Cotswold House Hotel & Spa
Mrs Smith is AWOL. Her Gloucestershire-bound train from Paddington has been delayed. As a result, I’m alone in Cotswold House Hotel & Spa’s sleek Sezincote suite, watching a Chinese vet giving a panda what one might refer to as an ‘executive massage’. Sir David Attenborough’s soothing toffee tones fill the snug, fire-warmed lounge; as I crack open a minibar merlot, the giant TV tells me about panda porn, animal Viagra and breeding these black-and-white bears in captivity.
Perhaps it’s the wine, or maybe I’m missing my lady, but when cubs finally appear on the scene – bald, blind and mewling like kittens – I shed a (manly) tear. It’s moving stuff, this mating lark, so I decide to explore a Christmas fair outside. It’s bitingly cold, and only the hardiest are out, scarf-wrapped and hat-topped. All I can spy of the locals are a chink of eyes here, a glint of teeth there – they might be aliens beneath their thermals. However, Chipping Campden is too pretty for sci-fi thoughts, so instead I shop for beauty unguents for my sweetheart.
As a second free mince pie makes it into my mouth, Mrs Smith rings to announce her arrival. I hasten back to our stately Regency townhouse, to find her waiting by a crackling fire in reception. Another hearth in full flame can be heard nearby in the bar – if there were an award for ‘Hotel with the Most Most-Crackling Fires’, Cotswold House would win. As Mrs Smith tries to pry in my bags, I distract her with suite talk: ‘Palatial bath, disco shower, private courtyard, three TVs, a remote-control fire...’
My spiel works; by the time I’m mentioning the La Sultane de Saba products, Mrs Smith is flinging open Sezincote’s door to discover the boutique bounty for herself. I trail around in her wake, offering bits of trivia – ‘The shower’s LED lights change colour, the spa can be accessed from our courtyard, I ordered you an orthopaedic pillow’ – until Mrs Smith silences me by diving onto our bed, heels and all. All that animal mating earlier might have spurred me on to strip my Mrs Smith, but there’s an obstacle: I’m hungry. Starving, in fact. Mrs Smith is in accord; we de-rumple our attire and head to the restaurant. The ruby-red Cotswolds Grill is a hotel hug: warm and inviting, relaxed but luxurious, smart without being stuffy.
Nestled in a fireside nook, Mrs Smith and I study the menu. One glance and I’m happy – it’s short but beguiling; of the seven or so mains, I’m torn between five. We embark on a waistline-widening feast: roast pheasant and a silky quail’s egg, duck so tender it must have lived off butter and marshmallows, an earthy pumpkin salad, a ravishing apricot soufflé, and a cheeseboard in a rainbow of local varieties. Such excess is exhausting – when Mrs Smith and I retire, we clamber into bed and promptly start snoring.
The next morning, I awake and leap straight to my feet. Having arrived in darkness, neither of us has properly appraised our surroundings. I yank the curtains aside, realise I’m still naked, scream like a girl, and dive back into bed. Mrs Smith, in contrast, stands serenely in her robe and admires our courtyard. ‘There’s nobody to see you’, she reminds me. ‘And if they could, who’s to say they’d be interested?’ she laughs.
A bath is begging to be run in the gargantuan stone cauldron lording it over our ensuite, and soon Mrs Smith is asoaking, emerging only to peep at the TV flickering on the wall. Meanwhile, I marvel at the raspberry and emerald lights in the shower – where I’d stay all morning, if Mrs Smith’s stomach didn’t start rumbling. Breakfast is most civilised: we sit in the Garden Room by the French windows, perusing the papers. Mrs Smith tackles whisky-laced porridge, before we both demolish a faultless full English.
From one pleasure to another; it’s Temple Spa time. Having crunched along the garden path, admiring the manicured hedges and sculptures, Mrs Smith then commandeers the pool, before hitting the hammam. I’m dispatched to a massage room and treated like human pastry: pummelled, kneaded and flattened. Not a fan of the timorous poke-and-stroke variety, I’m putty in masseuse Melissa’s forceful hands. Ingeniously, my massage bed is heated, and I slip into an impromptu slumber. ‘You fell asleep,’ murmurs my therapist as I come to. ‘Oh no – I wasn’t snoring?’ I ask. ‘No,’ she replies. ‘But you were sleeptalking. And I could swear you mumbled something about pandas and Viagra.’
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A bottle of champagne on arrival