Review by Fiona Duncan, published 9th March 2010.
What is it about a hotel that makes you know you’re going to love it before you’ve even checked in? As she steers us towards the main entrance, undeterred by naff driveway lights (“reminds me of a Tesco car park”) and prosaic signposts for spa, reception, deliveries and so on, my friend Lui has a gut feeling about Calcot Manor. Sensing her hotel nirvana, she has to be persuaded to stop rubbing her hands in glee and put them back on the wheel. “This is going to be great”, she keeps saying. How righ she is.
Lui is a good person to bring to Calcot Manor, because she also came with me to Babington House. Both are fine examples – probably the finest – of luxury country house hotels that appeal as much to families as to couples. She appreciated Babington, but she didn’t love it. “It’s hard to be over 50 there” she says, “but here you can be any age you like, and any type”. This is true: there are awfully posh voices at the table next to ours at dinner, yet I recently met a London cabbie who saved up, took his family there, and had the time of his life. Parents with toddlers, grandparents, loved up couples – they all fit in.
What’s the secret? Calcot Manor has grown, changed and moved with the times for two simple, but hard to replicate reasons: its managing director Richard Ball knows what he’s doing; and its owner, a guest who bought the hotel, provides the investment for him to do it.
It was Ball’s parents who, in 1984, first turned Calcot, with its weathered stone manor house and farm buildings, into a seven bedroom hotel. Today it has 35 guest rooms, a gorgeous, just-revamped spa, a function centre in a converted barn, an Ofsted-registered crèche in the kids’ Playzone and two restaurants. Double rooms are in the manor; family rooms overlook the outdoor pool; suites, for families or couples are in a long, low building with neat private gardens bordered by an American style picket fence that reminds us of Desperate Housewives.
There’s something incredibly relaxing about this hotel, with ‘country modern’ bedrooms that manage to be both cosy and elegant, soothing and spoiling, natural and sophisticated.
By the time we settle in squashy sofas before a roaring fire, Lui, the pickiest person on the planet, is reduced to a quivering jelly of abject appreciation. Even when she asks the waiter to describe the various ingredients that make up her main course, his wildly inaccurate, seat of the pants guesswork fails to elicit a negative remark. “Those, madame, are mushrooms”, he tells her. Braised oxtail, actually.
The following day is one of indulgent bliss in the airy, easy-going spa. By now Lui has completely lost the plot, and when it’s time to go home, she refuses to leave, cancels everything and treats us both to another night. It’s honestly that good.
Near Tetbury (01666 890391; www.calcotmanor.co.uk). Doubles from £240 per night, including breakfast). Access possible for guests with disabilities. More reviews by Fiona Duncan at www.thehotelguru.com.