Rustic charmer The Wheatsheaf Inn hotel in the Cotswolds brings the trad British coaching inn bang up to date, with stylish design, and tasty regional food and beer. Once weary wayfarers called in at this 17th-century bolthole to refuel and recuperate. Now you can do the same, provided Kate Moss' posse hasn't got there first.
11am. Earliest check-in, 3pm. Both are flexible subject to availability.
Double rooms from £94.50, including tax at 20 per cent.
Rates usually include a Continental breakfast with à la carte hot dishes (not included for room-only bookings).
The Wheatsheaf Inn would make a swell spot for a reception dinner, with bespoke banquets including whole hogs for a rollicking rural send-off. Guests at Cotswolds-fan Kate Moss' nuptials bedded down here, and it would also be stylish for a stag or hen do. If you're planning a smaller special evening, ask the hotel to have a bottle of champagne waiting in your room.
At the hotel
Snug/TV room, private dining room, poker room, wine cellar, board games, free WiFi throughout, gardens. In rooms: flatscreen Bang & Olufsen TV, Bramley bath products.
Our favourite rooms
Once a piggery, Excellent Room 9 flaunts high ceilings and original stone walls. Very Good Room 6, in the former stable block, mixes masculine black suede and tweed, and Excellent Room 1 boasts a blissful freestanding bath. For garden access, opt for feminine Excellent Room 11. A few of the rooms have the bath tub or shower at the end of the bed; ask when booking if you'd rather have an ensuite. Tip: if you're lugging lots of luggage, ask for a room with a wardrobe or chest of drawers – they don't all have them.
Shooting – of the real and clay-pigeon variety – is up for grabs near this rustic retreat, and if you bring your own rifle there's a gun cabinet for storing it safely. Pack country clobber for hearty walks.
Throughout the year, the hotel shows big rugby, tennis and cricket matches live on the telly in the snug.
Welcome. Baby cots (free), or a limited number of fold-out Z-beds for under-17s (£25 a night) are available on request. Babysitting with Rocking Horse Nannies can be arranged, a week's notice is advised.
Kids of any age will enjoy a stay at the Wheatsheaf Inn, especially those old enough to play out in the garden.
The ground-floor rooms (10, 11 and 12) and several of the Very Good rooms are large enough to fit extra beds.
Kids will love the huge toy box, board games and Wendy house out in the back garden. Child-friendly capers in the nearby countryside include walking, cycling, horseriding, waterskiing and sailing; adventurous kids will like the climbing wall at Far Peak. For animal encounters, they can feed the lambs at Cotswold Farm Park or go wild at Cotswold Wildlife Park and Gardens. Magical, traditional Giffords Circus performs locally, too.
The restaurant offers an appealing children's menu and welcomes nippers at any time. Staff can whip up packed lunches for picnics or heat baby food or milk.
Staff can give advice on local babysitting companies; we recommend giving a week's notice.
No need to pack
Highchairs. If you need to bring a baby monitor, they're most likely to work in most of the rooms above the bar (numbers 1–4).
The Wheatsheaf offers baby cots (free) and a limited number of fold-out Z-beds for under-16s (£25 a night). Make sure you book them in advance, though.
Park yourself at a cosy table beside the long banquette for top people-watching. The private dining room, which seats 18–20, is pretty magical, should you be in party mode.
Informal gastropub gear, but a tad of tweed will tally with the hunting, shooting and fishing crowd.
Chunky wooden tables and leather-backed chairs tempt you to linger in the Inn's inviting dining room, where paintings of historic Brit tobacco barons add to the olde worlde feel. By contrast, German artist Sebastian Krüger's pop art portrait of Kate Moss factors in the funk. Nosh by chef Peter McAllister is rustic and regional, with seasonal produce the star in a daily-changing menu; we're partial to the signature Colchester rock oysters and 'marathon pud'. The full cooked English breakfast is a must, and is available until 10am. Make dinner reservations when booking – the restaurant is packed every night.
Beside the dining room, the Wheatsheaf Inn's convivial bar is a relaxed affair, popular with loyal locals. As well as a changing roster of regional beers, there's delicious Dunkertons organic cider on tap. The staff also mix killer cocktails:. miss the mean Bellinis at your peril. Expect a backing track of Pavarotti in the morning, segueing to Johnny Cash come the afternoon.
Lunch in the restaurant is served from noon–3pm; bar snacks from 3pm–6pm; and dinner from 6pm–9.30pm (10pm on Fridays and Saturdays). The pub pulls pints until 11pm, and the back-garden bar keeps the same hours.
None – but the restaurant should keep you pleasantly full.
The Wheatsheaf Inn is in the Cotswolds, in the Gloucestershire market town of Northleach, within easy reach of both Cheltenham and Cirencester.
Fly into London's Heathrow Airport (www.heathrowairport.com) – from here it's about a 90-minute drive to the hotel. Gatwick Airport (www.gatwickairport.com) is just over a two-hour drive away. Recommended local firm Rainbow Taxis (+44 (0)1285 740 070) would be happy to pick you up and whisk you to the Wheatsheaf.
The nearest train stations are Kemble and Kingham, reached in under an hour and a half from London Paddington (www.nationalrail.co.uk), and Cheltenham Spa, which takes two hours and 15 minutes, with connections from most major UK cities. All three are about a 25-minute drive away.
A two-hour drive north-west of London, Northleach is just off the A40 between Cheltenham and Burford. Parking behind the hotel garden is free.
Worth getting out of bed for
Active country pursuits abound here, from walking to cycling, horseriding, tennis, rock climbing, golf, exceptional fishing and watersports (at the Cotswold Water Park on South Cerney Lakes), all of which can be organised by your hosts. For riding, trot to Talland School of Equitation, near Cirencester, or Bourton Vale Equestrian Centre. Clay-pigeon and game shooting are a blast, too, with sessions for all levels and regular competitions to test the best. Try Ian Coley Shooting School, near Cheltenham, or one of the private estates recommended by the Wheatsheaf crew.
History buffs can check out various stately piles within an hour's drive, including Sudeley Castle and Blenheim Palace, or ask the hotel team to arrange private tours of one of the glam gardens in the area. Northleach is also brilliantly placed for missions to the heritage-toting, grey-stone Cotswolds towns of Chipping Campden, Stow-on-the-Wold, Bourton-on-the-Water and Moreton-in-Marsh. Cheltenham's Everyman Theatre should amuse the thespians.
Closer to home, the Wheatshelf keeps up a busy calender of wine, beer, cocktail and champagne tastings, dining deals and sports events, as well as celebrating everything from New Year's Eve to Halloween and Guy Fawkes Night. If you'd rather just relax, laid-back types can luxuriate in the landscaped beer garden, where Cotswolds-green picnic tables, striped deck chairs, sunloungers and a tiny walled nook for sneaky pints beckon.
Sunday lunch is a must at gastropub the Horse & Groom in Bourton-on-the Hill. It's bagged awards for its regularly changing menu, which runs the gamut from rib-eye steak to beer-battered hake. Alternatively, get your roast at the Wild Duck near Ewen, where the Yorkshire pud is seriously good. A brill bistro by the owners of the Wheatsheaf Inn, The Tavernon 5 Royal Well Place in Cheltenham dishes up modern British and French tavern fare, with a focus on fresh local seafood and meats. The Chequersl in Chipping Norton is a cosy option for a drink or weeknight supper.
A top tip for simple food done well is restaurant, café and deli Made by Bob in the Corn Hall, 26 Market Place in Cirencester, which serves breakfast, lunch and afternoon tea. Chef/owner James 'Bob' Parkinson uses quality ingredients, and the London culinary vibe here keeps folk coming back for more. Don't miss hybrid café, farm produce shop, and chic garden and homewares boutique, Daylesford Farmshop & Café. Set on a Gloucestershire organic farm, it also has outlets in London, and blends impeccable style with gorgeous sustenance.
The Village Pub in Barnsley near Cirencester and Thyme hotel's popular drinkery theSwan at Southrop are both smart bets for sipping a pint in stylish surrounds, with tasty food options to see off that hangover. Overlooking the main square in Northleach, theCurious Cellar has about 20 wines available by the glass, a cosy wood-lined interior and an airy courtyard outside.
Honestly? I was a tad disappointed when Mr Smith said he’d booked a pub for the weekend. Being seven months pregnant, I was hoping for something luxurious for our last weekend à deux for some time. Turning off the motorway, we swung onto a country road shrouded by dark forest, punctuated with glints of cute, hidden cottages. I wondered if Mr Smith had thought this one through. He knew my litmus test for an overnight stay by now – amazing beds, huge bathtubs, brilliant but unfussy food, and sophisticated but not too try-hard. Could the unassuming-sounding Wheatsheaf Inn deliver?
Perched on bar stools several hours later, encouraging Mr Smith onto his second pint of local ale by a warming log fire, I had to admit he had nailed it. Formerly a coaching inn, beyond the ivy-clad stone façade, Wheatsheaf Inn keeps the same friendly atmosphere I imagine it had when welcoming weary days-gone-by travellers. Original stone flags are suitably worn and roaring hearths keep the pub toasty.
Checking in, squeezed between locals at the bar, was a little more cosy than I had anticipated, but we were ushered into the fold with cheerful banter. Around us other weekend-awayers were crashed out in padded alcoves for wind-down drinks, lively chatter floating in from the two dining rooms flanking the bar. Subdued green walls, exposed Cotswold stone and antique armchairs hemmed in by the low-beamed ceilings conveyed chintz- and clutter-free charm and impeccable taste.
And oh our room! My smile stretched to a broad grin when I spied the most welcome sight in our Excellent Room: a freestanding claw-footed slipper bath. Bath lovers can attest just how exciting little details such as a big pot of bath salts and a stack of plump white towels warming on the rail are. Open-plan, apart from a small room for the loo, opposite the bath is an enormous bed with robust oak headboard. This passed Mr Smith’s super-king test: lying widthways across the bed still leaving plenty of room. Contemporary flair was there too in the dusty pink and grey goose colour scheme, the Lewis & Wood wallpaper and a vast B&O television. (Due to my burgeoning bump the bath stood little chance of accommodating us both, but the all-in-one design of the room ensured an easy bed/tub rotation.)
Dinner in the Wheatsheaf proved a convivial, noisy affair. Huge tea towels masquerade as napkins and foil-wrapped Gloucestershire churned butter accompanies freshly baked bread. Great British fare, but excellently executed: perfectly pink partridge, whole plaice with shrimp butter and an oozing ginger sticky toffee pudding. The wine list, perhaps reflecting the better-heeled clientele stretches into the hundreds.
Waking the next morning I wondered why I couldn’t move. I was just that comfortable. It wasn’t only the Egyptian cotton or the comforting weight of blankets; turns out it was because the beds have Hypnos memory-foam mattresses. The Wheatsheaf Inn has a knack of making guests happy – just as it’s met one set of demands, it throws you a little something extra to really warm the cockles. Mmm… afternoon toast and peanut butter in the snug by the crackling fire… a bowl of gourmet chocolate eggs in the room (perfect with a cuppa)… O-Check Design Graphics notepads to hand. OK – who needs the hotel to have five stars when you've got touches like that?
The village of Northleach, a 500-year-old market town, is well worth a mooch around, with its pretty vaulted church, the bells of which we could hear from our room. It’s what Americans would call ‘quaint’, but lacking the saccharine-sweet chocolate-box veneer that some villages in the Cotswolds have. It’s window-shopping gold too – we found ourselves in the extraordinary Dolls House shop and then in a time-warp emporium selling antique clocks and tiny music boxes.
Back at our 17th-century bolt hole, staff were revving up for the next busy mealtime so we retreated to the sanctuary of our room for another round of baths. We heard the pub door bang repeatedly as hungry customers eagerly arrived, reminding us that the chilled-out Wheatsheaf is not just a Cotswolds boutique hotel but a thriving boozer with a lively atmosphere – and thank goodness for that. It’s the way forward for a relaxed, stylish break. And, as Mr Smith later informed me, the hotel welcomes babies, children and even dogs (the hotel also has its own Labrador, Pudding), perhaps providing the perfect solution for our own growing Smith clan.
We loved the public house feel to it all. Pints of fine ale in the bath, a do-it-yourself Bloody Mary at breakfast, and everyone so smiley. So, you can keep your big country hotels where couples eye other couples over fancy martinis and dine formally in a Michelin-starred dining room, after all. And you can wipe that smug look off your face, Mr Smith.