Built in the 1700s as the home of the feudal Lord of Wyck, Wyck HIll House Hotel was recently refurbished by the current owners, Bespoke Hotels, who have wisely maintained many of its historical features.
Old-fashioned getaway with a modern sensibility
Set in 100 acres of landscaped gardens, shrubbery and woodland, the sprawling manor house built in yellow Cotswolds brick lies at the bottom of a short, winding driveway. Built in the 1700s as the home of the feudal Lord of Wyck, the four-star property was recently refurbished by the current owners, Bespoke Hotels, who have wisely maintained many of its historical features. Guests will appreciate the Elizabethan-style wooden panelling, oils hanging in sturdy gilt frames, the imposing grandfather clock and original fireplace. To set the scene: a fire had been lit and it crackled invitingly. The smiling receptionist gamely offered to carry my enormous bag up the carved wooden staircase to our room (one of 60 in the property), but I politely refused, gently nudging my partner into a spot of useful chivalry.
The hotel lies hidden behind a line of trees, off the road linking Stow-on-the-Wold, a traditional Cotswolds market town, to Burford. Just a 20-minute drive away is Bourton-on-the-Water, a village regularly voted one of England's prettiest. Many of the buildings in the village are more than 300 years old, and it has local art and crafts shops galore as well as cafes, old-fashioned pubs and restaurants. Also nearby, at Moreton-in Marsh, is the Cotswold Falconry Centre.
Just off the main stairway on the upper landing, our room was one of the grandest in the main house - a large space with three huge floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the garden and an enormous carved wooden bed at the centre. The amenities included a Jacuzzi with built-in lights in the pristine white bathroom, in-room Wi-Fi, a flat-screen television, and usefully, an ironing board and hairdryer.
Unobtrusive and discreet. Welcome touches such as a turn-down service and enquiries as to when we'd like to dine were friendly and brief and there was a gratifying lack of obsequiousness. An unexpected kindness came from the operations director, who offered us a lift to the station when we couldn't get a taxi.
Served in a formal, wood-panelled dining room and the adjoining glass-walled conservatory, the menu represents modern British fine dining. The kitchen is presided over by the award-winning chef David Kelman, who has most recently been crowned 2010 Master Chef of Great Britain. His dishes include pan-fried king scallops, goat's cheese salad, beef with fondant potato, wild mushroom tartlet with truffle jus, and Gilthead bream with leek, confit tomatoes and saffron pesto. Desserts include a fantastic selection of local cheeses. Breakfast is a sturdy selection of yoghurts, fruits and mueslis, along with à la carte hot dishes.
On our visit, members of the country set, in twinsets and double-breasted blazers, milled genteelly below ornate, double height ceilings or reclined on wicker seats. In the quiet leather-bound library overlooking the terrace, a smartly dressed man discreetly checked his BlackBerry. At dinner, we saw younger couples, and afterwards some of the guests retired to the sofas in the smoking den outside.
The spa. I was led down a rickety back staircase by a giggling hotel assistant, who explained it was a short cut, into a small, fragrant reception area. The six-room spa is on the lower ground floor and though modest by UAE standards, the treatments - using Elemis products - were a cut above the haphazard prodding you might find here. I opted for a half-hour hot stone head, neck and shoulder massage (£40; Dh234) and was promptly transported into a floating state of rapture by the therapist's kneading hands. Also noteworthy: there is free Wi-Fi. Here is a traditional hotel with a thoroughly modern sensibility when it comes to not charging for such a basic yet essential service.
For UAE residents used to flagging down a taxi at a moment's notice, the process of phoning through a list of numbers from Stow station's taxi notice board is an inconvenience. There isn't a bus service to or from the hotel, so visitors without hired cars must book a taxi (£15-20; Dh87-116).
The Wyck's renovation has turned a once-neglected property into a modern country retreat with some quaintly old-fashioned touches. The library, full of leather-bound books and laid-out newspapers, encapsulates the vibe: this is not a hotel for those after a revolving door of city distractions, but a place to unwind at a more gentle pace.
Double rooms cost from £115 (Dh665) per night, including breakfast and taxes. Wyck Hill House Hotel and Spa, Burford Road, Stow-on-the-Wold, the Cotswolds (www.bespokehotels.com/wyckhillhouse ; 00 44 1451 831 936).