, The Potager and The Village Pub — and meadows that back onto a dairy farm. Hidden among the greenery is the Barnsley Spa, where the botanical surroundings inform the treatment menu.
Cowley Manor, Cheltenham
According to legend, Lewis Carroll wrote Alice In Wonderland during his visits to the quaint Cotswold village of Cowley, taking inspiration from Cowley Manor’s 55 acres of Grade II-listed gardens. Once a 19th Century stately home – based on the Villa Borghese in Rome and echoing the Italianate architecture of Chatsworth and Cliveden – the manor has been lovingly restored and transformed into an award-winning, pet-friendly boutique hotel and spa. Housing 31 bedrooms, this contemporary retreat has been stylishly decked out in vibrant hues with unexpected design features.
The Rectory Hotel, Malmesbury
Originally built as an 18th Century rectory for All Saints’ Church – designed to accommodate all 14 of the rector’s children – The Rectory is a warm and welcoming haven in the pretty Wiltshire village of Crudwell. Featuring 18 bedrooms across the main house and a stone-walled cottage, this Grade II-listed hotel also houses an elegant, contemporary restaurant within its striking glasshouse and an intimate, well-stocked bar. Guests are invited to spend their stay exploring the property’s picturesque grounds and enjoying a dip in the heated outdoor pool. Be sure to book in a visit to the Rectory’s sister pub, The Potting Shed, ideally located just across the road.