I have a confession to make. This isn’t my first visit to Calcot Manor. My wife and I came here about five years ago, eager to see whether it was right for the then-youthful Mr & Mrs Smith collection. We enjoyed our stay, but felt it wasn’t quite what we were after. Since then, though, both we and this Cotswolds boutique hotel have grown up considerably. We’ve got a 14-month-old son in tow and, according to the Smith members who regularly post on our website, the Manor has a whole new look. Like us, it’s become a lot more child-focused.
As we turn off the A46 and roll our way up Calcot’s driveway, I have to say that little seems to have changed. The slightly corporate signposts telling us where to park and which way to turn for the spa are still here, and, so far, the feel is definitely more golf club than boutique hotel. I turn to Mrs Smith and make my ‘told you so’ face. ‘Oh come on,’ she says, rolling her eyes. ‘Give it a chance.’
I have to admit that the manor itself is a pretty building and the gardens that surround it perfectly pleasant, but, as I walk into reception with a bag under one arm and a toddler under the other, I’m still not convinced. The manager on front desk greets us very politely, the check-in he carries out is efficient and quick, and the assistance he gives us with our luggage is gratefully received, but it is only when he throws open the door to our room that I really begin to change my mind about the place.
Our room, the Woodchester, is simply lovely. Even though my eyes range over the room in search of style faux pas, I find none. There’s not a hint of chintz in sight, and they seem to have got that hard-to-pull-off blend of classic look, contemporary feel just right. There’s a plasma-screen TV, high thread-count sheets, stripped wooden floors – everything, in fact, screams luxury. This continues in the upstairs bathroom, where we admire twin sinks, a glut of Aromatherapy Associates products and a shower big enough to host a Sumo bout.
Our favourite discovery, though, is a neatly appointed corner bunk bed, which blends into the room so effortlessly that both Mrs Smith and I completely failed to notice it on our first exploratory circuit. It comes with an intercom system that feeds directly down to reception, which means that we’re going to be able to enjoy ourselves and dine like adults, rather than having to scurry up and down the stairs every half hour. Mrs Smith gives a firm nod of approval.
In an effort to stop Tom from wrecking our perfect new pad, we head out of the room to explore our new surrounds. Our first stop is the Gumstool Inn, the country pub-like restaurant, where we decide to put Calcot’s child-friendly ethos to the test. The kids’ menu is certainly everything you’d hope for. All the food is home-made and organic – no hyperactive tots pumped up on E-numbers here – and the young staff combine willingness and ability with being impressively smiley. They’re still beatific when I apologise for the umpteenth time as Tom hurls another fish finger five metres (his current food-throwing record) across the dining room.
The hotel is home to a fabulous spa, indoor and outdoor swimming pools, and a courtyard hot tub that just begs to be lazed in with a glass of champagne. There’s even an outdoor open fireplace that roars away just metres from the water. As it’s a bit nippy outside, Mrs Smith and I both agree this is a nice touch. We toy with the idea of leaving Tom in the fabulous, fully staffed crèche, but, alas, any thoughts of massages have to be put to one side as our son has no intention of being left without his parents.
Later, when he finally drifts off to sleep, we drift down to the reassuringly grown-up Conservatory Restaurant. Much more formal than the Gumstool Inn, it offers fine but unpretentious dining in a space filled with high-backed chairs and tables swathed in white cloths. The food rather than the design, however, is the real star of the show here. Head chef Michael Croft, formerly of London’s Mirabelle, has been serving up gourmet cuisine at top hotels for years, and has garnered plenty of awards for his cooking while at Calcot, so our expectations are high. Thankfully, they’re met – and then some. Hungry after a day of entertaining a demanding toddler, we devour the freshly baked bread before enjoying Dorset crab salad, roasted pork belly with seared scallops and some of the best beef I’ve ever tasted. The wine list, too, is excellent (all your favourites are laid out in a simple, easy-to-understand format), and we treat ourselves to a delicious bottle of Pomerol.
Full and ridiculously content after the meal, we take what’s left of the wine through to the comfortable and stylish lounge, where, on suede sofas beneath low-level lighting, we relax with a final glass before heading up to bed. ‘Your son hasn’t made a noise,’ says the woman on reception, completely unprompted, as we pass. ‘I hope you had a good evening.’ We have. In fact, we’ve been having such a lovely time that we’d completely forgotten we had a child back in the room.
There are a lot of hotels out there that put style over substance. Calcot Manor isn’t one of them – it’s got plenty of substance and now there’s a healthy coating of style, too. In fact, I can’t think of a better place to take the family for a break. If you think these are empty words, you’re welcome to check my diary. The last thing I did before we departed was to book my entire family in over Christmas. Peace and goodwill to all men – and children – is just what we need.