Kensington is undoubtedly a lovely part of London but sometimes it is nice to get away. Really get away. Nestling in traditional rolling English countryside amid thatched roofs and honey coloured stone homes in the heart of the Cotswolds is ‘The Old Swan and Minster Mill’, at Minster Lovell.
Part of the de Savary Family Group of Hotels, The Old Swan, a beautiful former coaching inn dating back to c1445 provides 16 rooms accessed by walking along creaking, narrow corridors with low beams. Beamed bedrooms are individually decorated in a comfortable and traditional style. 40 additional bedrooms (contemporary and larger) can be found in the adjoining Minster Mill. The former is probably not so good for those who have difficulty in walking – the main staircase to the rooms is small, windy and requires precision footwork, but in keeping with the character of the building, and (it’s good to know) that Health & Safety can’t touch it due to it being Grade II Listed.
I love log fires and here there are many (alight all day providing a warm and snug environment), the rooms filled with antiques and armories. There are lots of cosy places to have a drink/tea/coffee, read the paper or play cards/games. The emphasis is not on Smart, but rather on Good Quality Relaxing. Dogs are genuinely welcome as are children and there are lots on offer for keeping individuals, couples or families busy.
In addition to nearby picturesque Burford or Woodstock for those who want to be more energetic without using the car can make use of a wide variety of activities available within the 65 acre garden including a wild meadow and river: Tennis, badminton, croquet, boules, two giant chess sets or table tennis (housed in its own building, complete with beams and a thatched roof!) Bikes can be hired, and horse riding or canoeing are on offer. Due to the hotel being situated on a mile of the River Windrush, residents can try their hand at fly or coarse fishing (a gillie can be arranged, or for beginners a teacher is available) where fish such as Brown/Rainbow Trout, Barbel, Chub, Grayling and Pike are regularly found. Children might like to get to know ‘Betty’ and ‘Eddie’ the two resident ducks.
There are also two designated ‘play rooms’ complete with pool/snooker/table tennis, table football and more board games. The hotel has a Spa where you can have a variety of treatments and a small gym (the latter being situated in the conservatory overlooking the gardens and River Windrush). Plans are in progress to build a plunge pool and enlarged Spa area in early next year.
Food is either locally sourced or grown on site. There are three bee-hives where honey is collected for breakfast (an extensive affair) and children are encouraged to fetch eggs from the chickens and bantams. To emphasise the freshness of the produce, the kitchen does not have a freezer or microwave. Portions are generous and Georgina Prickett, Guest Host Manager, describes the food as ‘Hearty English’ rather than haute cuisine. The menu – gastro pub style – changes daily and is inspired by the season.
Wedding and civil ceremonies can take place either in the outside ‘chapel’ situated alongside the River or in one of the beamed conference rooms in Minster Mill. Family rooms complete with their own patio and fire pits are situated overlooking the River and the hotel is well placed to cater for large parties (anniversaries, weddings etc) and provides good conference facilities.
We stayed on an Autumnal weekend mixed with typical English weather, alternate clear blue or thunderously dark skies, sun or rain. Despite this we still managed a good wander around – within walking distance is the beautiful ruin of Minster Lovell Hall. We had a long walk along the river, spotted lots of pheasants and went shopping in Burford. The hotel is very happy to provide picnic hampers for those who really want to make a day of it and there are many picnic areas along the River to chose from. They can also provide guided walks if required.
There are little touches that set this hotel apart from others; upon arrival, guests are welcomed with a complimentary bottle of sloe gin, fresh fruit and shortcake biscuits in their rooms; a hot water bottle is delivered to each room every night and upon departure, guests are handed a bottle of water sourced from nearby Blenheim Palace. Newspapers are readily available, as are books and board games.
The Old Swan and Minster Mill are invited members of The Great Hotel group – one of only three in the UK. This is a ‘Great’ hotel, for a variety of reasons – great for sourcing food locally, great for welcoming children and dogs alike and above all, a great place to truly relax and get away from it all – so close to Kensington and yet so far.
You need to know:
The hotel is 1.5 hours by car from Kensington or 1.10 mins from Paddington to Charlbury station. Charlbury is about a 10 minute taxi ride from the hotel.
Tel: 01993 774441
Old Minster, Minster Lovell, Witney, Oxfordshire OX29 ORN
Period rooms in The Old Swan from £175.00
Contemporary rooms in Minster Mill from £165.00
All prices include 20% VAT and full English breakfast
Grayling Season runs to March 31st
Trout Season from April 1 – September 30th
Permits are available to hotel guests. All fishing is on a catch-and-release basis.
The Old Swan and Minster Mill are offering Christmas House Party or New Year’s House Party packages – please call or email to find out more
Old Swan & Minster Mill is a member of Great Hotels of the World Premium Collection. For more information or to book, please visit http://www.ghotw.com/old-swan-minster-mill or call 020 7380 3658.
Images and copyright; Lucy Elliott www.lucyelliottphotography.com