24-Hour Room Service: Cowley Manor Gloucestershire

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The Independent Travel

In the two years since it opened, Cowley Manor has won renown as one of the chicest ports of call in the Cotswolds, perhaps the most successful of the Babington-style hotels proliferating in the British countryside. Take one old mansion, give it a makeover, and - when the formula works - Londoners will hurtle down the motorway to find a home from home in the alien world of rural England. And if they're lucky, they might find themselves dining next to Gwyneth and Chris, as one friend did here.

In the two years since it opened, Cowley Manor has won renown as one of the chicest ports of call in the Cotswolds, perhaps the most successful of the Babington-style hotels proliferating in the British countryside. Take one old mansion, give it a makeover, and - when the formula works - Londoners will hurtle down the motorway to find a home from home in the alien world of rural England. And if they're lucky, they might find themselves dining next to Gwyneth and Chris, as one friend did here.

The formula certainly works at Cowley, where the exterior of a 19th-century Italianate house in beautiful formal gardens gives way to a quirky, modish neo-Seventies style inside. The young staff, kitted out in bright woollen tank tops, are exceptionally friendly. Despite the wellies at the front door, the hotel reeks of design: a jumble of funky, custom-made furniture in the lounge, papier-maché hunting trophies in the bar, a leather-panelled pool room and a luxurious spa buried in the garden. It works exceptionally well, especially in conjunction with the relaxed, easy-going vibe in the hotel.

There is no dressing for dinner, and children are welcome (they even have their own playroom). The large dining room is the one room to have missed out on the makeover, with traditional oak-panelling running from ceiling to floor. Sadly, the food - a standard mix of traditional and modern that wouldn't be out of place in a high-street wine bar - fails to match up to the glorious surroundings. And Barry White blaring out over breakfast may not be to everyone's taste, although I quite enjoyed it.

It does seem a bit much, however, to charge extra for a cooked breakfast when paying these prices, and the failure to reduce rates mid-week perhaps explained why it was so quiet when we there. We were also asked to pay an extra £25 for our dog, supposedly to cover the extra cleaning costs, rather than for its own stylish kennel. Sadly, she behaved impeccably and left no mess.

LOCATION

Cowley Manor, Cowley, Gloucestershire (01242 870900) is in the heart of the Cotswolds, on the edge of the hamlet of Cowley with the village parish church, dating back to the 12th century, abutting the car park. It is about 10 miles from Cheltenham, 35 miles from Oxford and about one and a half hours drive from London. For more intrepid urbanites, there is excellent walking in the surrounding fields and woods.

COMFORTABLE?

The 30 bedrooms come in five sizes: good, better, great, exceptional and best. We stayed in a good, but it seemed pretty exceptional. We were in the stable block, ensuring we could nip through the garden for a morning swim. The stunning bathroom, with deep baths, double basins and a massive shower, was on a gallery above the bed area. Several of the more expensive rooms are on three floors - and all are equipped with a hangover cure kit in the mini-bar.

Freebies: Range of toiletries designed by Michelle Roques-O'Neil, the aromatherapist, such as rosemary, geranium and sweet orange conditioner. Also lavender-scented hot-water bottles on request.

Keeping in touch: There are Loewe TVs, wall-mounted Nakamichi CD players and an extensive library of film and music, which even included a selection of foreign-language films and a French rapper. All rooms have high-speed internet connections.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Double rooms go from £220 (good) to £445 (exceptional).

I'm not paying that: Georgian House (01242 515577, www.georgianhouse.net) in Cheltenham offers doubles from £75 including breakfast

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