If you want to experience the Cotswolds in style, the 5-star Old Swan and Minster Mill is an excellent choice. From the honey-coloured buildings to country walks and cream teas, the 15th century hotel is quintessentially English. Set in 65 acres of wild-flower meadows, gardens and woodlands bordering the River Windrush in Old Minster (just west of David Cameron’s constituency in Witney) the property was mentioned in the Doomsday Book, adding yet another feather to its cap. The hotel was taken over by the de Savary family in 2010 and completely revamped.
The swashbuckling Peter de Savary has his hand in many of the hotels I love (including St James’s Club Antigua) and many I would love to love, such as Skibo Castle in Scotland, where Madonna famously wed Guy Ritchie. It’s his American wife Lana that was very much behind the remake of this Cotswolds property, and amongst other things, she’s worked her famous interiors magic.
Roaring fires warm stone floors covered in oriental rugs, and bare beams blend with comfy tweed chairs and overstuffed leather sofas dotted with funky, brightly coloured cushions. It’s not quite Cath Kidston (though the designer lives nearby) but more of a modern country style, perhaps what Downtown Abbey would look like if San Francisco got it hands on it. The restaurant is the local gastro pub, serving traditional English dishes with seasonal ingredients, some of which comes from the kitchen garden. The eggs come from their hens!
It’s the stuff romantic weekends are made of. But how do kids fit in? We were sent to check it out and see how a family with children aged 10 – 13 would fare.
We stayed in Swan Cottage, which is ideal for families who don’t mind spending a bit extra for luxury. The early Victorian cottage has 3 bedrooms (one twin bedded room and two kings) and a lovely sitting and dining area warmed by a log-burning stove. Upstairs the master bedroom suite has a small sitting area and large bathroom with an old-fashioned WC with pull chain cistern, a large shower and a freestanding roll-top bath. There’s a private sunny terrace at the back, with a dining area and fire pit, leading to a cottage garden with a large lawn. There are plenty of places to relax and listen to the singing sparrows or let your dog run about (pets are allowed).
The difference of course that a luxe property brings is the attention to detail and little touches that make your stay extra special. The girls were thrilled to find a hot water bottle with a fuzzy English terrier on each bed (which they insisted on using, even though the cottage was cosy and warm) and my husband and I were pleased to find a decanter of local Sloe Gin, perfect for sipping by the fire. There were all kinds of goodies in the dining/wet bar area – including a Nespresso machine, biscuits, fudge and very large marshmallows you can roast on the fire! Housekeeping comes twice a day, so you don’t have to worry about cleaning up.
There are no cooking facilities (not even a microwave) but you have access to all the hotel’s amenities next door, which include the restaurant, spa, tennis courts, kids play area and more. The chef can arrange picnics or a BBQ in your back garden, or staff can bring dinner over so you can dine in private (we let the our older girls watch a DVD while dining on sausages and mash from the restaurant, while we enjoyed dinner next door).
What else is there for kids?
- Nature walks. Our 13-year-old, who is prepping for her DoE expedition, loved all the walks, which started from our front door! The hotel has a very detailed handout for local walks, which gives estimated timings and walking instructions (just after a black and white lollipop speed limit signs, turn right off the road, through a kissing gate and onto a footpath…). We took the 1 hour 45 minute “short” circular walk to the tiny village of Crawley which took us back along the River Windrush and the Minster Lovell Hall ruins. If we stayed longer, we might be tempted to take the “medium” walk (4 hrs) to picturesque Swinbrook.
- Bikes. There’s a collection of Pashley bicycles that can be hired to roam the quiet country lanes. You can go for a couple of hours or take a picnic lunch and have a full day of exploring.
- Animals. My 10-year-old fell in love with the cat, Parker. Some cats are shy, but Parker seemed like the type that would happily have a cuddle with any willing child – and then follow them around for the rest of the day. Betty and Eddie the ducks have their own wooden house. And if you get bored with those, there’s the chickens and rabbits to make friends with (and while you are at it, pick an egg from under a hen for your breakfast).
- Treats. After our long walk we came back to a roaring fire and had a cream tea. The girls got hot chocolate and I had coffee. Then we discussed the intricacies and formalities of the afternoon treat: Cream first, or jam? And does scone rhyme with ‘cone’ or ‘con’?
- Films. Cuddle up in your onesie and have dinner while you watch a DVD. There’s a wide selection of family films that kids actually want to watch. Ours couldn’t decide between Matilda, Despicable Me, Toy Story and Harry Potter. While the girls enjoyed their film, we went next door to the gastro pub for our evening meal. Our girls are old enough to be left on their own for a couple of hours, but a sitting service is available.
- Play. If it’s sunny make use of the children’s play area, boules and over-size chess. There’s loads to do if it’s raining too, including table tennis, table football and a selection of board games to borrow.
- Be active! The hotel can arrange fly fishing, horse riding, duck and ferret racing, archery, pigeon shooting and more.
IF YOU GO
Old Swan and Minster Mill, Old Minster, Minster Lovell, Witney, Oxfordshire OX29 0RN +44 01993 774441 oldswanandminstermill.com
We were guests of The Old Swan and Minster Mill for the purpose of this review. As always, my opinions, and those of my stroppy preteens and teen, are entrirely our own.