The great outdoors with interiors to match, a trip to the Farncombe Estate in the Cotswolds is like going to stay at the country houses of your three impossibly stylish aunts who will spoil you rotten and indulge all your childhood dreams. Think treehouse suites with wooden bridge access, a complimentary pantry filled with sweet treats, and room names which are guaranteed to make you giggle (Boaty McBoatFace is my personal favourite).
Three hotels with their own distinct personalities, yet all unmistakably part of the Farncombe family, The Fish, Dormy House, and Foxhill Manor all possess that cool big sister vibe in both character and style – they will pretty much let you do whatever you want whenever you want. The epitome of country house cool with a home-from-home feel.
Arriving at the Coach House of The Fish (to continue my aunt analogy, imagine this is the youngest, trendiest of the three who likes to break a few rules) the Estate owners’ duck egg blue Morris Minor parked outside makes you feel like someone’s at home to welcome you. And the warmest of welcomes was exactly what awaited us, as we were guided by lots of smiles and an illustrated map to our Small Suite in an outhouse decorated with fairy lights overlooking The Stables and a postcard worthy view.
‘Small’ actually turned out to be an incredibly spacious suite with its own living room, two window seats which somehow manage to catch the morning light and afternoon golden hour, and a wonderfully sized en-suite bedroom complete with an old-school radio.
Beautifully furnished with an eclectic yet put-together taste, we instantly felt at home (and needed little encouragement to tuck into the complimentary mini-bar stocked with the likes of organic oat cookies and hot chocolate). For more of a back to nature stay, I would recommend one of the Hideaway Huts – this is glamping gone wild with all the luxury touches of a cosy Cotswold cabin, and more.
Cosy is the word du jour throughout the estate, and particularly so in The Lodge, the hub of The Fish which houses a cabin, boot room, bar, and The Hook – vision of the estate’s culinary director Martin Burge. Serving up a deliciously fresh seafood-centric menu, dining at The Hook transports you straight to the English seaside.
Our dinner began with a generous pile of crusty bread with the restaurant’s signature seaweed butter (be warned – this is dangerously addictive, make sure you save room for the rest of your meal!), sweetcorn soup dusted with paprika and a side of deep fried whitebait, and a beautifully presented chicken and liver parfait tart decorated with concentric circles of pickled grape spiced with dukkah.
Continuing the seafood-poultry combination, we opted for the melt-in-the-mouth battered whiting, seaweed fries, and curried tartare (this usually comes with soft shell crab, which was carefully removed by the chef and replaced with an extra whiting after taking note of my crab allergy), and a wonderfully succulent roast chicken breast accompanied by a seriously naughty truffle mac and cheese.
For my boyfriend’s birthday, the restaurant very kindly put together a special dessert plate of sea salt fudge – which was also thoughtfully prepared for our lunch the following day (even double helpings of this to-die-for fudge wasn’t quite enough!)
Just as we were polishing off a twice-baked Comté cheese soufflé and the stickiest of sticky toffee puddings from the set lunch menu, our delightful guide Harriet came to meet us for a tour of the 400-acre private estate. This sounds very grand indeed, but it was as relaxed and personable as the estate itself – exploring all the photogenic nooks and crannies, the family resemblance between the three boutique hotels became increasingly obvious, whilst reinforcing their own unique characters.
Four-poster bed fabulousness, free-standing bath tubs, and unparalleled views from every window are just some of the highlights from our tour – it’s clear that laidback luxury is the lingua franca here.
No two rooms were the same, even within the same hotel or room category, with tasteful touches at every turn by Design Director Nette Reynolds, in natural, complementary colour palettes. A sprinkling of Scandi-chic here and there, the overall effect is quintessentially English – think rosy apple pinks, summer garden greens, dusky blues and buttercup yellows – every shade from my Farrow & Ball fantasies. Whilst my boyfriend wasn’t quite as taken as me by the blushing pink floral wallpaper in Rose Cottage at Dormy House, the private hot tub and fact that it was dog-friendly seemed to win him over to the more traditionally feminine interiors.
Though we suspected that our German Shepherd might be on the larger end of the Farncombe-friendly scale (the official line on dogs is ‘one medium sized well behaved pooch aged one year or older’) there are plenty of hints throughout The Fish which keep four-legged friends in mind, including doggy hydration stations, a ‘dunk your dog’ bath tub (complete with canine shampoo and conditioner), a dedicated dog agility course, and doggy afternoon tea – luxury tit-bits from the likes of Woof & Brew and The Barking Bakery feature on the menu.
Strategically placed opposite the pup bath tub is the Boot Room, kitted out by The Original Muck Boot Company (who have a whole collection dedicated to dog walking boots). With a grab-and-go ethos, we swapped our Chelsea boots for wellies and picked up one of the many hand-drawn maps detailing local rambles. On a mission to walk off the countless courses from our indulgent meals at The Hook, we selected one of the more advanced-looking routes – the sun was shining as we set off in what can only be described as hold-on-to-your-hat weather as gusts of wind reminded us that we were still quite far off the beginning of British Summer Time.
Taking us off piste through forests, hopping over stiles through patchwork pasturelands dotted with sheep (we were just in time for lambing season), and through lots and lots of mud, we eventually emerged through a kissing-gate at the edge of Broadway Village. Idyllic doesn’t quite do this village justice, with its rows of honey-coloured Cotswold stone cottages, blooming English gardens, antique shops and tea rooms, this is refined rusticity at its best.
After a pick-and-mix purchase of pear drops and strawberry bonbons from an old-fashioned sweet shop, we reluctantly made our way back to return our borrowed boots and check-out, just as the sun was setting over the rolling hills. We attempted to sweeten our farewell to the Farncombe family by planning our next trip on the train journey back to Paddington – the tipsy afternoon tea is already calling my name…