Jess Wood slips away for a romantic winter break in the Cotswolds
Jess Wood slips away for a winter break in the Cotswolds
Why go? Slap bang in the middle of the marketplace of ‘The Capital of the Cotswolds’, this is a great base for a country getaway to this chocolate-box-pretty area. Perfect if you like your rural breaks with a side-order of bustling market town, The Kings Head Hotel has historic Cirencester (it was second only to London in Roman times) on the doorstep, while being well-located for forays into the surrounding countryside. A recently converted 14th-century coach house featuring 45 rooms, including three categories of suite (Deluxe, Feature, and Indulgence), the hotel has a chic, old-meets-new style.
Ace base: the 45 room Kings Head Hotel is in the heart of Cirencester
Best for: A romantic wintry weekend, with the town’s cobbled streets and gastro delights to explore – pubs with roaring fires serving locally-sourced meat – plus some indulgent pampering thrown in, courtesy of the hotel’s subterranean dry spa. Tucked away in the hotel’s vaulted cellar, this has a hot tub (unfortunately out of action when we visit) and offers an enticing menu of massage, facial and body treatments using Lubatti products and Leighton Denny manis and pedis. There’s also a gym and a cosy relaxation room with water beds covered in sheepskin throws to lounge in. Bedazzled by the options, I go for everything rolled into one – aka the Lubatti Pure Luxury Indulgence (£90). 80 minutes of heaven on a heated bed, which combines a facial, a back massage, plus décolleté, foot and hand exfoliation. The therapist and treatment are top-notch. However, with no pool, this isn’t the destination for a full-on spa weekend, more of an added bonus to your trip.
The look: This ancient building (in fact, seven buildings that have been combined) has been lovingly renovated – think exposed original brick walls combined with lashings of Farrow & Ball grey, clusters of cool artwork (including graphic pieces by local artist Laurie Plant) and furniture upholstered in colourful velvet). The bar area features a log fire and comfy sofas to snuggle on while flicking through the papers. The rooms are each decorated differently but all feature Nespresso machines (plus fresh local milk in the fridge) and king (or super-king) sized beds with plumpy feather duvets. Our Indulgence suite is the same size as the entire ground floor of our (admittedly bijou) London house, not to mention a generously-sized bathroom with waterfall shower, a free-standing bath and mini Lubatti products. Decorated in soothing grey with grand dark wood furniture, it’s hard to tear ourselves away once we’ve taken in the fireplace, four-poster bed and spacious relaxation area complete with sofa and chairs thoughtfully placed in front of a huge flatscreen TV. If you want to treat yourself, other hot tips include suite 103, which has a copper bath, suites 223 and 222 with wooden beams, and suite 222 which has a balcony.
Cotswolds charmer: a deluxe bedroom at the Kings Head Hotel
I’m hungry: The Restaurant features British comfort food with a twist, and an open robata-style grill so you can watch the chefs in action. Choose from a menu of classic basics – Scotch egg made with black pudding, steak, fish and chips, and kedgeree – or the ‘Something Special’ option. No prizes for guessing which we go for. I gorge on seared scallops (£10.50), followed by pan-fried halibut with Jerusalem artichoke (£17.50), while The Husband opts for a meat-fest of oak-smoked pigeon breast (£6.50), and roasted partridge with spiced pear and celeriac (£14.50). We just about find room for mulled-wine-poached pear (yup, we have a thing for pears) with nutmeg rice pudding (£5.95) to finish. Wines by the glass start st £4.75. The Kings Head Hotel also has several private rooms for functions and dinners – perfect for a special birthday weekend with extended family or a group of friends. If you’re up for a few post-dinner drinks, there’s live music on Friday evenings – blues, jazz or acoustic – in the vaulted cellar bar downstairs. Handy if you’re too full to leave the premises…
A buffet breakfast is also served in The Restaurant – we opt for room service but it’s disappointing, a huge doorstop of toast with a mountain of overcooked scrambled egg dumped on it. Around town, check out the modern British menu at Jesse’s Bistro (jessesbistro.co.uk) and the foodie paradise Made by Bob (foodmadebybob.com) – an extensive deli owned by Bob Parkinson, formerly of Bibendum in London, selling the likes of Prestat chocolate and smartly-packaged local preserves, plus a sit-down café.
Oh so pretty: Cirencester has good shopping if you like a browse © Visit England/cotswolds.com/Cotswold District Council
While you’re there: If browsing is your thing, Cirencester has some gems. Sheunique (sheuniquevintage.com) is a retro clothes-cum-record-shop tucked away in a back street which yields a 1960s necklace by collectible label Trifari for a bargainous £25, and we also treat ourselves to some vintage cocktail glasses from the Cirencester Antiques Centre (cirencesterantiques.co.uk) opposite the hotel. In keeping with the chi-chi Cotswolds vibe, the nearby Corn Hall has the cool Sue Parkinson boutique (sue-parkinson.com) stocking niche labels like Maison Scotch and Ash.
Once you’ve spent yourself into a stupor, take a stroll through the splendidly gothic Church of St John the Baptist and the Abbey Grounds behind. You can hit the countryside from here, or check out the town’s Roman past at the Corinium Museum (coriniummuseum.org) and the ancient remains of the Amphitheatre (english-heritage.org.uk) on the outskirts of town.
A bit further afield, there are the Cotswold villages of Tetbury, Stroud and Tewkesbury, and you can catch the snowdrops at Colesbourne Gardens (until 28 February; colesbournegardens.com). If you’re after a proper Sunday roast in country-pub surroundings, The Bell at Sapperton (bellsapperton.co.uk), a 15-minute drive away, is highly recommended.
Book now: The Kings Head Hotel, 24 Market Place, Cirencester GL7 2NR (01285 700 900, kingshead-hotel.co.uk). Double rooms cost from £99, Indulgence suites from £234, room only. Wi-Fi is free. The hotel is a ten-minute taxi ride from Kemble rail station.
Lead image: © Visit England/cotswolds.com/Cotswold District Council