At first glance, boutique hotel the Artist Residence Oxfordshire (formerly famed drinkery the Masons Arms) looks like your typical English idyll, set in a leafy village close to the city’s famed centres of academia, with not a straw of its thatched roof out of place. However, on the inside, the original inglenook fireplace and flagstone floors clash happily with House of Hackney wallpapers, Andy Doig’s neon signs and pulp mash-ups by the Connor Brothers. They’ve not meddled too much with the formula: sacrosanct pub features (excellent grub, a sturdy supply of local ales and a pervading cosiness) remain.
11am, but flexible, subject to availability. Check-in from 3pm to midnight Monday to Saturday (until 11pm on Sunday). Later check-in can be arranged on request.
Double rooms from £121.66, including tax at 5 per cent.
Rates usually exclude breakfast; à la carte options start at £4, and a Full English is £12.50.
The pub has a fascinating history, from the moment the lord and lady of Eynsham Hall bestowed it to their butler – as you do – to more modern times, when it had its own helipad, earned the favour of Marco Pierre White and was owned by Gerry Stonhill, a true character who flaunted Tony Blair’s smoking ban.
At the hotel
Expansive grounds, a herb and vegetable patch, free WiFi throughout. In rooms: flatscreen TV, Roberts DAB radio, minibar stocked with local goodies, Nespresso coffee machine and tea-making kit, and Bramley bath products.
Our favourite rooms
The hay’s been cleared, but the Farmhouse Lofts have kept an air of rustic romance. They’re set under the eaves, with original wooden beams and flooring, and furnished with a mish-mash of antiques, up-to-the-minute artwork, old-school rugs and Morris & Co fabrics, which somehow work when thrown together – such is the eye of talented owners Charlie and Justin. We’d also like to take a lengthy soak in the Farmhouse Suite’s cool copper bath tub.
Rather than khaki Hunters and waxed jackets, opt for some of the more outlandish Wellie colours and and a parka that’ll stand out amid the greenery.
The restaurant and pub are wheelchair-accessible; however, the historic building doesn’t allow for a lift to the bedrooms on the first floor.
Pile into a banquette or get cosy in a battered-leather armchair by the pub’s fireplace.
The Clubhouse is a cosmopolitan gathering space in the countryside, with a cosy dining room lined with pink-velvet banquettes and hung with vintage photos. and a larger hangout spot with artfully worn armchairs and cosy sofas to curl up on where you can dine in casual fashion. There's a smattering of tables throughout the bar area too, and alfresco dining during summer months, but wherever you're seated you'll be wowed by the food, which is crafted from local produce (some veggies come from the garden). Snack on homemade Scotch eggs or fish-finger sandwiches, fuel up on hearty burgers and fish pie, or eat robata-grilled meats and fishes. Brit institutions, afternoon tea and Sunday lunch are duly served, and for breakfast the full English showcases quality produce perfectly.
The Mason Arms pub looks like the living room of a globetrotting time-traveller; original mahogany pews and panelling mingle with William Morris wallpapers and quirky fabrics by Andrew Martin. Dan Hillier’s gold-leaf-flecked stag presides over the space, Andy Doig’s light sculpture adds a shock of neon and gardening tools rub elbows with fairground ephemera. It may all look a bit surreal after a few of the local beers that flow freely here – or a fitting round of G&Ts – but it’ll attract more than one man and his dog. Drinks can also be taken in the laidback beer garden, ideal for sundowners.
Breakfast is served from 8am to 10.30am (earlier if needed); the restaurant is open for lunch from noon to 3pm Monday to Saturday, till 4pm on Sundays; dining in the pub and restaurant runs from 6pm to 9.30pm.
You can have anything from the dining room’s menu served to your room during restaurant hours.
Surrounded by classic Cotswolds-edge countryside, this farmhouse turned hotel is set in sweet as a cross-stitch Leigh village, a 15-minute drive outside Oxford.
International airport London Heathrow is a 90-minute drive from the hotel; Gatwick is around a two-and-a-half-hour drive away. Flights arrive at these hubs from all over the world. Call our Smith24 team of travel experts to book flights and transfers.
Oxford Railway Station is a half-hour drive away. Trains arrive direct from Marylebone and Paddington in London (around an hour’s journey). Closer still, a 15-minute drive from the hotel, is Hanborough Station; trains arrive here direct from London Paddington in around an hour.
Oxford’s classically good-looking streets are lovely to stroll along, but if you plan to village-hop in the Cotswolds and take country drives through some of the UK’s leafiest, loveliest bits, pick up four wheels. Smith24 can arrange car hire for you on request. There’s free parking at the hotel.
Worth getting out of bed for
Filled with some of the world’s finest minds, and some very grand architecture, Oxford is well worth a visit; it’s just a 30-minute drive from the hotel. Aside from craning your neck up at the dreaming spires, nose around the Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology and the curiosities at the Pitt Rivers Museum. Museum-dodgers can hire a punt for an hour or the whole day at Magdalen Bridge Boathouse and drift along the River Cherwell. Beginners might want to hire a chauffeur: the pole requires more pump-action than you’d think. Churchill’s family home, Blenheim Palace is a 20-minute drive away; take a tour of its Baroque, gilded and marble-lined state rooms. The hotel sits at the edge of the Cotswolds, so the area’s cluster of charming villages can be easily explored by car. For low-key thrills, ask the staff to map out a ramble for you in the nearby countryside. In August, pitch up to the free-spirited Wilderness Festival in Cornbury Park.
With such fine pub grub just downstairs, there’s little need to wander. You’ll need a car to explore the local dining scene: Eynsham Hall is 10 minutes’ drive from the hotel and chef Simon Bradley does wonderful things with the local produce – we like the smoker crafted from an old fridge. In the city, Quod Brasserie & Bar does classic fine dining for reasonable prices. Towards the Cotswolds, in Chipping Norton, The Wild Rabbit does a tempting 28-day-aged steak.
When you’re out and about in the Cotswolds, stop off at the legendary Daylesford farm shop in Kingham to try the superlative afternoon tea (and charcuterie platters, and wedges of cheese, and pastries…). Hopefully you’ve packed light, because you’re likely to leave with armfuls of souvenirs; cookery and floristry workshops are held here too. In Witney, there’s The Cogges Kitchen, a lovely farm café housed in an old milking-shed. The menu of generously filled sandwiches and slabs of home-made cake changes daily.
Beyond sampling the local libations at the hotel, try the sommelier’s picks at 1855 on New Road in Oxford. Or opt for cosy traditionalism, right down to the village-green setting and families of ducks swimming by, at The Kings Head Inn in Bledington.
The first question anyone planning a mini-break tends to ask is: town or country? (Swiftly followed, in my case, with: How many bags can I get away with bringing; and is there any way to persuade someone else to drive so I can nap?)
I frequently struggle with an internal debate (first world problem, I know) swinging wildly between my passion for nature and being outside, and my enthusiasm for wearing a nice dress and propping up a swanky bar. Luckily with the Artist Residence in South Leigh you can combine a pinch of country – thanks to its sleepy village setting and nearby walking routes through golden wheat fields – with a dash of city chic. More of a glamper than a camper? This is the spot for you.
From the neon signs in the restaurant to the adorable sketch of an English bull terrier in our bedroom, there’s something pleasing to look at around every corner. It’s one stylish bolthole, basically. Don’t miss its most expensive artwork: a glass case packed with kitsch felt recreations of cult packaging; from Yorkshire tea to After Eights. Ordering a drink at the bar took twice as long as I couldn’t tear my eyes away from it to check out the menu.
I stayed for a weekend with my mum in the generously proportioned Farmhouse Loft, where I suffered serious furniture envy. The battered wooden coffee table and dainty writing desk were particular favourites; I had a soft spot for the grey animal print cushions, too.
But here, it’s really the bathroom that’s the star. I fell head over heels (not literally, thank god) for the dark grey, claw-footed bath – there’s also a large shower carefully tucked into a corner to retain the period feel without losing those modern comforts. Props to them also for doing away with non-eco miniatures and providing lovely big bottles of super-luxe products instead – I didn’t hold back with the bubble bath.
South Leigh itself is pretty and peaceful – accessed by a single lane farm track that makes it feel like a true rural escape. Happily my sat nav had no problems finding the hotel and there was ample parking. When we stayed the venue had only been open for a week, and there’s clearly lots of development going on, with extra rooms being added in outbuildings – but it didn’t disturb the quiet or the countryside views, thankfully.
After a long drive we refreshed our cramped legs with a quick jaunt up a farm track and through the fields, past ancient oaks and shy rabbits, without seeing a soul. An excellent way to shake off the city and build an appetite.
The hotel may be set in a perfectly preserved thatched-roofed farmhouse (with beams for days) but it’s not afraid to flout tradition. There aren’t, after all, many places offering cocktails with pork-fat-washed bourbon in them… But that’s just one of several concoctions on offer in the bar/pub/restaurant combo downstairs, where we sat around a huge stone fireplace and unwound.
As you may have guessed when even the cocktails have meat in them, this isn’t a top spot for vegetarians – when we ate in the pub the menu was lacking a veggie option at all, although I was assured they did have something available. On the plus side, the battered fish and triple-cooked chips were just the right level of decadent, and anywhere serving champagne by the glass can’t go far wrong with me.
After retiring for the night, my one main piece of advice would be to pack earplugs. The beds might be super comfortable, but the downside of such a beautiful old building is rather thin walls and creaking doors. You can always drown out noisy neighbours with the Roberts radio in your room, though…
Breakfast won’t leave foodies (or anyone else) disappointed, with its range of traditional favourites along with some sweet treats – the Scotch pancakes with yoghurt and fruit were our favourite; the granola bowl a close second. Add to that some freshly squeezed orange juice, loose leaf tea, and chunky toast with locally made jam, and you couldn’t get a much better start to the day.
Picturesque Woodstock isn’t far by car if you fancy popping into its little museum, having tea (or something stronger) in its numerous cafés and pubs, or pottering round boutiquey shops. Plus there’s Blenheim Palace to visit, with its extensive gardens and plenty of events year-round. We spent the sunny Saturday exploring Oxford (take the Peartree Park and Ride – traffic in the city just isn’t worth the hassle).
Our top picks? The ramshackle Pitt Rivers Museum; drinking a cup of tea (with optional dinosaur shortbread) overlooking the Natural History Museum; and meandering the small but perfectly formed Botanical Gardens.
Then, once you’ve done the city, and feel tired of tourists and traffic, you can delight in the knowledge that you’re only a little way from that big old bathtub, and a cold glass of fizz in your countryside retreat with a twist.