Stay the night: Old Swan & Minster Mill, Oxfordshire
A historic inn and mill in the Oxfordshire countryside have benefited from the de Savary treatment, says Minty Clinch
Sunday 21 August 2011
In June 2010, the Old Swan and Minster Mill became part of the de Savary portfolio and it has been substantially refurbished to the standards set by Peter de Savary at Skibo Castle in Scotland and Bovey Castle in Devon.
The entrepreneur yachtsman's wife, Lana, is at the helm, with daughters Amber masterminding functions and Tara working as the PA to the general manager.
As the name suggests, this is a hotel in two halves, a property that sprawls along the River Windrush in the Cotswold village of Minster Lovell. Richard III, Henry VII and Henry VIII, one-time owners of Minster Lovell Hall down the road, would recognise the Old Swan, established circa 1500 as a drovers' inn with its own brewery. Wonky corridors and a wooden spiral staircase conjure up the creakiness of six centuries, though the suit of armour in the hall is a more modern artefact. Subsequent visitors include Winston Churchill, while Harold Wilson honeymooned there.
Mentioned in the Domesday Book, the Minster Mill served the community until 1924. The 18th-century workings now form part of the hotel, along with extensive 20th-century additions. The weir used to divert water from the river to the grinding zone is the focus of 65 acres of grounds, which include a newly planted 40-acre wildflower meadow, a vegetable and herb garden and a faux Greek temple. Several terraces, some convivial, some romantic, encourage outdoor drinking and dining, weather permitting.
The Old Swan has 16 bedrooms, three with four-posters and all different, but furnished in traditional style. Money has been spent on bringing the plumbing into the 21st century, with all the stone and chrome that implies, while the decanter of sloe gin or whisky on the coffee table recalls a less judgemental age. The 44 rooms in the Mill are more functional, but equally fit-for-purpose in terms of comfort and convenience. Five have riverfront terraces with firepits.
The food and drink
At this early stage in the hotel's development, the de Savarys have opted for gastro-pub grub. I know that can translate as a kitchen run by a team rather than a chef, so large plates of indifferently cooked food are smothered in gravy and priced at £20-£25 per main dish. The Old Swan's dining rooms are atmospheric, its staff willing, though not very sophisticated, and its wine list appropriate. But a rethink on the food to bring it into line with other de Savary enterprises would be most welcome.
There is no shortage of on-site activities. The hotel has a mile of private fishing on the Windrush for trout and coarse fish including pike, grayling and barbel. There's a tennis court and a boules pitch, plus croquet and badminton lawns that could do with mowing and rolling. Two giant outdoor chessboards invite a more cerebral approach. A guinea-pig colony, a yard for rescued battery hens and a timed circuit of wooden obstacles keep the under-12s amused, while teenagers congregate at the pool table in the games room. The gym and treatment rooms are already up and running, but the Windrush Spa is a work in progress for 2012. Local attractions include Blenheim Palace, the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford, the Cotswold Wildlife Park, the Cotswold Falconry Centre, as well as pretty Cotswold towns.
Narrow corridors and frequent changes of level make the bedrooms unsuitable for wheelchair access. Dogs are especially welcome. Complimentary Wi-Fi throughout.
The Old Swan charges £165 to £250 per room per night. Rooms in Minster Mill cost £145 to £195. Prices include breakfast and are based on two sharing.
Old Swan & Minster Mill, Old Minster, Minster Lovell, Witney, Oxfordshire OX29 0RN (01993 774441; oldswanandminstermill.com).
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