Review by Fiona Duncan, published 30th September 2007.
'It was the view that sold us this place, when we were looking for a hotel to buy 20 years ago," says owner John Pattin. Hardly surprising: it's staggering. The Georgian dower house, and next to it, the original cottage in the wood stand high on the side of one of those Malvern hills, long-backed and round-topped, that look like a scene from a child's painting.
The rooms are spacious and the beds are comfortable, though the hotel's decor is a little old-fashioned
The Severn plain is spread out below, with the Cotswold Hills in the distance. In the foreground: the Three Counties Showground, emitting, when my sister and I stayed, the Thellwellian sounds of a Pony Trials that drifted up on the wind.
But if the view clinched the deal for the Pattin family (and the view is easily the main reason for recommending this quiet country house hotel) it has other benefits too, not least the fact that there are almost no other decent places to stay in this strangely forgotten corner of England, yet with landscape to rival any other. "But then, that's its charm," says John. "We're not in a hurry to expose the Malvern Hills."
There are eight rooms in the main Dower House, and four in Beech Cottage, but the best are in an unattractive purpose-built annexe, opened in 2003. Called Pinnacles, which struck me as a good name for an old people's home, and devoid of ambience, let alone a cottage feel, the square building contains 19 bedrooms on three floors, most of which have the view (albeit through irritatingly plastic-paned windows).
As for their decoration, they are of a good standard, as you might expect from a new building, but will only really appeal if you are happy to see a velour bedspread, brass wall lights, gilt mirrors and reproduction antique furniture in your room. That said, our room was spacious, with very comfortable beds, flat screen TV and DVD and two prettily upholstered armchairs, and we slept extremely well.
It's no use pretending that the dower house, where you find the hotel's public rooms and a fine suntrap of a terrace overlooking the valley, is any more modishly decorated than the rooms in the annexe. My sister and I spent some time at dinner deciding how we would redecorate, but we also concluded that the very tasty food on our plates, and the friendly welcome, in a hotel packed with guests, was worth more than the 'yesterday' feel, and many people probably prefer it like that anyway.
The hotel's warmth comes from John Pattin and his wife Sue, whose three grown-up children also work there in various roles, including son Dominic, who is head chef. The Pattin family cares about its hotel, but not in a pretentious way: take a look, for example, at John's honest opinions on mark-ups in the introduction to his admirably accessible wine list. Even so, when he talked about his "drapes lady" coming in to create some new curtains, I longed to suggest a fresh approach.
In the morning, after a disappointing breakfast (institutional, with flabby bacon, though admittedly we were latecomers) we walked up to Pinnacle Hill and were rewarded with a breathtaking panorama: hill after hill rolling into Wales and - we think - the two bridges across the Severn Estuary just discernable in the far distance.
Holywell Road, Malvern Wells, Worcestershire (01684 560662; www.cottageinthewood.co.uk). Doubles from £99 to £179, including breakfast).