Review by Fiona Duncan, published 27th July 2008.
Walking down to Buckland Manor from the steep Cotswold hill above, first through fields and then on through the hotel’s lovely grounds, full of the sound of running water, I felt I could be entering the world of Hercule Poirot or Peter Wimsey in one of those cosy Sunday evening whodunits on the telly.
There sat the mellow old manor in its combe, right next to the little church. A waiter and a maid, in black uniforms, scurried across the terrace. The cheerful porter, labrador at his heels, was tending to some chores, while a gardener trundled his wheelbarrow to the rose garden. Waiting inside: sedate, comfortable sitting rooms, a dining room where gentlemen are required to wear jacket and tie and 13 bedrooms with latches but no room keys. The perfect setting for a few genteel murders.
No room keys? Well, not unless you insist (you can put your valuables in the house safe). In these paranoid days, it’s a surprise to find any hotel, let alone an expensive Relais & Chateaux one, taking the “private house” theme this far. But Buckland Manor is different. While its owners have come and gone (it’s currently part of the Von Essen group), its manager, Nigel Power, has been at the helm for 21 years and has maintained the original no-keys, jacket-and-tie policies that now give the place its originality. He has also built up a superb wine cellar. Two of his receptionists have been there even longer than he, so there’s a down-to-earth friendliness and continuity, though the true feel of an enveloping private house never really breaks through.
The bedrooms, expensively refurbished by Von Essen, are gorgeous: each different and filled with attractive things, with bathrooms that are both pretty and luxurious. Only the rather stiff and alien flower arrangements create a jarring note.
Personally, I liked not having the bother of a room key, though my sister remained unconvinced. Having settled into our room, she went off to find our mother in hers, turned left instead of right and walked straight in on a pair of startled Americans quietly reading (mercifully) on their bed.
Dinner felt like a treat. It’s fun to be formal occasionally, especially in the company of one’s aged relation. The atmosphere was quiet, but not hushed; we could happily converse with mum in voices that are now by necessity pitched somewhere between forte and fortissimo. The food, while enjoyable, bore no relation to its enormous price tag, but this is a hazard of hotel dining, the only way that many hotels can keep the cost-heavy kitchen operational.
Next morning, Caroline and I got up early to go for a walk. We scribbled a note for mum and Caroline took it to put on her bedside table. “I’m not making the same mistake twice,” she announced, as she marched down the corridor and once again straight into the room of the hapless Americans.
Buckland, Gloucestershire (01386 852626; www.bucklandmanor.com). Doubles from £265 per night, including breakfast. Ground floor room suitable for guests with disabilities.