Travel review: A piece of heaven at the Cotswold House Hotel in Chipping Campden
If heaven were a place on Earth, I'd like to think it would look a little like the garden patio at the Cotswold House Hotel and Spa in Chipping Campden.
Sipping a glass of chilled prosecco in the sunshine as the birds tweet sweetly from the lush greenery surrounding this little piece of paradise is almost perfect...the only thing missing is a cherub strumming a mini harp. That or a gin bar.
But oh, wait - the gin has been sorted. More on that later.
Chipping Campden is the Cotswolds you see on post cards: honey-coloured stone houses, flowers brimming over garden walls and rolling green hills in the background.
It is also the unlikely inspiration for the modern Olympic Games - yes, really. Back in 1612, a Robert Dover began using the pastures above town for summer games. Elaborate outfits were supplied by King James I and Dover played the Master of Ceremonies as people competed in such disciplines as running and jumping, sledgehammer, throwing, wrestling and horse racing. At the end of the 19th century, 'Dover's Olympicks' helped inspire the modern Olympic movement, a fact which was readily acknowledged during London 2012's successful bid for London2012.
The Games are still held today and we arrived in this charming town in June as the locals celebrated the end of the Games with music, dancing and food on the main street.
At the centre of town - which is just under a three hour drive from our home in South Yorkshire - stands the stunning Cotswold House Hotel. Boasting 28 guest rooms, two restaurants, a spa, a number of private cottages and that piece of heaven on the garden patio, the hotel is an ideal place for a spot of hard-earned relaxation (and a rest if you've been involved in the Games!).
The hotel dates back to 1815 and has plenty of its own stories to tell; it was originally home to the Smith family, whose son Aubrey went on the captain the England cricket team in their first ever match against South Africa in 1889.
For our visit we are staying in the Ashbee private cottage. It's a ten-second walk from the back of the hotel up a cobbled path lined by an explosion of plants.
Our bedroom and bathroom are both generously proportioned and well-equipped with the smellies and tea and coffee making facilities you'd expect in a hotel of this standard.
The bedroom certainly has the wow factor, with a high, beamed ceiling arching over a super king-size bed.
Our base is a great location for exploring what the Cotswolds has to offer. We chose to visit Blenheim Palace, a 40-minute drive away though those postcard-perfect rolling hills. The Palace, which was built for the first Duke of Marlborough, is filled to the brim with history. If only walls had ears. On a summer's day I'd highly recommend the extensive gardens, too, which are beautifully kept and great to explore. Watch out for the Churchill memorial garden.
By the time we'd got back to Cotswold House we'd worked up an appetite.
The hotel takes enormous pride in its two eateries - the two AA-rosette Fig Restaurant, where breakfast is also served, and the less formal but just-as-delicious Bistro on the Square.
Pre-dinner drinks were of course consumed on the garden patio. As alluded to above, since our visit the area has been renamed the Cotswold Gin Garden thanks to a new partnership with the Cotswolds Distillery. The Cotswold Gin Garden is the largest outdoor seating area in Chipping Campden and is open for food, drink and, of course, gin, on fine days. Normal service continues in the Bistro when the weather is unkind.
Serving a refined blend of modern European cuisine and with a fabulous wine list, the Fig - along with the rest of the hotel - has benefited from a recent £1m refurbishment and has become a shrine to fine dining. The menu is a culinary showcase, with such dishes as slow-cooked free range guineafowl, Prosecco and Parmesan risotto and grilled octopus. The service was exemplary and our dishes beautifully presented. My tasty asparagus starter - made using ingredients from a few minutes down the road - was outstanding and his duck melted in the mouth.
On the next evening we tried out the Bistro on the Square. The setting is far more relaxed but the same level of love is pumped into the food: the baked Camembert was naughty but divine and the steak cooked to perfection. Make sure you leave room for a third course - the passion fruit cheesecake was a joy and, like the food in its more refined big brother, very nicely presented.
The cherry on top of the Cotswold House is its excellent spa, a short walk up that cobbled garden path at the back of the premises. The staff there are particularly friendly and the poolside a lovely spot to relax with a cold drink and magazine.
After an hour's full body massage upstairs, I felt like I was on a fluffy cloud and floated straight back to our sunny spot on the garden patio. Perhaps this place really is heaven.
For more information and to book, visit www.bespokehotels.com/cotswoldhouseAbout Signpost
Signpost has been recommending the UK's top privately owned hotels since 1935. All Signpost members are visited every year, to make sure top standards are maintained. Most are near areas of outstanding beauty with plenty to do or see in the area; many are hidden gems, all have award winning cuisine. For more details and to receive news about great hotel offers visit www.signpost.co.uk.