By Jane Knight
England is famous for its country house hotels, but none are quite as unique as Cowley Manor.
Traditional on the outside, but with contemporary interiors that ooze cool, this Grade II listed Italianate mansion on the edge of the Cotswolds has been reimagined for the 21st century.
Opening its doors in September 2023, new owners The Experimental Group, who own boutique hotels in London, Paris and New York to name a few, enlisted the help of French interior designer Dorothée Meilichzon to breathe new life and a sense of grown-up fun into Cowley Manor, creating a refreshingly individual style.
There is an achingly cool restaurant, cobalt blue cocktail bar, swish spa and a secret garden rumoured to have been the inspiration for Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. This theme runs throughout the hotel. Look out for teeny doors, checkerboard motifs and the occasional rabbit.
The Boutique Handbook’s resident spa expert and founder of Spavellous, Jane Knight, was one of the first to step over its chequered threshold.
Cowley Manor Hotel Review
Cowley Manor is in a beautiful, lesser-known part of the Cotswolds, the Churn Valley, 15 minutes’ drive from Cheltenham. There is plenty of free parking at the hotel and several EV charging points if you have an electric car. Or you can easily reach the hotel by train from Cheltenham Spa station and take a taxi.
You first feel the hotel’s wow factor when you glimpse it from across the stunning parkland estate. It has all the grandeur and trappings of a country manor, but its contemporary interiors blow you away when you step inside.
You are wowed again when you are shown around the hotel’s imaginatively designed lounges, restaurant, games room and cocktail bar. And a third time when you open the door to your bunny-knockered bedroom.
There are just 31 bedrooms and suites at Cowley Manor, which gives the hotel an exclusive feel. Sixteen are in the main house, with 15 more in the Stable Block just across from the hotel. All are stylish and recently refurbished and some come with terraces.
Choose from cosy Petite Cowley rooms in the main house, spacious four-poster Wildflower rooms and suites or Water Lily rooms for lake views. There are stylish spaces for families too in the triple-storey Family Tree rooms and two-storey Alpaca rooms. Dogs are welcome in Alpaca and Wildflower terrace rooms.
I stayed in room 20, overlooking the lake. Its modern four-poster bed and super-sized terracotta-toned ceramic bath give the room an original, design-forward look. Real up-lit plants create a peaceful ambiance with check motifs a nod to the hotel’s Alice in Wonderland connection.
The light-filled room also has a large balcony with a table and chairs and a couple of sun loungers offering a perfect vantage point from which to admire the view and enjoy the contents of the well-stocked mini bar. Turn-down service is cute, with a bedtime gift of delicious homemade macaroons with instructions to ‘eat me’, which I was happy to oblige.
FOOD AND DRINK
Cowley Manor’s restaurant serves everything from breakfast and lunch to afternoon tea and dinner. With soaring ceilings and original carved wood panelling, tasselled fabric light shades dangle from long ropes to illuminate chunky lacquered tables surrounded by richly upholstered chairs. A large fireplace and mirror at one end add to the grandeur and the restaurant has sophisticated, everyday special occasion vibes.
London-based chef and restauranteur Jackson Boxer heads up the food and has created a modern Mediterranean menu, featuring local produce with a French twist. Expect to find delicacies like Caviar and Potato Chips alongside local Tamworth Pork Chop and fish from nearby Bibury Trout Farm. There is also a decent wine list and desserts are chic and cheerful.
I enjoyed sharing starters of Gloucestershire Old Spot Croquettes (£7) and Salt-Baked Beetroot with Sea Buckthorn & Burrata (£15). This was followed by Fresh Tagliolini with Cornish Lobster and Pickled Chilli (£32), and I was delighted to find decent-sized chunks of lobster nestled amongst the golden al dente strands. A refreshing seasonal Coconut Ice Cream with Pear Granita (£8) perfectly rounded off the meal. I then headed to the bar to wash it all down with a refreshing Saint Germain de Près elderflower cocktail (£14) and some funky tunes.
The swanky electric blue bar at the heart of the hotel is home to the Experimental Cocktail Club, where the creative, enthusiastic bar staff are waiting to shake or stir the cocktail of your dreams. It continues Cowley Manor’s ethos of using local suppliers and seasonal ingredients, and guests are very much invited to get up close and be part of the mixology action.
Breakfasts are a lazy, grazey affair, with pretty much any cold breakfast ingredient you can think of laid out on an impressive four-metre marble table. Once you’ve surfed the smorgasbord of delights, you can take your pick from the equally appealing cooked breakfast menu. Afternoon tea can also be booked here and starts from £35 per person.
The Spa at Cowley Manor has two large and lovely pools, one inside and one out. Built into the hillside it has a relaxing feel, helped by the glass wall at one end of the indoor pool which invites the outside in.
There is also a sauna and steam room, four treatment rooms and a nail bar, plus a fully equipped gym. Treatments are offered by local vegan brand Monuskin and there’s a good range of face and body treatments on offer, starting from £45.
I tried the signature Mindful Massage, a gentle treatment using fresh and lightly fragranced Monuskin products. The friendly therapist tailored the treatment to address my tense laptop-shoulders and tight calves. It was as relaxing as the name suggests and the therapist worked her massage magic on my tight shoulders and back, adding hot stones for greater muscle-melting power. The perfect balance of relaxing and effective, this signature treatment is spot-on for anyone looking to relax body and mind.
You don’t have to be staying at the hotel to book a treatment and there are several day packages available starting from £70 for spa access only. Perhaps the best value is the Afternoon Spa (£135pp) that includes three hours use of the spa, a 60-minute treatment, welcome drink, two-course lunch and Monuskin goody bag.
As well as having over 50 acres of beautiful grounds to explore, there is a Games Room with a pool table to keep you entertained. The hotel also runs DJ nights and al fresco film nights during the summer months.
Cowley Manor is a fresh, stylish and fun choice for a fairy-tale night away or longer staycation. The atmosphere is grown up but playful, and the grounds are simply stunning. The spa will put the ahh into your stay and the experimental food and cocktails will surprise and delight.
Prices start from £250 a night
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