Of course we're excited about our impending visit to postcard-perfect Cotswolds village, Painswick. But if I'm to be brutally honest, as cool as Cotswolds88 looks, our expectations about this eccentric hideaway are mixed. I’m definitely excited about staying at a place designed by Marchella de Angelis, the larger-than-life character behind flamboyant, kitsch cocktailerie, Loungelover in East London. When I describe it to a friend, she rolls her eyes at city slickers wanting to sip martinis amid in-your-face eclecticism in the countryside. ‘Bolshy wallpapers and acid-coloured mid-century sofas in the Cotswolds,’ she sighs, ‘Who wants to feel like they’re in London?’ I decide that while you can take this missy out of the city, you can’t take a hankering for hip out of the girl, and we head off eager to experience this OTT escape for ourselves.
After zigzagging through the leafy hairpin-bend lanes, our final destination – an imposing 18th-century Palladian mansion – comes as quite a surprise. We swerve into the snug car park and admire Costwolds88's grand, classical grey stone façade. There’s certainly little indication that anything off-the-wall lies beyond. Neatly coiffed bushes and a perfectly groomed emerald-green lawn are all so far, so country house and sheep-dotted hills beyond suggest that this is more swoon-inspiring Jane Austen-evoking stuff than a 21st-century serving of boutique-hotel chic.
Up a few small stone stairs and one foot into the hallway and it's clear this technicoloured playground is anything but a conventional Cotswolds retreat. A cursory peek at the kitsch cocktail bar and black-and-white-striped restaurant whets our appetite for our evening's entertainment. Are you a fan of Alfie’s Antique Market in Marylebone? This statement-piece-studded establishment will have your eyes darting excitedly from retro treasure to in-your-face artwork in the same way, as you take in Seventies' tiled coffeetables alongside kitsch Fifties' sweetheart sofas and an Austin Powers-esque light installation – it's all a world away from the previous occupant's personality when it was fusty and chintzy.
A quick crane of the neck to admire an original carved ribbed-and-bossed ceiling, and up the steps to the reception, greeted warmly by a super-lovely receptionist – fittingly a platinum-blonde bombshell in Vivienne Westwood choker. She swiftly checks us in and shows us to our suite; en route we eyeball huge photo-art close-ups of Marchella’s iris by David Hiscock. Cheekily, I've booked the best room in the house for our one night away and we brace ourselves for the visual thrills that await. A mishmash of imaginative old and new continues, with a backdrop of glorious leaded windows looking out onto those gorgeous green gardens, and across to that get-that-on-your-camera countryside view.
Afternoon tea on the lawn is in full swing below, and relaxing on the modern undulating loungers that resemble reclining Henry Moores is a model-like couple, making the whole scene even easier on the eye. Before our dose of metropolitan dining back at Cotswolds88, we decide to take a whirl around this adorable village and soon stumble across Olivas Delicatessen. Smooth jazz emanates from the basket-filled café and tempts us to pause at one of the two small tables on the pavement. Here, over Earl Grey and scones, we ponder how it’s all very well scarpering somewhere sweet for a night out of town, but however delightful the hotel, for the full experience you want to a decent brew in its locale too. Full marks to Painswick. With enough time for another tramp around town before supper, we have a poke through Painswick’s delightful gift shop, Ha'penny Antiques on Bisley Street. A brightly coloured cushion and a floral teapot later, I assume that's our share of twee retail met; then we sniff out the sweetest bookshop. Possibly in the land. The star of the show at the Little Fleece Bookshop proves to be Sidney the cocker spaniel/basset hound – trust us, it’s an unmistakeable mix.
Wolves temporarily staved, we make it back to swap trainers for high heels (me), pressed shirt (him), before pouncing on champagne cocktails, perched at bar stools. The young barman – perhaps a decade and a half our junior – doesn’t really know what to make of our barrage of irreverent chitchat and phototaking, but humours us. What staff must have made of previous larger-than-life owner, Marchella, a half-Chinese, half-Italian former rock chick boggles the mind.
Supper selected over aperitifs, we move to the monochrome dining room. The enormous oversized fabric bow dominating the back wall inspires a gasp from my better half. ‘It’s like Sloane Ranger eveningwear on acid,’ he whispers before putting the young server’s sommelier skills to the test. If he’s anything less than knowledgeable we can't quite tell, as his suggestions are delivered with reassuring conviction. Moments later, an unexpected treat arrives to amuse our geules: a celeriac soup. Next we’re given culinary kicks by daringly tasty starters of homemade artichoke ravioli and scallops (dishes worth fighting over, but thankfully both delicious so we go halves). Main courses satisy both vegetarian and pure carnivore desires, leaving little room for dessert. But still we persist. Well, you try and resist talk of chocolate fondants?
It's almost a relief when after dinner the bar and garden are by now quite quiet. Following in the footsteps of the other couples, young and old, we decamp unashamedly to our suite and get stuck into some serious slumber. (Yes, back-to-back cocktails on our moonlit balcony would be a more rock 'n' roll night befitting this photoshoot-fit setting, but the magnetic draw of that comfy bed and fluffy duvet on us sleep-starved urbanites wins through.)
A lazy spell in the state-of-the-art bathroom later and after a full English breakfast kick-off, we act on our plans for plenty of walking. We pause again at the 14th-century bookshop, and after stocking up on dusty last-edition hardbacks as gifts, we plod up the high street past a half-timbered Tudor post office – the other most charming outpost in the world, we decide. Rococo Gardens are a mere 10-minute trot further, and prove a heavenly place to while away a Saturday with the papers. (We highly recommend the sunkissed benches in the middle of the ground's maze as a most unconventional reading spot.) But the flora-inspired frissons didn't stop there. Painswick has another horticultural headline act: the yews in St Mary’s churchyard are the stuff of legend. On the way back, we bump into a local who tells us there are 99 of these green Gaudí-contoured trees, and folklore has it there will never be any more. Oh no. 'Each time one more tries to grow, it's zapped by the devil,' she tells us, her eyes the size of saucers. If only I had a professional camera – a snapshot of her peepers à la Marchela's would make the perfect David Hiscock homage and a photo-art souvenir of our stay at Cotswolds88hotel. Well, if you have to take the girl out of the Cotswolds, at least let her take a little of the Cotswolds back with the girl.