Manor House Hotel Review. (February 2011)

Posted on: February 14th, 2011 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood

History, hospitality and gastronomy are available in abundance at the Manor House Hotel. Combining a grandiose setting with modern amenities, excellent service and Michelin starred cooking, it is a perfect retreat from the pressures of modern day living.

Set in 365 acres of parkland, which merge seamlessly on the hill above with its 18 hole golf course, the hotel is located next to the world famous, medieval village of Castle Combe, in a valley at the southern tip of the Cotswolds. Entering through the wrought iron gate, along the sweeping drive, and across a low walled bridge over Bybrook river, the visitor cannot fail to be impressed by the spacious, well kept grounds and handsome frontage of the Manor House, The pinnacled gables, ivy clad walls, mullioned windows, and high chimney stacks evoke a romantic, historical past. Although the hotel’s origins lay in the 14th century, most of the existing grade 2 listed buildings are partly Jacobean but mainly Victorian.

The magnificence of the public areas – reception, bar, restaurant and lounges – raise expectations even further. To fulfill these consistently, ensuring that illusions are not shattered, is the primary aim of the General Manager, Stephen Browning (Left). What he calls the “wow factor” of the hotel’s location and history must extend to the accommodation, amenities, service and dining. Stephen exudes charm but has serious intent. Approachable and energetic, he epitomises his philosophy of hospitality with its need to be honest, not too stuffy, and adaptable to the requirements of the different income groups to whom the hotel appeals. That his staff has already achieved this through their hard work and team spirit is a testament to his inspired leadership, clear vision and total dedication.

Stephen has been delighted with the positive feedback of many guests who “don’t want to go back” after enjoying a stay, the average being two nights, (longer in the summer). He stresses that the hotel is very much leisure driven. Whilst the addition of a spa might increase the average length of occupancy, the other diversions, both inside and outside the hotel’s grounds, more than compensate. Indeed, its location near Bath and Bristol, as well as several picture postcard towns and villages, stately homes and gardens, make the hotel a perfect base for touring.

Stephen is also encouraged by the extra trade stimulated by the acquisition and retention of a Michelin star for the Bybrook restaurant under Head Chef Richard Davies. This is especially pleasing given the stiff competition posed by other highly acclaimed restaurants in the area.

Clearly enjoying his role in working for the Exclusive Hotels group, and not content to rest on his laurels, his aim now is to secure a fifth AA red star within the next 12 to 18 months.

The spacious public areas of the hotel are well lit, decorated in a range of styles and luxuriously furnished with chesterfields, settees and armchairs. All these rooms are full of character and charm, retaining many original features: witness especially the fireplace and 1664 paneling in the reception hall and the 18th century frieze in the Shakespeare Room. This commemorates Sir John Fastolf, on whom, reputedly, the famous Shakespearean character Sir John Falstaff was based.

Although corporate business only constitutes a small element of the hotel’s revenue, and certainly there is no corporate feel, conferences are well provided for with six 6 flexible meeting rooms, including three elegant boardrooms, and event spaces for 4 to 100 people.

The jewel in the activities crown is definitely the 18-hole golf course, acquired by the company some years ago. Designed by Peter Allis and Clive Clark, the par 73 course has its own clubhouse with restaurant, bars and conference facilities. Within the grounds, there are also opportunities for walking, trout fishing, croquet and tennis, with archery, laser clay pigeon shooting and other pursuits by special arrangement. The Castle Combe race circuit is well known, whilst a programme of special food and wine events offer more epicurean diversions.

For nature lovers, the extensive gardens and parkland, including a woodland walk, will delight and surprise. An imposing stone stairway leads above the hotel to Italianate gardens, romantically designed with statures, ponds and secluded corners. In the grounds, a wide variety of trees – some 60 to 70 specimens not all definitively identified – will excite arborial curiosity.

That rooms are individually designed is now commonplace in hotels of distinction. What puts the Manor House above most is the quality and quantity of design and amenities in the 48 rooms and suites in the main house, mews cottages and stables. Whether they are booked into a master suite, junior suite or guestroom, all of which are individually named after fields in the local area, guests are assured of highly agreeable stay. In the main house, original oak beams and stone walls in the cleverly adapted gabled bedrooms appear alongside the latest modern facilities. Flat screen televisions, dvd players, wireless broadband connectivity are available to all. Well stocked tea and coffee facilities, along with still and sparkling mineral water are standard. Guests are also pampered with handmade mattresses, breathable hand finished duvets, pillow menus, bathrobes and slippers. In my exclusive junior suite were extra luxuries of an ipod dock and an expresso coffee maker. Finally, I was happy to luxuriate in the marble lined bathroom, with its under-floor heating, and spacious wet room douche shower with side jets, watching television from a magnificent roll top bath. Sheer indulgence!

Moreover, the extra touches made all the difference: cup cakes and fresh cream chocolates on arrival; toffees and sleep balm left after the bed was turned down.

Occasionally, style can prevail over substance. Thus, the ultra modern tube-like sink taps in my bathroom had no grip, making them difficult to operate with wet hands. Another irritant was the teddy bear which could be used as a “do not disturb” sign; in practice, it merely got in way!

Overall, Manor House Hotel is a calming, romantic retreat – a place to escape the hustle-bustle and stresses of everyday life. The beautiful surroundings, both inside and out, ensure a comfortable and dare I say pampered stay. The understated, unobstrusive hospitality of Stephen Browning’s team add rather than take away from this feel, to make the Manor House Hotel one of the stand out destinations of the region.