On first impressions, Minster Mill is about as Cotswolds as you get. A crunchy gravel drive leads you past the blissful hubbub of the fast-running River Windrush and into the heart of the 38-bedroom hotel, built from the honey-hued local stone.
The hotel is tucked away in the quiet village of Minster Lovell, for many years the home of the Lovell family (you can still visit the dramatic ruins of their derelict estate), close to its sister hotel the Old Swan (a more traditional pub set up). Easily accessible from the M40 for those driving, or if you’re coming by train the nearest station is Charlbury (also the drop off point for trendy Soho Farmhouse). The city of Oxford is just 15 miles away.
Recently refurbished to the tune of some £4.5million, inside it’s very Scandi-cool meets English barn country chic; think understated décor, soft, clever lighting, all complemented by the hotel’s warm and welcoming staff.
Bedrooms are – of course – tastefully designed. Overlooking the river, our room was home to a squashy sofa, giant bed and thoughtful extras like a Nespresso machine and a Dyson hair dryer, while the spacious bathroom boasted L’Occitane products and (always a hotel favourite) double sinks. Dogs are welcome in the Garden rooms, located in an annexe away from the main building, while the Feature Rooms, also with River Windrush views, have a private terrace and log burner (or fire pit).
Outside, the river flows through the hotel’s gardens, set in some 65 acres of land, and past its vegetable gardens, tennis court, table tennis pavilion and lawns (ideal for a classic countryside pursuit such as croquet). Pashley bikes (and helmets) can be hired from hotel reception and the hotel has helpfully plotted out three local routes to help you on the way. Keen anglers can also book in for some fishing along the hotel’s mile of private fishing banks. Away from the hotel, you’re also well within reach of such Cotswolds must-sees as the bucolic town of Burford or the majestic Blenheim Palace, birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill.
Those looking to kick back and relax should head to the hotel’s Garden Spa – once it reopens – which offers ESPA treatments such as massages in its three treatment rooms. There’s also an indoor heated plunge pool – more suited for bobbing about in rather than racking up laps – rock sauna, aroma steam room, ice fountain (douse yourself in cubes after a baking sauna) and tropical rain forest showers (the parrot soundtrack was a personal highlight). It’s an intimate space, and if you’re a hotel guest, I’d recommend coming in your swimming costume – the changing room is tiny. You can also book into a mud room for a Middle Eastern mineral mud treatment, said to leave your skin conditioned and your mind clear.
Once you’ve had your fill in the spa, it’s on to the wining and dining. Start with classic cocktails in the Mill Bar, situated up in the eaves above the restaurant.
The main dining room itself is impressive: featuring vaulted ceilings and original beams, a fire flickers in the huge hearth. The meals are tasty twists on a classics – we enjoyed a beef tartare served with gherkin ketchup and a cured egg yolk starter, followed by Cotswolds chicken and finished with a chocolate and miso delice. Breakfast is just as delicious; there’s a brimming continental selection (including bircher pots) or you can enjoy various cooked plates (even avocado on toast) which should just about help you gird your strength for getting back to reality…
Double rooms from £150 per night on a bed and breakfast basis. For more information or to book, please visit minstermill.co.uk or call 01993 774 441
Review by Miranda Thompson