"A Jacobean mansion that stands next to the church in one of Gloucestershire's loveliest villages. The six-acre garden is reason enough to come; it's utterly English, with croquet on the lawn, clipped yew hedges, a rose arbour flanked by beds of lavender and the serene river Coln ambling past on one side. You can fish from its banks or follow the footpath into glorious countryside; just wonderful.
A very friendly place, grand, but not stuffy. There's a panelled drawing room for afternoon teas, a conservatory for indulgent breakfasts and a smart dining room for serious dinners; in summer, life spills out onto the stone terrace for sundowners in the scented garden. Antiques are scattered about: oak chests, mahogany dressers, writing desks and oil paintings by the score.
A refurbishment is underway to remove all trace of the 1980s, but it wouldn't matter if it wasn't; what wins here is the relaxed atmosphere and the kind staff. Bedrooms tend to be large, with mullioned windows, old radiators, parkland views, crisp linen, the odd four-poster and a grand piano in the suite."
What spoiling hotels would I recommend in the Cotswolds? I've just added Bibury Court to my shortlist. I can't, in fact, think of another hotel in the area that offers a more gorgeous setting. It has the singular advantage of being part of what William Morris considered the loveliest village in Europe, but at the same time remaining hidden from view.
Once found, however, the majestic Jacobean house hoves into view, overlooking a lawn shaded by stately trees with a meadow beyond; the translucent River Coln runs placidly through the garden; a gate by the walled herbaceous border leads to the fine church next door. Perfection.
"One feels," says the owner, John Lister, "that this was a happy home, despite turbulent times, when it was built in 1633." John is the man behind Shipton Mill organic flour ("where there is time for everything and everything has its own time") and was inspecting a pair of buhrstones, once used for grinding, close to the hotel when he got chatting to the owner. "He seemed a jolly, prosperous sort of chap, so when he said the hotel was for sale, I thought it might be rather nice to own it myself."
He laughs ruefully, but he's plainly relishing the considerable challenges of running a country-house hotel these days, gathering a sympathetic team around him and making the necessary investment. Slowly, it is blossoming.
Half of the 18 bedrooms have been refurbished in timeless, elegant style with spanking new bathrooms; the rest are old fashioned but spacious and more affordable.
In each room you'll find a framed snippet of information about some aspect of life around the time the house was built – the influence of the East India Company, for example, or the Barebones Parliament of 1653 – instructive touches that fit this thoughtful, gently evolving place. There's room for improvement, of course; a few more personal touches, books, flowers, ornaments, would not go amiss to make the rooms more homely.
As well as the breakfast room, dining room, conservatory and large terrace, there's a huge, traditionally furnished drawing room with a blazing fire in winter, and an amusing Twenties bar, still with its original panelling and chandelier. More to the point, there's just something terribly relaxing about the place, and the setting by the river, where guests can fish for brown trout for free, is very lovely. The food is up to the mark (wonderfully refreshing ceviche of Bibury trout), and the beds are all new, ensuring a good night's sleep.
Now here's an inside tip. After breakfast but before the camera-clicking tourists invade, walk along Rack Isle water meadow past the pretty, much-photographed line of weavers' cottages, Arlington Row. When you get to the Swan Hotel, cross its pretty garden and up some steps. There at the end you will find the hidden, magical source of the Coln, with a trout or two gliding in its eddy. Return to Bibury Court to swing gently in a hammock on the lawn, take a drink on the terrace or loll by the river. As I say, perfection.
"In large grounds on the River Coln, this impressive manor house (part Tudor, mainly 17th century), is on the edge of a Cotswold village described by William Morris as 'the most beautiful village in England'.
'We really enjoyed our stay and could not fault the place,' say visitors this year. 'It is full of character, a little faded, but this adds to the charm.' Others praised the welcome and the 'very good' cooking of the chef, Adam Montgomery. 'We liked the amuse-bouche that came with pre-dinner drinks. Desserts were excellent.' Meals are 'well served by the efficient young staff', in the small 'rather dark' restaurant and the 'lovely' conservatory.
'We had a delightful, extra large bedroom with four-poster bed. The bathroom was more than adequate.' Some rooms have a 'huge' Victorian bath; some have views of the gardens and a part-Saxon church. Some rooms are small. 'At breakfast, our eggs were served to perfection, both scrambled and poached.'"
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"The 17th Century builders of lovely Bibury Court knew a prime piece of real estate when they saw one. They set their mansion next to Bibury's Saxon church and backed it up to the River Coln, which today marks the southern boundary of the hotel's six acre grounds. A highlight here is taking tea on the patio or in the conservatory and looking across to the river. Indoors a genteel feeling pervades, emanating from the kindly, professional staff."
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