This rural retreat is the ultimate find for parents wanting a family staycation with a luxurious boutique vibe. Set in the heart of the Oxfordshire Cotswolds, an Area of Outstanding National Beauty, the renovated stables now house 12 luxury self-catering cottages. With beautiful English country gardens, a Tatler rated spa and a tropically warm pool, you can be forgiven for feeling as if you are on a decadent girly spa break. However, with everything from a giant walk-in doll’s house to a well-equipped toy shed and games room, there is no denying that Bruern Cottages has been created with young families in mind.
Dating back to 1882, Bruern Cottages were in fact once the equestrian stables, for neighbouring Bruern Abbey; a grand baroque-style stately home. The cottages each sleep between 2 and 10 and all feel wonderfully private, despite the shared gardens. The smallest cottage is Cope; previously an old mill, today it exudes the elegance of a breezy chateau. The largest is Weir House which comes with its own gardens, games room and dining room.
We were bound for Aintree, a classically decorated three-bedroom cottage which was a horse’s stable in its previous life. We arrived to find a delicious homemade lemon drizzle cake and a tea set ready to spring in to action. A quick nosey around and we soon found the impressive welcome hamper, filled with local delicacies and artisan produce; chilled champagne, thick-cut bacon, homemade marmalade and a smart box of Cracklebean eggs – their sunset orange yolks made even the most vibrant Burford Browns look anaemic.
For the grown-ups, there was a comfortable sitting room, with antique furniture and hand-stencilled walls by parsimonious design guru, Jocasta Innes herself – a hit with the grandparents. Upstairs the master bedroom had a grand four-poster bed and bathrooms were overflowing with Elemis goodies and fluffy gowns. And for little Rosie, hidden away beneath the staircase, there was a genius secret play den – as I took in the elegant lounge I wondered how our sitting room had become so shamelessly engulfed by her colourful plastic and began planning cupboard conversions!The cottage’s grand lounge led out to the main courtyard at the front, with views towards the abbey.
At the rear, neatly manicured lawns and a floral arbour awaited. Hidden away at the end of the garden was the stuff kid’s dreams are made of; a pool, slides, swings, a life-sized doll’s house and a shed bursting with toys.
You genuinely are spoilt for choice in this area of the Cotswolds. For healthy organic brunches and everything from over-priced flat whites to rosemary water and turmeric smoothies, head to nearby Daylesford Organic. The glass-fronted sassy sage emporium is a one-stop-shop offering everything from massages and childcare to floristry lessons and yoga sessions. Carol Vorderman was flitting through on our last visit – she really is good with numbers, isn’t she? She only looked about 20.
For a relaxed gastropub head to The Angel, just two minutes’ drive away its dark and moody interior is home to candlelit tables and a creative and well-executed seafood-heavy menu. For a slightly flashier affair head to The Chequers in Churchill. A favourite with the ‘Chipping Norton Set’, which includes everyone from David Cameron to Jeremy Clarkson, this friendly pub is a dimly-lit warren of cosy rooms with an eclectic clientele – we were sat near Amanda Holden on our last visit. Or for more of a restaurant feel, check out Wild Rabbit; a fancy off-shoot of Daylesford.
Out and about:
You may find it hard to drag your little ones away from Bruern Cottages’ games and gardens, but many of the area’s most popular towns and villages are within a 30 minute drive.Stow-on-the-Wold’s handsome boutiques, smart pubs and traditional tea rooms are a good choice for a morning wander. Plus, as the highest town in the Cotswolds, the journey there alone is a pleasure, with sweeping vistas at every turn. I loved the off piste courtyards which tempted you towards various craft workshops and hidden drinking holes. Alternatively, head to the medieval town of Burford. Its steep high street makes for an enjoyable afternoon of retail therapy, with a mix of local crafts and clothes boutiques. One of the most picturesque spots has to be Bourton-on-the-Water. Straddling the River Windrush, it’s fondly referred to by locals as the Venice of the Cotswolds and is the perfect spot for a photo of two – thanks to the chain of sweet bridges which marry the river’s banks. The green fingered should head to Woodstock, where you will find Blenheim Palace with 2,000 acres of gardens designed by Capability Brown. After a day of sightseeing do book a massage in Bruern Cottage’s spa. Located near the pool they use aromatic Neal’s Yard Remedies’ lotions and potions and transport you from a family holiday to a girly spa break.
The worst thing:
Unfortunately, during our stay there was a problem with our cottage’s alarm system which caused a kafuffle in the night – but nothing that a float in the pool the next morning didn’t fix. There is an emergency contact on call 24/7 for problems like this and they were at the cottage within 15 minutes, however guests would benefit from an onsite contact over weekends.
The best thing:
It is hard to find somewhere which provides a flexible home-from-home experience for families after multi-generational travel. Bruern Cottage’s relaxed surrounds and extensive facilities worked perfectly for each and every member of our family – impressive given that our ages ranged from 1 to 71. This is definitely worthy of a spot in every west London Mummy’s little black book.