A chic, family-friendly country house hotel set in over 220 acres of rolling Cotswolds meadowland, Calcot Manor welcomes you with the warmest of metaphorical hugs from the moment you set foot in its main building – a lovely, ivy-clad old stone farmhouse dating from the 14th century. The smell of logs crackling in a number of vast fireplaces is as autumnally evocative as it gets; green wellies (for the borrowing of) line the flagstoned entrance lobby; multiple lounging areas decorated in muted, tasteful shades beckon with seriously comfortable-looking sofas and armchairs. The overall impression is one of relaxed, understated luxury.
Calcot Spa is well-equipped, with a large indoor pool, treatment rooms, gym and a sensational sunken outdoor hot tub in a beautiful courtyard, surrounded by scented lavender bushes, rambling roses climbing stone walls, a wood burning fire blazing merrily only a few feet away. Wallowing in its toasty bubbling depths, steam rising in the evening rain, was one of the highlights of our stay.
Calcot’s myriad other amenities include tennis courts, an outdoor pool (open in summer), kids’ playground, crèche, woodland gym, mini football pitch, disc golf course, bikes to hire and horses to ride. Foodwise, you’re spoilt for choice with the Conservatory restaurant, superior pub grub at the Gumstool Inn and extremely good room service options.
Our two-storey Deluxe Suite was located, along with two other suites, in a converted outhouse – a bit like a row of small terraced houses, each with its own front garden behind a picket fence. (Double rooms are in the main building, family rooms in more outhouses overlooking the outside pool). We absolutely loved it.
The modern country style was pure Elle Decoration – a sumptuous, soothing palette of taupes, creams, greiges, with accents of chocolate brown and precious metals. Our four poster – all clean lines, dark wood and snowy white linen with the plumpest, downiest pillows – was so huge that when I rolled over in the middle of the night Andy was out of reach. It was the best night’s sleep either of us had had for a long time.
Contrasting natural textures and fabrics abounded in both the bedroom and adjacent sitting room: cream carpet, stripped pine floorboards, a neutral tweed sofa here, brown leather armchair there, dobby silver silk curtains, pale wooden dining table, dark wood desk, some fine cut crystal, a couple of gold-embossed Japanese wall hangings.
Upstairs, the vast bathroom was all-white and spotless, with a blissful walk-in rainforest shower, freestanding bath, twin hand basins and generous bottles of superior toiletries. Here the original beams in the outbuilding’s eaves had been painted white and we felt very cosy in our snuggly fluffy bathrobes as rain lashed against the sloping windows.
Next door, the children’s bedroom had twin carved wooden beds swathed in faux fur throws and piled high with embroidered cotton cushions. An attractive set of shelves on the landing (upcycled, distressed white paint) played host to every board game imaginable.
Nice touches too: a jug of chilled water (still chilled by the morning) on one of the bedside tables; well-chosen books on the desk (Five Give up the Booze kept me amused before dinner), an overflowing and properly ripe fruit bowl, handmade chocolate truffles, artisan tea and coffee, state of the art technology. The pretty little garden was home to a lone apple tree, with a wrought iron table and chairs which would be perfect for breakfast in the summer. In blustery October, our suite proved the most gorgeously cossetting escape from the outside world. Reluctant to leave doesn’t come close.
The Conservatory, as its name might suggest, is an airy, glass-ceilinged, multi-windowed room blooming with large floral displays. It’s elegant yet informal with pale slate tiles underfoot, light wood tables, and comfortable tweed seating that echoed the sofa in our suite. On an autumnal Thursday night it was packed, resounding with the chatter of contented diners – much more so than most restaurants in country house hotels, mid-week and out of season.
My starter of raviolo with wild mushrooms and truffle was a thing of joy, a single silky plump pillow bursting with yummy earthy fungus in a creamy, unctuous sauce elevated with the aniseedy kick of tarragon. A little salad of peppery nasturtium leaves was the perfect foil to its richness. Andy’s cured salmon with dill, orange and mustard was diced, not sliced – all the better to showcase the fish’s firm freshness and almost indecently good marriage of flavours.
Perusing the menu before we left home, Andy and I had both bagsied the beef Wellington; happily for me the late addition of venison to the A La Carte swayed him in a different direction (he likes to make the most of game season, whose shortness he bemoans – venison may be available all year round but never better than in autumn, he says).
More fool him, as the beef was, without shadow of a doubt, the most outstanding aspect of an exceptional meal: rare, tasty, meltingly tender fillet inside an individual case of flaky, buttery puff pastry, oft-overlooked mushroom duxelles adding an intensely savoury note. I have never had such a good Wellington, and can only conclude that individual portions are the way forward for perfectly cooked meat, every time. It makes sense. Velvety pommes dauphinoise and a sprightly salad of squeaky green beans with lightly vinegared shallots proved fine accompaniments.
Andy’s venison was beautifully presented: two medallions on a bed of braised red cabbage with a puree of butternut squash and blackcurrant jus. Such fiery autumnal colours! He liked it a lot (though not as much as he liked my Wellington).
Breakfast, delivered to our increasingly difficult-to-leave suite, was again good – top notch smoked salmon and scrambled eggs on wholemeal toast, with a slightly underwhelming fruit salad – which in retrospect seemed silly to have ordered, given our already abundant and much nicer complimentary fruit bowl.
For lunch at the Gumstool Inn we both went for the Cornish seafood stew with chorizo and chickpeas – and plenty of crusty sourdough to mop up the tomato-ey, fishy, oh-so-moreish juices. By time we’d finished (after three pints each of cider which wasn’t local), it was mid-afternoon on Friday, and we really didn’t want to heave ourselves back to the heaving metropolis.
Who goes there?
A wonderful generational mish-mash. Calcot is known for being child-friendly, and was packed with families when we visited (unsurprisingly, given that it was half term). But our experience is testament to the fact that it’s great for couples too. The table next to us at dinner in the Conservatory played host to four 30-something women from Bath on a monthly jolly. And the Gumstool threw up some splendid country-set huntin’, shootin’, fishin’ retirees, the men drinking like there was no tomorrow and shouting (presumably due to deafness), their wives discussing Fitbits and Christmas presents for the grandchildren (also overheard: ‘Darling are you sure you want a second brandy? We’ve tea in Winchester in just over an hour’). The handsome, Hooray barman, just out of Bristol University, confirmed that Calcot is indeed extremely popular with the great and the good of Gloucestershire. All wonderfully reassuring, somehow.
Out & about:
There’s no shortage of bucolic beauty in the Cotswolds, to the extent that borrowing Calcot’s green wellies for a cobweb-clearing stomp around the fields is pretty much compulsory. Tetbury, only three miles away, is a postcard-pretty historic wool town, considered an architectural gem, with many of the wool merchants’ houses remaining the same as they were in the 16th and 17th centuries, during the height of the town’s prosperity. Slightly further afield is lovely Bath, Aquae Sulis, which needs little explanation (but might be worth a visit if you’re interested in the Romans or Regency England).
The worst thing:
The pool in the spa had a slightly municipal air about it, with cleaning materials left around – though this could have been due to our arrival immediately post-‘kids’ hour’, and the warm, friendly spa staff having more pressing concerns.
The best thing:
The happy, comforting atmosphere. It’s like being wrapped in cashmere, eating Belgian chocolate and listening to your favourite music, all at the same time.