Wylde World: Foxhill Manor and Dormy House, Cotswolds
Report and pictures by Leanne Bracey
It's late afternoon at Foxhill Manor in the Cotswolds and we've just been into the kitchen and ordered our dinner for that evening. After all, this is a personalised hotel and there is no menu. Chef Iain Dixon explained the evening's food offerings, but I wasn't really fancying sea bass. Instead, I really wanted some beef cooked in a simple and classical way. "Not a problem", said the chef, who could get his hands on a nice piece of ribeye and maybe some slow-cooked flank steak which he could knock up into a ballotine.
I've also been hankering after some dauphinois potatoes, after seeing them on Masterchef, but I have a cream allergy so figured that blows my craving out of the water. "No problem, I'll make it with milk instead". Superb! My other half wanted the asparagus and sweetbread starter on offer, but he also wanted the scallops. Decisions, decisions. "No problem, I can do you a side of asparagus". Consultation over, a dinner time and venue was decided upon: the dining room at 8pm (a civilised version of Cluedo with no murder implement!)
It was soon time to head to the terrace for a glass off fizz from the unlimited bar, a sit down with blankets on the terrace, and a bundle of the latest copies of magazines to read... while the sun set over the magnificent Cotswolds. Our dog is running about joyously in the garden, my other half happy to keep topping up our drinks and I have a broad smile on my face: this is easily the most romantic place I've ever been in the UK. I love everything about it, from the personalised service to the downright beautiful rooms and the homely, peaceful feel. You're almost just left to get on with it. I say 'almost' because staff are there waiting on the sidelines, ready to satisfy your every whim. And if all the awards and accolades Foxhill has won are anything to go by, we're in for a great stay.
Farncombe estate is set amongst 400 acres of hilly woodland and home to 3 hotel properties; Foxhill, the most exclusive. Dormy House (above) is equally as gorgeous, but not as personalised (and reached by a shuttle 'bus' if you're staying at Foxhill and wish to use the amenities). And then there's The Fish, the newest addition to the estate, but more suitable for families and with a casual vibe. All hotels are gloriously dog friendly too. I'm sure Herbie, our Cavalier King Charles Spaniel is pleased to have a change of scenery, with acres for him to explore. He won't want to leave, I'm sure. With Herbie in tow, we took the 'bus' to Dormy to see what this hotel had to offer.
Guests of Foxhill Manor can use Dormy House for the spa, and I strongly suggest you do. It's really funky; decorated in canary yellow, gunmetal grey and muted gold with a dedicated nail bar (serving Veuve Clicquot fizz): a chance to have your talons buffed-up expertly. Other amenities include the 16 metre indoor infinity pool and outdoor jacuzzi, thermal showers and saunas plus 2 gyms (just incase one is packed out with super keen gym bunnies, of course). Spa rooms exude a relaxing ambience and the best spa music I've ever heard. As they say, the devil is in the detail. I recommend the facial; it's probably the best I've had. My therapist was so light in touch, it was akin to angels' hands... probably! So if Lydia is available, make sure you book in with her. I'm a big fan of the Temple Spa products they use; thoroughly soothing and good for sensitive skin like mine. This is everything and more then you'd expect from a top notch spa.
Of course, to get to the spa, you need to walk through the house itself, past several cosy seating areas with boardgames to keep you occupied if you so wish. There was a couple getting competitive with a game of Battleships. Dormy has a classic yet stylish 'pub' feel... you know, the kind where you just want to curl up with a good book, stretch yourself out on a sofa and forget you're actually in a hotel. You can do that here. Food-wise, there are a few options; The Potting Shed, a super-casual option serving classic pub fare, but slightly elevated beyond your standard pub grub. I recommend the fish and chips; small enough to not feel unhealthy but large enough to feel pleasantly full.
There's also another casual dining area at the back, next to the spa, called The Greenhouse, which is flooded with natural light and lastly, there's a more formal affair: The Garden Room which, unsurprisingly, overlooks the garden. Rooms are situated outside the main hotel, area which means that guests thrashing it out over late nightBattleships (ahem) won't keep you awake at night. Some even have their own cute private courtyard area (perfect in the summer). Dormy itself is like a warren with lots of little 'nooks'. It's a treasure-trove of a hotel. But for us, food is off limits here tonight; we have a very important date with a personalised menu.
Back at Foxhill and feeling soothed from the facial, I run a bath in the exquisite free-standing tub; centrepiece to the room. The bathroom is huge and I am thoroughly happy. It's the selling point of the Juniper room for sure. My partner enjoyed showering for hours (literally) in the large walk in shower cubicle, again, complete with Temple Spa products. The other 5 rooms and 3 suites are all individual and different. Families would benefit from the separate sitting area in the Beech or Hazel suites and those who might want a bit more of a cosy room would love Maple, with its corner sofa and bedroom you can close off with drapes. It has a smaller window and is at the top of the house but that doesn't make it any less impressive.
Herbie, our dog, is happy snoozing on his cosy bed provided by the hotel and even more excited when he gets offered the chance to have his own plate of chicken in the room. It's also dinner time for us; we eat our made to order meal with gusto, topped off with some great wine and great banter with our lovely waiter and waitress. We toy with the idea of heading to the private cinema to watch a film and slumber on bean bags but we are suitably full and imagine we'll just fall asleep so choose to retire to the drawing room for an after dinner drink and a peruse through one of the many photography books they have lying around (Sebastian Selgado anyone? What an amazing book).
Herbie is woken up and let out the room to join us for a snooze by my feet and then let out for a quick run around before we retire back to the room to order our breakfast via the hotel iPad, hoping this fandango system actually works and our breakfast arrives on time, and not at 3am, before falling into a fine sleep.
Breakfast is indeed brought to us bang on time and with a chirpy smile too. OK, the iPad system means we can't add to our order and have to do it all separately so we end up with loads of trays, but it seems to work, and the poor waiter doesn't seem to mind a few trips back to the kitchen. The weather is decidedly British and my wellies seem to have grown holes, but the hotel have plenty of Hunters on standby, so we choose a rainy stroll around the estate. However, there are plenty of activities you can do here.
I'm rather gutted we don't have time for a Segway Safari or archery and quad biking but make a note of it for next time. As well as making more use of the pool and spa, and eating in all the other restaurants at Dormy. And watching a film in the cinema room. And seeing what little challenges I can put to chef for lunch and dinner. Oh well, looks like we'll have to come back for a week next time...!
Rates at Foxhill Manor start from £295 per room per night. This includes a full breakfast, snacks and drinks throughout the day as well as access to House Spa and VAT. For further information or to book visit www.foxhillmanor.com or call 01386 852711
Rates at Dormy House start from £240 per room per night, based on two sharing including breakfast. To book visit www.dormyhouse.co.uk or call 01386 859910
Rates at The Fish Hotel start from £89 per room per night including breakfast and VAT. Based on two sharing a standard room. For further information or to call visit www.thefishhotel.co.uk or call 01386 858000