Review by Fiona Duncan, published 12th November 2006.
Is there a more delightful place to stay in the Cotswolds than the Malt House? Not for me. If it's a huge hotel bill you want, there's plenty of choice in these parts, from the traditional to the trendy, but if it's quality, charm, personal service and flowers from the garden in the bathroom as well as the bedroom, then conserve your money and head for Broad Campden, a honey-stone hamlet consisting of nothing more than a cluster of wisteria-covered cottages, a church and a pub.
It's easy to miss the 400-year-old house and adjoining cottages, where barley was once dried to make malt for the village's ale and beer. But behind its modest façade it spreads in a leisurely progression from one attractive room to another, with seven guest bedrooms, three with their own entrances. They all overlook the garden, bordered by a small stream and rising steeply to a hillside orchard with the odd bench set in the long grass. There's a croquet lawn and a thatched summer house, while fruits for the breakfast jams and compotes (and flowers for the house) are cultivated in neat rows.
The Malt House, long a guesthouse, has for the past five years been the domain of Judi Wilkes. Compared with her previous career - organising major corporate events in more than 60 cities worldwide - she evidently finds her new role a doddle, and carries it out with a mixture of calm, professionalism and broad smiles.
It's hard to imagine closer attention to detail. In the bedroom, you'll find scissors ("in case overseas guests have had to hand them in at the airport"), sewing kit, torch, razor, umbrella, toothbrush and toothpaste, iron and ironing board, hot-water bottles and hairdryer. On the tea tray: cafetière and china teapot. On the windowsill: current magazines and a good selection of books. On the dressing table, perhaps a set of antique hairbrushes or an unusual collection of paperweights and on the mantelpiece a dainty clock. Which other Cotswold hotel could match that?
As for the bedrooms themselves, they are unashamedly pretty, in English style: all roses, trellises and toile de Jouy. One has a four-poster, another floor-length windows and several have king-size beds. Downstairs, walls covered in gold leaf (courtesy of the previous owners) add an exotic touch to an otherwise traditional decorative ensemble.
Judi doesn't serve dinner at the Malt House, which could be a distinct advantage: it means trying the excellent Churchill Arms at Paxton, or Hicks Brasserie in Chipping Campden, or Russell's in Broadway to name but three. A map marked with recommendations is provided in each room, and Judi is also happy to help with sightseeing plans.
My only (unfair) grumble came at breakfast, when the appearance of other guests, who don't always fit perfectly into their surroundings, were a sudden irritant, since, up till then, it had felt much like staying in a private home, down to mixing myself a gin and tonic and sipping it in the summer house. But the dish of poached gooseberries and redcurrants from the garden, and the excellent eggs, coffee and homemade jams pacified me. I could have done with a morning paper to leaf through, otherwise everything was perfect.
The Malt House, Broad Campden, Gloucestershire (01386 840295; www.malt-house.co.uk). Doubles from £128 to £150 per night including breakfast.