Friday, 17 August 2012 2:14 PM
Tucked away in the rolling Cotswolds countryside, Old Swan & Minster Mill offers the perfect weekend break, as Sarah Gibbons discovers
Arriving in Minster Lovell – a quiet country town on the banks of the River Windrush – is like stepping back in time. Honeycomb-hued stone houses line the main street, many of which sporting traditional thatched roofs, and the only noise I’m greeted with is the gentle gurgle of the river – all within an hour and a half of the hustle and bustle of London.
At its centre lies the base for my weekend in The Cotswolds: Old Swan & Minster Mill – a charming boutique inn (part of the de Savary property portfolio) made up of a converted 600-year-old Old Swan pub and Minster Mill, situated next door.
On entering, I immediately felt relaxed and at home. With friendly staff and un-fussy, mismatched furnishings that fit perfectly with the irregularities of such old buildings, Old Swan & Minster Mill knows what it want to be – luxurious, yes, but not formal and over-styled.
My partner and I were housed in the Old Swan during our stay in a lovely, traditional room – complete with cosy armchairs, exposed beams and a four-poster bed, which proved to be the epitome of snug. Other features included a platter of fresh berries (which I gobbled in a matter of seconds), complimentary sloe gin (to be sipped slowly to avoid feeling immediately tipsy) and all the usual mod-cons, including free WiFi (hooray!). The bathroom was on the small side, but did the job. We even had a separate door which led to a little sun-drenched terrace with a trickling water feature. The hotel’s resident ducks – Betty and Eddie – endearingly quacked their way around their duck pond a few metres away. They proved to be a big hit with all the guests during our stay (especially when they went on what we like to call their ‘daily waddle-patrol’ around the premises).
Our days were spent lazing in deckchairs by the river, playing tennis and exploring the hotel’s picturesque gardens and grounds (they have 50 acres in total). The hotel certainly doesn’t lack activities; they boast a croquet lawn, boules, big alfresco chess boards and badminton. You can even pick up one of the hotel’s fishing rods and try your luck by the river. For those with blissful relaxation on their minds, Old Swan & Minster Mill has that covered too, with their Windrush Spa and luxurious Yon-ka spa treatments.
We were blessed with fantastic weather, but I could imagine how equally relaxing it would be on a rainy day or in the winter – sitting in front of a roaring fire in one of their cosy lounges or playing a board game. All ingredients for a perfect weekend break, no matter the season.
With such beautiful countryside, one of the perks of visiting The Cotswolds is undoubtedly the great walks to be had. Thankfully, the hotel provides you with a little booklet of three great local walks of varying lengths. All include a stop off at a local pub.
We opted for a circular walk to Crawley – a gentle circuit along the Windrush River and its surrounding meadows and farmland, leading to the ruins of Old Minster Lovell Hall – a historical site which has some rather spooky tales to tell. The unluckiest resident has to be Francis, the 9th Baron Lovell, who unfortunately found himself a wanted man after siding with the Yorkists (who were eventually defeated) during the War of the Roses. Escaping from his enemies, he hid himself away in one of his vaults, giving his only key to his manservant. Two centuries later, in 1708, his skeleton was found by workmen, surrounded by mouldy, decaying books. Residents still claim to hear wails coming from the ruins at night...
Our evenings were spent dining at the Old Swan, headed up by renowned head chef, David Mwita. With separate rooms to choose between, from the cosy dining room to the pretty outdoor terrace, there’s a spot for every season. The food was definitely one of the highlights of our stay at Old Swan & Minster Mill and both evenings we enjoyed tasty, un-fussy fare and delectable desserts; especially the indulgent Eton Mess.
All in all, the perfect weekend escape.
By Sarah Gibbons
Old Swan & Minster Mill is a member of Great Hotels of the World Premium Collection. Double rooms start from £165. For more information or to book, please visit www.ghotw.com/old-swan-minster-mill or call 020 7380 3658.
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