Once owned by an Elizabethan bailiff, the Kings Head Hotel in Cirencester cherishes its history, but adds a warmly sympathetic stamp of contemporary country cool to its old stone walls, wooden beams and original Roman mosaic. Stroll the honey-hued Cirencester streets (make sure you visit the Corn Hall next to the hotel, where the famous market is held daily) or set off further afield, Barbour in hand, for a brisk walk through the rolling fields outside the town… then return to your cosy home-from-home to kick back in the bar with an elderflower G&T.
11am. Earliest check-in, 3pm. Guests arriving early are welcome to use the facilities, store luggage and explore Cirencester.
Double rooms from £114.00, including tax at 20 per cent.
Rates exclude breakfast (£9 each for Continental breakfast; £17.50 for a full English).
Keep your eyes peeled as you walk up the wrought iron stairs to your room – the eponymous King is featured on the bannisters and, as you climb from floor to floor, he grows from a toddler, to a middle-ager (complete with bald pate) and finally to an old man.
The hotel's spa – including the thermal suite – will be closed for renovation works until June 2020.
At the hotel
Spa, lounge, gym, meeting rooms, free WiFi throughout. In the rooms: Flatscreen TV, air-conditioning, pod coffee machine, tea-making kit, mini fridge (with free mineral water), Greener Lifestyle (Classic and Superior rooms and Apartments) or The White Company (Feature and Indulgent rooms) bath products.
Our favourite rooms
All the rooms have light, muted colours, super-soft beds and ensuite bathrooms. The Feature rooms are each individually styled to show off the Georgian, Tudor and even mediaeval elements of the building; some have bare beams or exposed, centuries-old brickwork. Go for a Superior room if you're travelling with little ones; 119 is a particularly good choice, and the hotel has three sets of interconnecting rooms. Room 219 is one of the hotel's most individual: it's brightly decorated in tartan, and has a conservatory-style roof. But our favourites are the Indulgent rooms: 101 is huge, with a pencil four-poster and a freestanding bath tub in the ensuite; 103 has a copper bath tub on a wooden floor next to the bed.
Down in the vast vaulted basement is the spa, kitted out with Decléor products, which has four treatment rooms, a relaxation room, sauna, steam room and hot tub. We highly recommend a massage for two in the couples' room; other treatments include prenatal massages and aromatherapy. A two-hour session in the spa's Thermal Suite – the hot tub, steam room, infrared sauna, experience shower with a variety of jets and heated relaxation area – is £10 a person for guests, and pre-booking is essential.
Bring your casual clobber for muddy walks in the country (don't forget your waterproofs to stand up to the British weather). A dash of tweed wouldn't be out of place.
Pets are accepted in all room types (excluding Indulgent) for £20 a night, and are welcome in the lounge/bar (where bowls are provided), but not the restaurant. Dogs larger than a labrador/retriever unfortunately cannot be accommodated. See more pet-friendly hotels in Cotswolds.
Under-12s can stay in cots (£15 a night) and extra beds (£30 a night) on request in Superior rooms (some Feature rooms can accommodate extra beds, but you'll need to book well in advance). High chairs are available in the restaurant.
For the best of the action, head towards the back, near the open kitchen. If you've got a four-legged Smith with you, ask for a table in the bar, where an extensive menu is served.
Smart country pub. A T-shirt wouldn't be scorned, but neither would a tweed blazer.
The hotel's restaurant is a homey-yet-modern space serving up British food with a contemporary twist; as much as possible is locally sourced, and the open kitchen lets you see your chef at work. The dark wood interior, dim lighting and simple wooden furniture give a smartly cosy pub feel, and Laurie Plant artwork adorns the walls. The menu is in keeping with the decor, with chargrilled squid, exquisitely juicy grilled chicken, plus slickly done burgers, steaks and chunky chips. For afters, the caramel fondant is a must-try, and those without a sweet tooth will jump at the chance to peruse the enormous cheese board in the middle of the room.
The backlit bar is a destination in its own right, pulling in thirsty Cirencesterians in search of well-mixed cocktails. It's the first thing you see on entering the hotel and feels like a more grown-up space, with leather sofas for two and elaborate booze concoctions. Go for a G&T mixed with a spirit from the hotel's extensive gin collection and a flavoured Fevertree tonic water – we like the elderflower one. Dogs are allowed here (but not in the restaurant), and there's a generous menu of burgers, sandwiches and other treats to pick at. With a nod to the town's history as a centre of the yarn trade, colourful bobbins of thread are mounted on the wall, and bare brick and flagstone tiles give a hard edge to the cosy chic.
Breakfast is served from 7am to 10.30am on weekdays, 7.30am to 10.30am on weekends. Dinner is served until 9.30pm.
Breakfast (7am–11am) and light bites and mains such as pot pie, risotto, burgers and steak (noon–2.30pm; 6.30pm–9pm) are available in your room; sandwiches (we recommend the coronation chicken) are can delivered round the clock.
The hotel is in the heart of town, its entrance just off the ancient market square.
The nearest airport is Bristol (www.bristolairport.co.uk), which serves the UK and more than 100 European destinations. It's about 50 miles southwest of Cirencester. For further flung places, Heathrow is around 90 miles east.
Kemble is the nearest station, and a 10 minute (four-mile) drive away. It is served by First Great Western trains for destinations from London Paddington to the West Country.
There is a dropping-off space at the front of the hotel, and a pay and display car park at Market Place (free from 6pm to 8am) next to the hotel. Alternatively, stow your wheels at the Waterloo car park a few minutes' walk from the hotel (£6.50 for a 24-hour stay) or the Forum car park (free after 3pm, maximum 4 hour-stay). If driving from the north or west, exit M5 at junction 11a, on to A417, then A429. From the south and east: exit M4 junction 15 to A419, then A429.
Worth getting out of bed for
This is the heart of the Gloucestershire Cotswolds, and a fine base for muddy exploration of the rolling hills nearby. The Bathurst Estate is a five-minute walk away, and a good place to start for a leisurely stroll; owned by the Earl and Countess of the same name, its mix of long, straight paths and wild foliage make it a favourite with dog walkers. Just around the corner from the hotel, Black Jack Street boasts a clutch of traditional shops, including Jesse Smith, the town’s favourite butcher. Along the same road is the Corinium Museum, a treasure trove of Roman history, and there are regular Saturday morning farmers' markets on the square in front of the hotel. Further afield, the ridiculously pretty village of Castle Combe (used in filming of War Horse) is a 40-minute drive to the southwest. The Coln Valley, to the northeast of town, has a series of equally beautiful villages strung out along the River Coln, with the nearest about a 15-minute drive from the hotel. For those who fancy a flutter on a filly there is racing at Cheltenham and curious monarchists, eager gardeners, amatuer historians or fans of Georgian architecture might like to potter around Highgrove House, home to Prince Charles and his Duchy Home Farm (open in Spring and Summer).
Just around the corner from the hotel, Food Made by Bob is a justly popular deli in the newly refurbished Corn Hall. It does a good line in modern British food with European flourishes, under the guiding hand of Bob Parkinson, former head chef at Bibendum in London. Jesse's Bistro on Black Jack Street is the sister restaurant to the butcher of the same name; as you'd expect, the meat is top-notch. For elaborate, two-starred Michelin munching, the Dining Room at Whatley Manor is a 20-odd-minute drive out of town.
Cirencester is more about cosy pubs than swanky wine bars, and among the best are close to the hotel. Head to The Black Horse to prop up the bar with locals supping pints, or old-school charmer theWheatsheaf Inn, who have a beer, cider and pizza garden come summer.
This is a hotel that wears its history comfortably, but never lets it weigh the place down. The Romans set up home in the neighbourhood, attracted by the location and the thriving wool trade, and put the locals to work building neat little roads on their way to conquering Wales. The Kings Head gives a nod to the past with a glass floor at reception that reveals a Roman mosaic a metre or so into the earth below. Colourful yarns and bobbins on the walls nod to the trade that continued long after the Roman Empire faded away. There has been a building here since around 1550, and it has housed an Elizabethan baliff, Georgian cockfights, and, fleetingly, a scarpering royalist, rousted by local supporters of parliament during the Civil War. It all gets a passing nod here, through architecture or decoration, but with enough calmly cosy modern flourishes to make this a very contemporary country stay.