Review by Fiona Duncan, published 26th November 2006.
Here's a real find: a new hotel that's as soothing as it is professional. Assured, and stylishly simple, devoid of gimmicks, it's that rare sort of unaffected place where you can be equally happy giggling with a bunch of friends over a bottle of Champagne or taking afternoon tea by the fire with granny.
The Rectory, an existing hotel recently refurbished by its young and savvy new owners, stands on the edge of the Cotswolds. It could so easily have become like the ultra-trendy media favourite a few villages away, with red-leather bar and new spa and bedrooms so minimal that they almost don't exist: hedge-fund heaven and my idea of hell.
But no. Instead of an empty space with a one-dot painting and a designer chair, the hall at The Rectory is homely as well as contemporary, accented by a pair of lovely lamp stands and tall, unadorned, half-shuttered windows. The well-stocked three-tier magazine rack invites you to flop on one of the traditionally styled sofas and the welcome from the owners is personal without being intrusive.
Jonathan Barry trained with the superb Hotel du Vin group; Julian Muggridge had an art gallery and antiques business – a happy combination if ever there was one, instantly evident at The Rectory, and a key, I think, to its success.
The reception room opens on to a wide, light, flagstoned hallway, prettily decorated with side tables and mirrors from Julian Chichester. Opening off are a lovely panelled dining room, elegant in its simplicity, and a warmly, eclectically decorated bar/sitting room. It's dark when we arrive, and everywhere there are little glass pots holding flickering nightlights.
"I found them in France a few years ago," says Jonathan, "and I thought to myself, I must buy them because one day I'm going to own a hotel and I know they'll come in useful".
Old friends who live nearby join us for drinks in the bar, a perfect spot for a relaxed catch-up, and then husband and I dine à deux from the short, interesting menu. No culinary revelations perhaps, but no disappointments either. In summer you can eat in the lovely garden at tables set round the original and very unusual full-immersion baptism pool (the church is next door, reached through a door in the garden wall).
The 12 bedrooms are my sort to a T. Named after hills along the Cotswold Way, they are all different, attractive without being fancy, sensibly priced homes from home in which it's a pleasure to spend time. Ours, Leckhampton, had cream-painted panelling and a stone fireplace, lovely green and white curtains, a superb king-size bed dressed in white, an old armoire, a pile of good books on the mantelpiece, a radio as well as unobtrusive flat screen TV and DVD, and a large, simple bathroom with free-standing bath, separate shower and floating white curtains. Others are smaller, and priced accordingly.
The Rectory's front is Victorian and austere. In contrast, its mid-18th-century rear façade, overlooking the walled garden and reminiscent of a time-worn French country château, is gentle and mellow. As you walk through from one side to the other, and as time passes during you stay, I suspect your mood will altar as ours did, and you will also unwind. Who needs more than that?
Crudwell, Malmesbury, Wiltshire (01666 577194; www.therectoryhotel.com). Double b&b from £95 to £195).