Review by Fiona Duncan, published 9th August 2010.
I don't think I've instantly disliked a hotel more than I did Barnsley House when it was under its previous ownership. Bought from the family of horticulturalist Rosemary Verey, it was turned into a hotel in 2003 and became a darling of the bonus crowd, its ghastly padded red-leather bar and its Spartan spa not far at all from London once you were behind the wheel of your Porsche.
I remember thinking I'd better give up my job because my taste in hotels seemed so at odds with everyone else's. In the handsome late 17th-century house, there was no hint of the surrounding Cotswolds, nor of the richly complex yet natural and abundant garden Verey had famously created.
The welcome was as stark and uncomfortable as the décor. As for the wretched bar, designed for quaffing as many bottles of champagne as the bonus boys could be persuaded to buy, all it lacked was a leggy Latvian in six-inch heels wrapped round a silver pole. I tried to forget about Barnsley House.
Until, that is, I heard the hotel had gone into administration and been snapped up by the owners of superb Calcot Manor near Tetbury. Hurrah. Barnsley House would not only be saved from becoming the plaything of some Russian oligarch, but would also become a place we could all enjoy.
As soon as it quietly reopened, I went to stay, accompanied by my friend Lui, who is both reputed garden designer and Calcot nut. The improvement is undeniable. Designer Martin Hulbert has retained the genuinely hip, but thrown out the more pretentious, bad-taste elements of the previous regime and brought in a feeling of the countryside (be warned, however: some bedrooms, including stableyard ones, are still to be changed).
I'm not sure about the wisdom of plunging reception into the basement, but the general feeling on entering is now one of warmth. The lovely, all-white, cleverly mirrored dining room leads to what must be one of the prettiest hotel terraces anywhere, with tables shaded by parasols facing the famous garden (which, nevertheless, is looking surprisingly unkempt and evidently badly misses its mistress). A "wilderness path" makes a tranquil route to the spa, also much improved, where I had a superb aromatherapy massage. As for that bar: what a transformation.
And yet… Barnsley House needs time to shake off its previous incarnation before it becomes nearly as pleasurable as Calcot Manor.
As a concept, Calcot has grown naturally from infancy to adulthood; Barnsley's inception was a whim created in greedy times. It still feels somewhat superficial and out of kilter with its heritage, though much less than before. My otherwise lovely (though impossibly hot) bedroom overlooking the garden had a vast television and a circular Jacuzzi, both too complicated to use.
- Barnsley, near Cirencester (01285 740000; www.barnsleyhouse.com); Doubles from £275 a night, including breakfast. Access for guests with disabilities.