A couple of Thursdays ago, wanting to take advantage of the recent sunny and warm weather, Jon and I called up Cowley Manor in the Cotswolds to see if they had any last-minute specials for the weekend.
The good news is that they had a few “Better” rooms available. The bad news was that these rooms weren’t offered on discount and still cost £385 a night. (What happened to the general hotel practice of lowering prices to fill an empty room?) Instead, Cowley agreed to waive its two-night minimum stay requirement, so we could arrive on a Saturday morning and make full use of facilities both that day and Sunday.
When Jon and I visited Cowley Manor last August, we’d tried out the “Good” rooms (the cheapest ones available) for £250 a night. I was pretty happy with the room we had, which was in the Main House and had views of the beautiful back gardens.
The “Better room,” while more expensive, wasn’t as appealing as the “Good” room, I thought. For the additional money, a Better room got you a suite spread over three floors, including your own sitting area.
I’m not sure who values having their own little sitting area, but it wasn’t me. I’d much prefer to take advantage of the large, stylish “common area” sitting rooms in the Main House. The other reason I wasn’t keen on our Better room is its location in the converted stable blocks, which by definition lack the Main House’s heaps of character. So if you’re deciding between the “inexpensive” Good rooms and the pricier “Better” rooms, I say take a Good room and spend your savings on an extra spa treatment.
On our last visit to Cowley Manor’s restaurant, we thought the menu offerings were fussy and not well executed, so this time we kept most of our meals simple. Sandwiches, chips, salads were all simple, freshly made, and good value at less than £6-7 an item.
Breakfast was lovely, partly because whoever supplies Cowley Manor with its croissants is a master.
We would’ve skipped dinner in the restaurant, but because it was included in the price of our room, we didn’t motivate to leave Cowley for a meal elsewhere. The food was just as fussy and unimpressive as we remembered from last August, with the low point being dessert. I asked the waiter if the “cinnamon donuts” were freshly fried, and he replied that they were and highly recommended them. I also asked if the accompanying “apple crumble sorbet” could be replaced with just plain vanilla ice cream, and again, he swore the apple crumble sorbet was not to be missed.
Sadly, our waiter was 100% wrong on both fronts. The donuts were hard as a hockey puck. totally bizarre, and honestly, a 50p bag of Tesco donuts would’ve been superior to what I was served. The apple crumble sorbet was watery and gritty. Just awful.
But food isn’t Cowley’s strong point. The grounds and spa are. Taking advantage of the lovely weather, we did lots of walking around the gardens, which have both manicured bits and wilder bits.
Key for getting through the wilder, muddy bits: wellies. Lots of wellies in every size are made available for guests. Definitely a great, practical novelty for us Londoners.
And of course, the Cowley Manor crown jewel: the spa is as peaceful and pampering as ever. Treatments are long and relaxing, and all the staff super accommodating and attentive.
If you’re looking for a lovely country getaway, it’d be hard to surpass Cowley Manor. Ideally you drive there so you can sample food in nearby Cheltenham, though, and while you’re at it, save yourself the train and taxi fare, which add up.
Cowley Manor, Cowley, Gloucestershire, GL53 9NL; (0)1242 870 900; reachable via First Great Western train from Paddington Station to Kemble Station (1.5 hours or less depending on whether you have to switch in Swindon) and about £40 per roundtrip ticket. Then a 30-minute taxi ride costing £35 each way.