This review of Rectory Hotel in the Cotswolds is taken from our latest guidebook, Mr & Mrs Smith: Hotel Collection – UK/Ireland Volume 2.
When escaping for the weekend, there’s always a moment – usually just after the 14th ‘are we there yet?’ – when you wonder if this really was such a good idea. Especially when you’re headed for a place called Crudwell. Things weren’t looking good. With three scratchy boys fidgeting in the back and one increasingly impatient lad at the wheel, my dreams of a few restful days in the countryside were fading fast. Until we arrived at Rectory Hotel.
You could be forgiven for thinking we’d pulled up at the country pile of a very flush friend. It certainly doesn’t look like a hotel. There’s no reception, just a simple desk in the front room. No computers. No phone. And no fellow guests milling about. Just calm, hear-a-pin-drop silence. They say it’s golden, but when you have three energetic under-sevens in tow, all that peace and quiet is a worry.
I needn’t have fretted. While there’s none of the hubbub that comes as standard with ‘family-focused’ hotels, Mr Smith and I are pleased to report that this is an adult-friendly place to stay that caters for kids on the no-pressure understanding that they’ll behave.
Set in three acres of walled gardens, this 17th-century Cotswold-stone house started life as the rectory for the Saxon church next door. Its new owners, Jonathan (ex-Hotel du Vin) and Julian (an antiques/art dealer and interior designer) have given it a makeover that’s considerate of the architecture, yet has enough contemporary twists to make us feel at home, rather than trapped in a heritage piece. Wood panelling and hand-sprung mattresses, cream walls and muted plaid-and-floral fabrics – period detail with sufficient modern accents to assure its boutique-hotel status. While there is mobile-phone coverage and a computer available for guests to use, you’ll probably get more use out of the cricket bats and croquet sets piled up by the front door. I know we did.
I head for our roomy, tastefully furnished pale-palette suite to unpack, where wooden beams and a fireplace combine to create a charming old-world ambiance that wouldn’t be out of place in a Jane Austen novel. Taking a minute to breathe in the views over the Victorian gardens, I can hear the distant sound of leather thwacking willow as Mr Smith tries vainly to share his cricketing prowess. I slip on a robe, eschewing the temptaton of a deep bath and its accompanying Arran Aromatics for a trip to the heated outdoor pool, blissfully happy about the fact that I’ll never have to understand the difference between a silly mid-off and deep gully.
It’s no wonder that this property manages to attract so many courting couples. With its open log fires, canoodle-friendly armchairs and all that crisp Egyptian linen waiting for you upstairs, this is the perfect place to kickstart or rekindle a romance.
While Mr Smith retreads the croquet- and cricket-induced divots, I take the boys into the woo-panelled restaurant for their high tea – chef Peter Fairclough’s pared-down version of what’s to come later. The setting may sound formal, but the glorious garden vistas (meals can be served outside in the summer months) must make dinner the most alluring element of the hotel for most guests, and the sneak preview merely offers more incentive to get the kids bathed and bedded as soon as possible so we can have our turn come dinnertime.
Chef’s a follower of the Slow Food Movement and serves up a very British menu (English asparagus, Welsh lamb, Pimm’s jelly, in case you’re curious) with everything locally sourced, seasonal, GM-free and organic. Mr Smith is tempted to finish off with a slice of Stinking Bishop from the nearby cheese-producing village of Dymock, which prompts no end of smutty innuendo.
The fact that as much as possible is sourced within half an hour of the hotel all sounds worthy. What is not so worthy is how Mr Smith, myself and all the little Smiths manage to devour enough produce between us to cause a Wiltshire-wide food shortage. However, we can now justifiably declare that Rectory’s modern British cuisine is, in the words of the three-year-old, ‘yum, yum, yummy and nice’. We retreat, replete, to a cosy corner complete with whisky and backgammon.
The following morning, we get up with the sun, on a mission to explore the area, away from all garden sports. First stop is Westonbirt Arboretum. Yes, it’s just a collection of trees. And yes, you have to pay for the privilege of walking through them. But there are 3,000 different species, in every imaginable colour, many of them rare and endangered. To my surprise, before long, the six- and three-year-old are compiling a list of their favourites and are kept captivated all through the walk – so, hey, let’s not knock the arboretum.
As the clouds roll in, we take cover in nearby sleepy Tetbury where I manage a crafty look round the antiques shops. Unfortunately, there’s no room in the car for the coffee table that catches my eye. Mr Smith’s relief is palpable. Dawdling back to the Rectory, the rain descends, scuppering the boys’ plans to spend all afternoon in the pool and Mr Smith’s thoughts of taking to the Cotswold Way – a mere 100-mile trail. I, on the other hand, make the most of the adverse weather conditions, curling up to work my way through about two dozen fashion and lifestyle magazines. As we head back
to London, we can’t help marvelling at how easy it is to spend so much time doing so little. And Rectory Hotel is a great place not to rush things.