Words by Anjana Gosai
After months of being confined to our homes, most of us are craving a post-lockdown getaway. If you’re not quite ready to board a plane, a break closer to home could be just the tonic.
Surrounded by quintessentially English villages, leafy walking paths and picturesque, rolling countryside – Cowley Manor in the Cotswolds ticks all the right boxes for a couple’s escape or family staycation. The hotel unbolted their doors on 10th July and the team have made it a safe haven for guests.
Cowley Manor is steeped in history with connections to royalty, dating back to the 11th century, when the land on which it sits belonged to one of the last Anglo-Saxon Kings, Edward the Confessor.
Cowley is a rare breed amongst the Cotwolds hotels. Based on Villa Borghese in Rome, the Italian style exterior of its Main House established it as one of the country’s most distinct properties in the 19th century, when it was owned by Sir James Horlick – the industrialist behind the malted milk drink.
Despite its rich history and grand façade, Cowley is a thoroughly modern hotel with seamless service and an unpretentious, laid back vibe that puts you at ease from the moment you set foot through the door.
The downstairs area is perfect for relaxation or play. Spacious, and with an eclectic décor – think hand crafted geometric rugs; bright, Scandi-chic couches; a distinctive bar with papier-mâché hunting trophies perched on the walls and a leather-panelled billiards room. There are bold and funky design elements everywhere you look.
There’s plenty to do around the hotel, which is especially convenient if you are travelling with children. I know my kids would have spent hours playing board games and shooting pool, but since I visited without them, I managed to sneak in some much needed me-time at the tranquil C-Side spa and took several leisurely strolls around the hotel’s Grade II listed gardens, which continue to wow guests, including myself.
With 55 acres of gardens, there’s an abundance of space here for socially distanced walks. Nature enthusiasts should head to the parkland and woods, which are home to a collection of trees sourced from various parts of the world, and the Instagram-worthy Victorian cascade is definitely worth checking out.
The 31 bedrooms are split between the main house and stable block. Rooms are categorised into six types – ranging from ‘Good’, which are the smallest to ‘Best’ (where I stayed) and these include cosy four poster beds and a private terrace – a perfect spot to gaze at the glorious grounds.
Each room is decked out with stylish furniture by young British designers, as well as tea and coffee facilities and a Bose Bluetooth speaker. Minibar items and complimentary digital magazines, newspapers, audio books and games can be ordered via the new Curious App.
Cowley are big on bathrooms; mine included a huge tub, a separate drench shower and full size Green and Spring amenities.
For those who wish to remain cautious, masks and gloves are provided in the room. You can also check in from home, via the app and over the coming weeks, guests will be able to make use of a new contactless room entry system, which allows your smartphone to act as your key.
Food and drink
The Restaurant at Cowley Manor is based in the grand, oak-panelled dining room – probably my favourite space in the hotel. Here, you can pick from brassiere style mains, which have been devised by chef David Kelman, who favours using local produce and herbs picked from the hotel’s grounds.
I went for the Creedy Carver duck breast, which was served with creamed celeriac, smoked ham, mushroom and picollo parsnip and I devoured the sublime banana panna cotta, with melt-in-the-mouth shortbread crumble.
Make the most of the upcoming summer months by enjoying a spot of alfresco dining while soaking up the beautiful lake views at The Terrace, a space that runs across the back of the hotel.
I thoroughly recommend booking the Cowley picnic, grabbing a blanket and heading out into the gardens for a secluded lunch amongst the lush surroundings. With picnic options such as freshly-baked quiche, artisan-cured meats and scones, you won’t be disappointed.
In line with government advice, the C-Side spa facilities are out of bounds until the 25th July. I was fortunate enough to spend several hours here during my visit (prior to lockdown) and it’s clear to see why it is the recipient of several awards.
Carved into the grounds of Cowley Manor, the expansive spa area has a design that embraces the surrounding landscape, using Cotswold stone and floor to ceiling windows, so you can marvel at views of the great outdoors.
Facilities include a sauna, steam room, gym, a super sleek slate-lined indoor pool and a 15-metre outdoor pool. Both are lined with loungers and heated year round.
The spa menu encompasses a range of treatments that have been designed by aromatherapist Michelle Roques-O’Neill. I went for the Green and Spring Massage. My exceptional therapist quickly sorted out my achy limbs, with a mix of acupressure and reflexology. You also get to pick the soundtrack to play throughout your treatment – a nice touch.
If you decide to venture out of the grounds, there’s plenty to explore nearby. The quaint village of Cowley is the perfect starting point for picturesque countryside walks. Alternatively, the buzzy town of Cheltenham is just a 15-minute drive away and home to chef David Everitt-Matthias’s Michelin-starred Le Champignon Sauvage (lechampignonsauvage.co.uk) – a foodie haven. Also within driving distance is the award-winning gardens and medieval ruins that surround Sudeley Castle (sudeleycastle.co.uk).
In a nutshell
Whether you choose to travel alone, with your partner or with the kids in tow, Cowley Manor offers the perfect post-lockdown getaway. A place to recharge and relax, where you can get lost in the vast grounds, indulge in some fine cuisine and explore the honey-hued nearby villages, each boasting its own identity and charm.
Rooms can be booked from £180 per night.
Address: Cowley, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, GL53 9NL,
Phone: 01242 870900