For those who seek the peace and tranquillity of the countryside combined with stylish accommodation, gastronomic dining and unstuffy service, a stay at Tudor Farmhouse Hotel in Clearwell, in heart of the Royal Forest of Dean, is hard to beat. Husband and wife team Colin and Hari Fell have spent 11 years lovingly converting this once working farm come bed and breakfast into a delightful rural escape. Now, with 25 full and part time staff servicing 21 bedrooms, two suites and a critically acclaimed restaurant, they maintain a hands-on approach to all aspects of the hotel. Their clear vision, sustained enthusiasm and attention to detail, as shown, for instance, in their sharing of duty shifts and their design of new rooms, are impressive. That they had no previous experience in the hospitality industry makes their achievement, recognised in the AA and Good Hotel Guides, Alastair Sawdays Special Places to Stay, and numerous other publications, all the more remarkable. One of their most recent accolades is Winner of the Hotel of the Year 2013 – Cotswold Life Food & Drink Awards
This does not mean they are content to rest on their laurels. Encouraged by return bookings, many from London and the South East – just two and a half hours’ drive away – and an increase in international visitors, plans are afoot for more changes which will improve the quality whilst actually decreasing total guest accommodation from 23 to 20. Overall, the aim is to encourage stays for two to three night stays so guests can appreciate fully what Tudor Farmhouse and its surroundings in the Wye Valley have to offer. The latter includes numerous walks – including the 14 acres of the hotel’s land – foraging, which can be arranged with a local expert, cycling, or visiting historic monuments such as Tintern Abbey and Chepstow Castle (the last two within easy driving distance of Clearwell)
Colin Fell describes Tudor Farmhouse as a “former working farm with a sense of place.” Indeed, its three distinct accommodation blocks – the farmhouse, cider house and barn – do not fit the stereotypical country house hotel plan but nevertheless add to its character. The gabled stone façade, slate roof and mullioned windows of the farmhouse and cider house reflect their 16th century origins. Inside, the low oak beamed ceilings, exposed stone walls, flagstone flooring and inglenook fireplaces add to the romantic, unspoilt charm. Not that modern comfort and convenience have been sacrificed.
The modern, well-lit conservatory with its upholstered wicker armchairs, and the darker, cosy lounge, cool in summer, warm with its roaring fire in winter, are peaceful places to relax. Both dining rooms, with their well-spaced tables and leather upholstered chairs, are attractive place to eat. In good weather, such as the day I visited, meals and drinks taken at shaded tables in the delightful garden with its trickling water feature is a popular alternative.
The sympathetic conversion of the listed farm buildings, combining traditional with contemporary features, is seen at its best in the Loft suite where I stayed. Comprising the upper floor of one wing of the original cider house, it was designed by the owners employing sustainable oak for its magnificent vaulted roof. Its own steps and entrance beneath a gabled frontage led to a large bedroom with sitting area, the décor in soft pastel shades of cream and green which was particularly pleasing. Lit partly by skylights opening from the sloping ceiling, the room had a light, airy feel. The finest materials had been employed in the furniture and fittings, notably the supremely comfortable bed, the wooden bedside tales and lamps, the dressing table / desk, the two seater settee upholstered in wool and the stylish Roman blinds. Even the sisal matting worked well with the other natural materials. Modern conveniences and attention to detail were seen the large flat screen television, Ipod station, nespresso coffee maker and a refrigerator containing fresh milk.
However, taking centre stage behind the wide double doors leading to the wooden floored bathroom was the roll top, claw foot bath. Luxuriating in this before dinner was a relaxingly indulgent experience. Behind a Perspex partition, a walk in monsoon shower provided the more contemporary facility, ideal for a stimulating wake up before breakfast. Designer toiletries and fluffy towels and bathrobe added to the decadent enjoyment!
All this would count for little if the service was not up to scratch. At Tudor Farmhouse it was welcoming, helpful and relaxed, immediately putting visitors at their ease. Check in, very much a headache in many hotels, was seamless – I was shown to my room within five minutes without labourious form filling. Service at dinner and breakfast was engaging and informative, the cheerful young staff clearly enjoying their roles. The personal but unobtrusive touches made one feel special, this approach doubtless encouraging repeat custom as guests feel “home from home.”
Overall a stay at Tudor Farmhouse, which included smoked salmon with soft and creamy scrambled eggs – from the hotel’s own chickens – and a variety of local fruit juices for breakfast – was a real joy. From beginning to end the accommodation, service and cuisine enhanced the inherent beauty and romantic feel of this gem of a rural retreat. Fine Dining Guide will certainly return, confident in the knowledge that it will go from strength to strength in making the guest’s experience truly memorable.