One of the most stylish country-house hotels, Gloucestershire's Barnsley House is an imposing grade II-listed manor-house within 11 acres of grounds, designed by former owner Rosemary Verey, legendary gardener, designer and writer. The owners have been on a mission to chuck out the chintz, but have done so with the utmost respect for original features, adding a contemporary spa and seamlessly blending the old with the new. The muted tones of the traditional paints make a perfect backdrop to the B&B Italia square-backed swivel armchairs.
Exceptional contemporary spa with hydrotherapy pool
Glorious Rosemary Verey gardens and Cotswolds countryside
Fabulous Italian-influenced cuisine using home-grown produce
A Barnsley House cocktail each – or a glass of champagne or Pimms in the Village Pub across the road – on arrival.
In the know
Also need to know:
Minimum two-night stay at weekends, including bank holiday weekends. Make sure you book ahead at the restaurant and the Village Pub.There are occasionally afternoon or evening film screenings; you can also hire the cinema, from £200 for three hours. Consult the purple book in your room to see what DVDs are available to borrow.
CDs or iPod, tennis kit, swimming costume (for the spa's hydrotherapy pool).
Relaxed but stylish; leave ripped jeans and elderly T-shirts at home.
Mr and Mrs Smith reviews
I sail boats, and I live by the sea in Brighton. In fact, when I’m reborn, I’d like (karma willing) to come back as a pirate. With that in mind, you’ll understand that when I’m not living and breathing the buccaneer’s life, I’m probably dreaming about it. So imagine my bewilderment as, roused from my seafaring slumber, I find myself being bundled into a car – and not a boat. No cutlasses or pieces of eight here. Just three large weekend bags, two Ms Smiths, and one very bleary-eyed, hung-over would-be pirate. While I’m fighting off the waves of nausea from a stag do the night before, Mrs Smith gently reminds me of our mission: to review the luxury hotel Barnsley House in the Cotswolds, with our four-month-old daughter Delilah. Now, if I can only stop my stomach churning like I’m about to walk the plank, we might make it there in one piece.
Although many manor houses have an unfortunate tendency to be inland, they have always seriously impressed me, and, pulling up at this 17th-century Gloucestershire skyline-loomer, I’m not disappointed. By the time we’ve disembarked at the ivy-hugged, hilltop mansion, I’ve completely recovered my land legs. There’s something about the aged Cotswold stone and manicured setting that sends me back to childhood summers at my grandmother’s Ireland home, and it takes the sultry French tones of a Barnsley House staff member to pull me out of my nostalgic reverie. Dispensing with the formality of check-in, she guides us straight to our room. We’re in the new Stable Yard, with a split-level suite. The ground floor consists of a marshmallow-comfy double bed and a sleek, spacious lounge area with windows overlooking the courtyard.
Now is the moment of truth. Mrs Smith is a fashion stylist and has a laser-guided eye for the tiniest design flaws. As she conducts her silent survey, I await the inevitable ‘tsk’ that greets even the most invisible aesthetic faux pas. But, miraculously, none comes. I sigh with relief, and a smiling Mrs Smith disappears up the wrought-iron staircase into the crow’s nest of our suite – a bathroom on a floor all of its own. Running up to join her, I find a glass wall that gives a perfect view of our bedroom below. A claw-foot roll-top bath presides over the space, partnered by a freestanding shower with a frying-pan-sized head, a TV set into the wall and a soapstone basin almost a metre in length.
The courtyard below boasts a waterfall surrounded by a medley of meadow flowers: pansies, foxgloves and heather – but it’s the beautiful main gardens that have caught our eye. So, having transferred Delilah from armchair to pushchair, we set off for the formal lawns.
A beguiling collision of the landscaped and the wild, the grounds of Barnsley House are the stuff of period-drama fantasy. Shaded paths weave around hidden statues, curvaceous topiary and bountiful berry bushes. We find ourselves resting in an ivy-draped gazebo, looking out onto a lily-capped carp pond. We can see why horticulturalites from around the world head to this garden of delights (although presumably they don’t get presented with delicious apple martinis by a passing barman while they’re inspecting the cabbages).
Arriving at seven o’clock on the dot, the hotel’s babysitter enables us to enjoy an aperitif before dinner. Sinking into red tulip chairs beside a marble-topped bar, I order monkfish tempura with Barnsley House-grown vegetables. Mrs Smith announces she is not hungry – a claim belied a few minutes later when most of my monkfish has fallen victim to her scavenging fork. I order another, then top it with a delectable helping of fresh strawberries, rich cream and crumbly shortbread. Happy, we saunter to our enormous bed (post-nightcap, of course), tuck the snoozing little one between us, and sleep the sleep of the fabulously stuffed.
After waking to a leisurely 11 o’clock breakfast in bed (muesli, yoghurt, jams and croissants), we’re tempted to linger longer in the linens, but also determined to squeeze every last drop of grade II-listed glamour from this hotel. We take the path to the new spa building – all glass and Cotswold stone – under the shadow of the neighbouring farm. There’s a steam room and sauna (as well as bowls of crushed ice on hand for the necessary post-steaming facial cool-down) and a massage menu that’s relaxing just to read, but it’s the heated outdoor hydrotherapy pool that really gets me excited. Then I realise I’ve forgotten my swimming shorts (why would I need them this far inland?). Not to worry; the staff seem only mildly alarmed at the sight of a man in his boxers bottle-feeding a baby.
Alternately wallowing and being pummelled by the giant overhead jets of water, I feel a million miles away from the hung-over pirate of yesterday. Shuffling into the relaxation room, we find ourselves reclining on black leather loungers and sipping ginger tea, against a backdrop of inimitable Cotswolds countryside spied through floor-to-ceiling glass walls; it’s a drop-dead delicious denouement to our already perfect day.
It’s tempting to skip dinner, but the Village Pub (Barnsley House owners Tim and Rupert’s other baby) has a reputation not to be resisted. Rupert himself provides a spot-on wine recommendation to suit our gourmet pub supper, and Richard, the head gardener, regales us with a lesson in veg-growing that reminds me that sometimes the land does have its advantages over the ocean – after all, you can’t grow cauliflower on a catamaran.
We’re scheduled to leave Barnsley House tomorrow morning, and normally I’m straining at the moorings to get back to my beloved marina, but – shiver me oak-beamed timbers – I never thought I’d be this reluctant to return to the sea.…
Barnsley, Cirencester, Cotswolds, Gloucestershire GL7 5EE, United Kingdom
13.4 mi / 21.6 km from city centre
- Valet parking
- Internet services
- On-Site parking
- Onsite laundry
The secret of the Potager’s super-fresh Modern European dishes is home-grown vegetables, salad leaves and herbs plucked straight from the kitchen garden (when you see zucchini soup and deep-fried courgette flowers on the same menu, it’s easy to tell what’s ripe for the picking). Breakfast, 7.30am–10.30am (noon for room service). Tables are wooden-topped, linen napkins are rosemary-sprig-topped, and the general feel is relaxed and comfortable.
Table 4, in the bay window.
Food: 9.30pm Monday to Thursday; 10pm Friday and Saturday. Bar opens late for guests. Breakfast is available between 8am and 10am (till 10.30am on weekends). Lunch 12pm to 2pm (till 2.30pm on Friday, Saturday and Sunday).
Food can be ordered while the kitchen is open (8am–10pm); they may be able to rustle up snacks out of hours.
The cosy country-style bar is warm, woody and willowy, and is open until late for guests.