Around two hours from London and the Midlands, with verdant hillsides lifted straight out of a Jane Austen novel and a dining scene set slight with top London chefs who have escaped the rat race and set up shop in the west, Cirencester and its environs is a near-perfect romantic, English weekend getaway.
It also helps, that the Cotswolds happens to be just about the prettiest place to be in the summer. But which hostelry to choose on this very English escape? Positioned slap bang in the centre of Cirencester, the Kings Head is a converted 14th century coach house with chic and stylish rooms (or ‘Places to Chill’ as denoted on the hotel website) and a serene country vibe.
Where to stay in Cirencester
Reopened in September 2014 after an extensive renovation which brought the number of rooms from 80 down to 45 (to ensure guests could enjoy more space to chill) and converted seven buildings into one maze of winding corridors and cosy corners, the history of this coaching inn is part of its charm and evident not least in the reception where a piece of Roman mosaic lies under a glass insert in the floor of the foyer.
The 45 bedrooms are each individually styled and a mix of historic – exposed brickwork, beams and fireplaces – and chic – rolltop baths, Farrow & Ball colours and luxuriant bedding. The indulgence suites boast capacious bathrooms, waterfall showers and king-size beds, while suite 222 has a small balcony and three rooms in the hotel have rolltop baths in the rooms.
A subterranean vaulted spa lies in the cellar and offers a range of sumptuous body treatments, a hot tub to soothe away stresses and a twinkling chill-out room with snuggly furs and a luxuriant day bed.
The Lubatti Pure Indulgence needs a special shout out for its transformative powers… an 80-minute massage and facial transformed me from gnarled, overworked and overstressed city slicker to a zenned out, bare-faced, revitalised almost-goddess. Mini Lubatti products, a beauty brand founded by Jo Malone’s sister Tracey Malone, are used in the guest rooms as well.
The bar area features a log fire and comfy sofas, perfect for lazing with Sunday papers and endless coffees, but we opted for a cocktail with the hotel’s mixologist before dinner. The hotel’s gin repertoire is of particular note.
Food is pretty, pretty delicious and locally sourced. We opted for wine pairings with every course suggested by the knowledgeable restaurant manager. The menu has a good spread of fish and meats and private dining is available for larger parties in the panelled oak room or vaulted cellar below.
Days out around Cirencester
Outside, the cobbled streets of Ciren are a delicious warren of boutiques, jewellery markets, tea shops and wine bars. Every weekend of the year there is a farmer’s market or foodie festival nearby to snaffle a bag of local yumminess. We came away with a punnet of fresh picked strawberries, jars of Cotswold Cheese Company spicy tomato chutney, half a round of local brie and a dozen eggs with yolks the colour of sunflowers. Oh, and a Cotswold sheepskin rug from the covered marketplace next door to the King’s Head – an absolute bargain at £40 from Sheep & Chic. Further afield, chocolate-box Cotswold stone villages and their low-beamed pubs await. A favourite is Barnsley, around four miles out of Cirencester and a village so picture-perfect American visitors must simply implode when they see it. Try Barnsley House Hotel for afternoon tea or the aptly-named Village Pub for a gastro lunch and a pint.
Nearby, Cheltenham hosts a science festival in June, a music festival in July and the Cheltenham Literary festival, of course, rounds things off in October. Much like its surroundings, the Kings Head has bags of history and mixes tradition and style with ease. For weekenders who want things to explore right on their doorstep it’s a great choice.
Double rooms cost from £99, Indulgence suites from £240.