No stretch of England has been more romanticised than the Cotswolds, a region whose quaint, honey-tinged villages and sprawling landscapes roll gracefully across six counties. The region encompasses some of the prettiest shires in the UK: think clusters of thatched-roof cottages, evocative churches, rickety almshouses and ancient mansions of golden-coloured stone, while the country pubs – of which there are plenty – are the kind you dream of stumbling across, with their low-slung beams and cosy leather armchairs, serving hearty local fare and artisan ales next to roaring log fires. And amid the heritage architecture and verdant vistas, opulence abounds. It’s no longer just cosy inns and muddy footpaths attracting well-heeled travellers: the growing selection of slick country-house retreats and luxuriously renovated farmhouses are luring hoards of city folk away from their Chiltern Firehouse espresso martinis and lavish Hampstead abodes.
A catalogue of celebrities have been flocking to this bucolic bolthole – Kate Moss, Rupert Murdoch and David Cameron have all been seen here, slipping into their quilted Barbours and vintage Hunters for a weekend of country pursuits – and yet, despite its stylish credentials, the Cotswolds remains a place of natural beauty: a refuge of serenity in which to escape the bustle of the daily grind. You don’t have to hole up at Soho Farmhouse to experience the region in all its splendour. There are plenty of places, and enough stretches of remote countryside, to indulge in a few days of undisturbed respite, without so much as a personalised Range Rover or drink-serving vintage milk float in sight. For those on the hunt for somewhere a little more low-key, yet offering the same level of five-star comfort and service, The Rectory Hotel – nestled between Cirencester and Malmesbury in the charming village of Crudwell – provides the ultimate sanctuary. Not purely a hideout for the rich and famous, this nugget of cool promises five-star luxury without the glitz-following hordes.
Co-owner Alex Payne set out to create a ‘home away from home’ – a refreshing alternative to the glut of stuffy country house hotels in the surrounding areas. With the help of renowned hoteliers Charlie Luxton and Dan Brod (ex-Soho House), he has more than succeeded. Anyone familiar with The Beckford Arms near Tisbury or The Talbot Inn at Mells will know that Luxton and Brod are a dab hand at creating stylish places to stay.
The result: an intimate, homely refuge that’s small enough to remain charming (there are just 18 bedrooms in total) yet extravagant enough to exude an air of haute comfort. Outside, the grand Georgian building’s buttery Cotswold stone façade glows, while inside a rural charm pervades. The hotel has been thoughtfully refurbished, with rows of handsome windows overlooking beautiful lawns and preened gardens (there’s a croquet set and an outdoor swimming pool for the warmer months), and two elegant sitting rooms that beckon guests indoors with their open fireplaces, shelves of paperbacks, old-school board games and huge vintage sofas. Sophistication prevails, but The Rectory’s friendly, low-key vibe makes you feel right at home. Plenty of rustic touches run throughout – roaring log fires, wooden flooring, heritage colour schemes – while sumptuous velvet and leather armchairs, splashes of modern art and a glamorous cocktail bar bring this 18th-century hideaway bang up to date. Each of the bedrooms is unfussy and soothing in design with a slightly more bucolic theme. Plastic-surgeon-turned-interior-designer Natasha Hidvegi helped Luxton and Brod add a “woman’s touch” to the design scheme, teaming pretty velvet headboards and unusual bathroom tiles with softer feminine touches – think plumped cushions, sheepskin throws and snuggly wool blankets strewn artfully across soft velvet sofas and giant-sized beds. Fireplaces come fully stocked with freshly chopped logs and roll-top baths are strategically placed beneath large sash windows, many of which boast striking views of the landscaped gardens. Rooms come in ‘Small’, ‘Medium’ and ‘Big’, and are all impeccably styled.
For a special occasion, opt for the ‘Big’ room with the cream four-poster bed – an Instagrammer’s dream – while families and groups of friends will fall in love with the cottage with its cosy sitting room, country kitchen and sun-trap terrace, which opens out directly onto the pool. Though the romantic décor, roaring fires and warm textiles make it tempting to relax in the confines of your room (the in-room massages offer another reason to remain ensconced), the food – and unfussy service – at The Rectory is exquisite, and should entice most visitors to swap their fluffy bathrobes for full evening attire.
In keeping with the hotel’s laid-back ethos, food is traditional British with a modern and unpretentious flair. Diners can either hole up in the formal dining space – which has plenty of dark, cosy corners – or the bright, airy conservatory. Either way, look forward to generous plates of sautéed clams with ’nduja sausage and seaweed butter, while mains include English veal with girolles and roast baby artichokes, and pan roasted hake with grilled courgettes. Alternatively, take a short, quiet stroll over to The Potting Shed, the hotel’s sister pub, where guests are greeted by low beams, bare stone walls and large open fires. Stylish, extravagant yet considerably relaxed, this blissful country retreat is a haven of tranquillity, and a classy antidote to all that the Cotswolds has become.
Promising all the allure of the region in a luxuriously relaxed setting, establishments like this are paving the way for a new kind of Cotswolds cool. This part of the world, to put it another way, is kicking a new kind of welly.