Review by Fiona Duncan, published 4th October 2009.
It's not often that I'm a gooseberry when dining with my long-widowed, nearly nonagenarian mother, but then it's not often that she's had a beau at her side. Their combined ages may be 172, the boyfriend being a mere 85, but their delight in each other's company and enjoyment of life, despite the exigencies of advancing age, make me almost look forward to my twilight years.
We are here in part because Derek is a dedicated golfer, and this is a golfing hotel, overlooking Bowood's links. The Hotel and Spa, opened by the Duchess of Cornwall last May, is the latest embellishment on the ravishing estate of the ninth Marquis of Lansdowne. In 1972 his father retired to his estate in Perthshire, telling his son with memorable understatement: "You may find maintaining the house and estate quite a challenge."
Indeed. First the house and "Capability" Brown grounds were opened to the public, then came an adventure playground, then the championship golf course and corporate events venue and now, after years of planning, the hotel and spa.
They hadn't, poor things, reckoned with the recession, and it's my guess that any shortcomings in the Italianate, 43-bedroom building and adjoining small spa may well be a result of the economic downturn as the project got under way.
The building is handsome, but somehow rather blank, not helped by PVC window frames that cry out to be wooden, and windows that should have been larger and less like slits. And inside, in a hotel that commands prices on a par with nearby luxury places like Ston Easton, Bath Spa and Calcot Manor, there are other telltale signs of budgeting. If, on a dinner, bed and breakfast rate, you are allowed £30 for dinner and spend any more (easy to do if you have pudding), you pay the extra. In a room costing upwards of £300 per night there are no personal touches, no turn-down service, no complimentary newspaper. The loo seat is plastic and the rooms all the same.
The feeling on the ground floor is quite different, however. Here no corners have been cut, or at least not discernibly so. Lady Lansdowne's cool grey hall (she is a well-established interior designer), gorgeous book-lined drawing room and sweeping bar and restaurant make the hotel.
Dinner with the lovebirds was a mixed pleasure, at least on the food front. Certainly our cocktails, mixed by charming Knud the barman, were a highlight, but the food more hit and miss.
In the morning, the friendly staff will take you by golf buggy to enchanting Bowood House and its stunning grounds, and you will quickly discover why hotels on private estates make great short breaks. Don't take the poor-value b & b rate; take the excellent dinner, bed and breakfast package, which includes a round of golf, use of spa, entrance to Bowood House and grounds. You will not be disappointed.
Bowood, Derry Hill, Calne (01249 822228; www.bowood.org) Doubles from £180, including breakfast. Adapted room for guests with disabilities.