Review by Fiona Duncan, published 10th December 2006.
It was a Sunday evening when we reached The Verzon and, as we rolled on to the neatly combed gravel, first impressions were favourable. For a roadside hotel in rural Herefordshire, it immediately struck us as a cut above: a handsome old brick house, newly refurbished and smartly turned out. And yet there was something curiously sotto about the place, a subdued after-the-party feel. We discovered why in the morning.
The Verzon is an imposing Georgian country house standing beside the Ledbury-to-Hereford road, with fine views across fields and hedgerows to the bare-topped Malvern Hills. Two years ago, David and Gillian Pinchbeck bought and completely revamped it in the "cool, contemporary" style that's becoming as much of a cliché today as chintz was in the 1980s. The manager is their son Justin: charming, young, a tad dishevelled, with a chemistry degree from Bristol and a look of slight bewilderment as to how he managed to find himself in this position.
He oversees eight guest bedrooms and endless rooms downstairs for relaxing, eating and drinking, including a spacious new terrace - decking, parasols, patio heaters - to maximise the view.
We ate on the terrace. By contrast, the rooms indoors felt silent, abandoned even. The waiters and waitresses were friendly but they seemed distracted and tired too, and who could blame them, endlessly hoofing back and forth from the kitchen. My eyes kept returning to the view.
Upstairs, our spacious bedroom and bathroom, linked by an elegant corridor, were hard to fault for the price, but with its modish Farrow & Ball sludge-green walls, brown and cream fabrics, chrome desk, dim lighting and low ceiling, the bedroom also felt off the peg and a bit anonymous. One window gave views over the terrace and the Malvern Hills in the distance, but from the other I looked down on the unlovely maintenance area outside the kitchen door and watched a man on a stool inspecting a broken telephone.
I'm being too negative. The Verzon has had money, care and attention lavished on it and, if it isn't - as the bumph claims - like walking into a magazine on interior design (too derivative for that) it's certainly an improvement on the norm. And I've never slept in such a comfortable, top-quality bed for so little money. Nothing jars, there are more than a few inspired touches, the brasserie food is just about up to the mark, and the view is lovely. Room prices are more than fair and the weekday tariffs are a bargain.
So why that odd feeling that this wasn't a hotel for the likes of us, intent on relaxing, walking in gorgeous countryside, and visiting nearby Eastnor Castle?
The confetti scattered across the gravel should have given us the clue when we first arrived. While the Pinchbecks do a brisk trade during the week with guests on business, their weekends have been hijacked by wedding receptions (all those reception rooms and the lovely views make a perfect venue for local couples).
"We didn't intend it," says Justin, "but it just turned out that way." Unfortunately, in "weekend wedding" hotels such as The Verzon, the fact is that "leisure trade" - meaning us - feels strangely de trop.
Trumpet, near Ledbury, Herefordshire (01531 670381; www.theverzon.co.uk). Doubles from £75 to £130, including breakfast.