If not quite – as some would have us believe – the centre of the known universe, then Soho Farmhouse does at least boast the strongest gravitational pull of all Cotswolds destinations. The wisdom of transporting the exclusive, aesthetically peerless Soho House concept to this, God’s other own country, was never in doubt. But few could have expect founder Nick Jones to create an uber-luxe, self-contained village environment where almost every whim and desire can be catered for. And yet Farmhouse visitors who rock up, make hay and then scurry back without ever seeing what else the area has to offer do so at their peril. For this is a land densely packed with destinations for dedicated gastronauts, muddy-booted travellers and everything in between. Here are some firm favourites and exciting young upstarts…
Farncombe Estate, Broadway
Perched on the hills overlooking Broadway, the sprawling Farncombe Estate can’t hope to match the more-is-more approach of Soho Farmhouse. So instead this particular multi-million pound creation opts for some kind of Cotswold take on Westworld – offering three very different hotel experiences within one estate. What Dormy House, Foxhill Manor and The Fish Hotel do have in common is a commitment to unabashed chilling, be that in the half dozen eateries, the many lounges or bars, or any of myriad hotel rooms, glamping-style huts, suites with outdoor hot tubs, and truly remarkable luxury treehouses.
Nut Treet Inn, Murcott
The Nut Tree Inn reads like a total car crash. A remote pub reaching for the Michelin stars with a classic take on white tablecloth fine dining while also banging out chilli and fish pie for the ale drinkers should fall very loudly and uncomfortably between two stools. Yet for once the split personality approach pays dividends. The pub classics prove as familiar and comforting as the inn’s dainty thatched roof, while the high end stuff has earned the place a Michelin star for the last whole decade.
White Hart, Fyfield
French chef Fernand Point once described perfection as ‘lots of little things done well’. It perfectly encapsulates what makes this seemingly run-of-the-mill, 15th century gastropub so special. Dishes are robust yet just begging for a social media share, the Sunday lunches are the kind that have food critics invoking that favoured adjective ‘historic’, and the dedication to customer service is nicely summed up by inclusive approach to younger customers. Kids get their own daily changing menu along with access to half-portion versions of the grown-ups’ dishes.
The Royal Oak at Whatcote
Solanche and Richard Craven already packed them in at two previous incarnations of their Chef’s Dozen venture. Sadly, the novel ‘choose your own four courses’ approach has been dropped, but the commitment to packing immense flavour into delicate dishes is as strong as ever – witness the gut punch delivered by a pig’s head lasagna starter so dainty it could pass for dessert. The care taken to keep locals and ramblers happy on the pub side is commendable, but make not mistake – this is one for the epicureans.
Daylesford Organic Farm, Kingham
A catalyst for the Cotswolds’ 21st century reinvention or a multi-millionaire’s vanity project? Either way, Lord and Lady Bamford’s ever-expanding empire begs to be experienced first-hand. Rubbing shoulders with the moneyed, the famous, and the Range Rover-driving masses while shopping for organic produce and high-end curios is undoubtedly addictive, but for a true taste of Daylesford try one of the dining options, including the Trough cafe, pizza-and-sharing-plates affair The Old Spot, or the bit-monthly Chef’s Table events. This sprawling retreat is also home the Haybarn Spa wellness retreat, a cookery school, plus several suitably glitzy accommodation options.
The Bell At Langford
The newly-launched Little Bell at Soho Farmhouse is Peter Creed and Thomas Noest’s hearty take on wood-fired feasting. Once you’ve sampled the newer sibling’s offerings, head to the The Bell at Langford for a fully hardcore hit of gutsy cooking. Flame-charred Neapolitan-style pizzas provide a starting point, but that authentic Italian dome oven also proves its worth searing several other items on the surprisingly diverse menu. Prices are keen, the wine list nicely judged and the fires well tended. Best of all, the french fries are arguably the best in the Cotswolds.
The Milton Hare, Milton Under Wychwood
Pushed up against a main road and with no views to speak of, The Milton Hare won’t win any beauty pageants against its more bucolically-blessed peers. The old adage about real beauty residing on the inside rings especially true here, however, thanks to a pub interior that goes heavy on the cushions and candles and a menu that unashamedly celebrates farming, hunting and fishing. It’s the latter pursuit – telegraphed via its own dedicated fish specials board – that really gives the Hare its killer USP. For those whose only criticism of the Cotswolds is that it is landlocked, these Devon and Cornwall imports will – temporarily, at least – ease that particularly first-world problem.