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Royal retreats in the Cotswolds, UK: Where to stay, what to eat and things to do

By: Monica Pitrelli

Manor houses on sprawling estates, manicured gardens and world-class cuisine just steps from your suite? Royal treatment in the UK isn’t just for the royals, you know. Here is a pair of places that really roll out the red carpet. See 10 amazing things to do in the Cotswolds here.

 

Deep within the sloping farmlands of the English Cotswolds region, not far from the ancient, 300-kilometre Fosse Way, lies the tiny but much-celebrated village of Upper Slaughter. Down a narrow path, past fields of sheep and old, moss-covered dwellings sits a stately limestone house surrounded by eight acres of rolling countryside.

This is Lords of the Manor, a 17th-century manor house turned small luxury hotel.

A stroll through the grounds is a walk back in time; a step into a period piece set in an age when lineage and formality reigned supreme. Dry stone walls – each piece skilfully laid centuries ago by hand – ponds and flower gardens further set the tone, accentuating the aptly-named storybook style ofarchitecture common in the Cotswolds.

Fittingly, the house does have a story. While Jane Austen was weaving romantic plotlines that would grip generations to come, the very first lord of the manor was moving in. His name: Reverend Francis Witts; the year: 1808. Though the house dates back to 1649, it was Witts who brought real acclaim to the property, serving first as rector and later as lord of Upper Slaughter. Witts inherited the house from an uncle, and in turn passed it down to his lineage. Nearly a century and a half later, his descendants decided to turn the house into a hotel.

Despite many nods to time and remembrance, modern touches flourish in the house where needed – flat-screen televisions here and L’Occitane toiletries there. The home’s master bedroom, the Tracy Room, boasts a colonial poster bed, a roll-top bathtub and a large picture window that overlooks the estate.

As a privately owned property, there isn’t a big-name chain calling the shots from an office somewhere in London. Instead, the staff, largely hidden, waft through the halls ensuring Champagne is on ice in the lounge, a fire smoulders in the drawing room, and chess pieces are properly positioned for a game at a moment’s notice.

Guests come for the tranquillity, of course, but just as big of a draw is the Michelin-starred restaurant on the first floor. Normally, there is a certain amount of fuss involved in arranging an elegant night out on holiday – transportation, maps, the whole matter of getting lost. But here, dinner can be booked with your room reservation. And, you simply can’t beat the commute – door-to-door in 20 seconds flat.

Aperitifs and canapés are served in the lounge – or in the gardens, if you wish –before dinner in the dining room, an area with 12 or so tables. It’s a true farm-to-plate experience – herbs are plucked from the garden outside and vegetables and meat are sourced locally (details of what and where are provided in the menu). The cheese course alone is reason enough to opt for the nightly tasting menu over the three-course dinner.

Archery, clay-pigeon shooting and horseback riding can all be arranged through the hotel. And, of course, there are nearby Cotswolds gems, like Stow-on-the-Wold and Bourton-on-the-Water, to explore.

EATING

Just when you think things cannot get any better, Raymond Blanc enters the picture. One of Britain’s most heralded chefs, Blanc is the mastermind behind Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons, one of few hotels in the world to have maintained two Michelin stars for 30 years – an astounding feat, especially considering he is entirely self-taught.

His hotel restaurant (it is equally one as it is the other) is located outside Oxford in an old country house set on 25 acres of land. Two of those acres are dedicated to the garden, which produces 160 different types of vegetables and herbs – all organic, of course. What is planted? What isn’t planted? There’s an Asian garden with ginger and lemongrass (which took years to perfect in England’s chilly climate), a micro-growing area, an Elizabethan knot-style herb garden and a special spore-inoculated area for growing 12 species of mushrooms. Every year, the gardeners, chefs and Blanc himself undertake a blind tasting to determine the best vegetable varieties to serve and grow the following year.

Every ingredient is fresh, seasonal and vigorously vetted. Garden items are picked on the same day that they are served in the restaurant, and produce is never stored or frozen. Traceability is paramount to quality, and Blanc knows the origin of every crumb that leaves his kitchen.

Still, some will ask if a meal here is worth the money. (The nine-course discovery menu is £154, or S$305 per person.) In order to produce the food on your plate, Le Manoir employs six full-time gardeners, 25 chefs and 10 pastry chefs. Utensils start clanging before dawn to prep the day’s menu, which today includes Devonshire crab, Landais foie de canard, wild Cornish brill, Ardrahan cheese and Coeur de Guanaja chocolate cream. If you ask a question about a certain wine (the list leans heavily on Blanc’s native France), don’t be surprised to receive a hand-written list of the evening’s wine pairings delivered to your room the next day. This is, frankly, food and service at its absolute best.

Rare among such high-end establishments, children are welcome at Le Manoir (though diners’ discretion about their kids’ abilities to endure a lengthy meal is appreciated). The goal is for guests to feel welcome, says general manager Gurval Durand, and children break down the stuffiness that can accompany a gastronomic restaurant experience. (Like Lords of the Manor, Le Manoir does not have a formal dress code.)

Its roots dating back to the 13th century, the house itself has an illustrious past, with high-ranking government officials and members of the English peerage once calling it home. There was a small issue with a ghost, but a priest was called in, an exorcism performed, and all has been well ever since.

Blanc expanded the house when he bought it in 1984, extending the kitchen and turning old stables into guestrooms. Stocked with complimentary Madeira wine, homemade chocolates and orchids, some of the rooms are reminiscent of refined English country homes with fireplaces and luxury linens, while others show that Blanc has a bit of a wild side. The Lemongrass Room, with its bamboo wallpaper, lime-green silk, Chinese furniture and a rotating television that descends from the ceiling, was inspired by one of his trips to Asia.

Planning Your Trip

Getting There:
The Cotswolds is about two hours by car from London. Driving is the best way to explore the area. To avoid the London traffic, take the Heathrow Express to Paddington Station and then hop on a train to Bath or Oxford and rent a car from there.

Where to Stay:
In Upper Slaughter
Lords of the Manor is a member of the Small Luxury Hotels of the World.

Outside Oxford
Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons is part of Orient-Express Hotels.

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