‘Whisk me to Whatley’: A review of Whatley Manor Hotel & Spa, Malmesbury in Wiltshire
As romantic mini breaks go, a long weekend in the Cotswolds has firmly secured it’s place in the top 10. Paris in spring time is fashionable, fresh and new. Venice in the autumn is warm, stylish and iconic. For me, summer in the Cotswolds takes some beating, the picture perfect streets, muted sunshine, the aroma of freshly mown grass. It’s just blissful. I speed along the M4 in my little convertible, comparable to Bridget Jones, thankfully without the headscarf (or Daniel Cleaver) keen to reach historic Malmesbury, for a weekend stay at Whatley Manor.
Malmesbury, is around an hour and half from central London and one of the oldest market towns in England. Dating back to the Middle Ages, a central feature of the town is the Abbey, which is referenced in The Domesday Book and the dissolution of the monasteries. It’s a big draw to keen historians and tourists. The streets are narrow and winding, many of the buildings are made of the local stone making them as appealing as I’d anticipated. The town is bustling, many independent boutiques and cafes remain complimented by larger brands. There’s plenty to see and learn in Malmesbury, but for a little relaxation, a walk along The River Avon is all you need.
Whatley Manor Hotel & Spa, is located a few minutes outside of the town centre. I follow the signs and join a long tarmac drive which leads me to an impressive wooden gate which starts to open on arrival. My first impression of Whatley is, “Wow”, as I drive around the cobbled courtyard lined with French Lavender, where my bags are collected and my car is parked. It is a truly stunning country Manor House.
Whatley Manor, opened in 2003 and remains privately owned to this day. That independence resonates with the hotel staff who made me feel that I was being welcomed into a home not a hotel. Little touches throughout the hotel further endorsed this feeling; from a board game paused in the drawing room awaiting the player’s return, to the selection of Hunter wellies available to borrow for exploring the grounds. The hotel had also attracted a variety of guests who all seemed relaxed and having a lovely time, from the civilised hen party taking afternoon tea, to the older couple enjoying a post lunch coffee on the sun drenched terrace.
The hotel is set in 12 acres of glorious gardens and has just 23 rooms including eight suites. I start my visit with a walk around the grounds and discover a variety of formal and more relaxed gardens, including a vegetable garden and some lovely sculptures and water features. The birds are singing, the sun is shining, life couldn’t be better as I make my way back to the terrace for a glass of champagne and a light snack under the watchful eye of another guest, my favourite sort of fellow guest, a gorgeous canine. At Whatley, four-legged friends are also very welcome.
As the afternoon sun starts to fade I investigate my sleeping quarters ahead of dinner. I’m staying in Room 12 which overlooks the formal lawn and fields beyond at the back of the hotel. My suite is classically decorated, with three sizeable rooms technically well appointed with two state of the art flat-screens and furnished with luxurious curtains and linens in shades of sage and terracotta . The bedroom is spacious and light as the sun pours in through the leaded windows. The bed is a super queen and I quickly decide to have breakfast in bed the next morning, I’d like to stay in Room 12 for as long as possible!
Whatley has two restaurants a more casual brasserie scheduled to re-launch later in the summer and “The Dining Room” offering a formal fine dining experience. In December 2016 there was great excitement at the hotel when Niall Keating joined as Executive Chef. I have known of Niall for a couple of years, he had spent time as Sous Chef at The Bath Priory and had worked under Corey Lee at Benu in San Francisco which is one of my favourite places on earth! Needless to say, I was extremely excited about dinner and simply had to experience the taste journey of Niall’s 12 course tasting menu with paired wines.
Niall changes his menus frequently and is always experimenting with contemporary seasonal dishes. Although classically trained, many of his dishes have an Asian influence and all are beautifully presented, each one brought out to the diner by the chef who prepared it. This again adds to the whole dining experience. The spiced cracker with sesame and lime was a fantastic way to start dinner and to really awaken my taste buds. My favourite dish was easily the black tortellini with pork and the chocolate caramel pudding was just divine. The complimentary wines, on the whole played it safe with the exception of Moscatel El Carro which was delicious by itself, as well as, a perfect match for the mackerel and raspberry fish course. After my culinary journey, which lasted over three hours, I felt perfectly content and full. Actually, that’s a lie, I could have probably enjoyed just one more course. Dinner did not disappoint and I certainly feel that “The Dining Room” is one to watch in 2017/18.
As I’d promised myself, I enjoyed breakfast in bed the next day. The breakfast choices were extensive, however, after such a magnificent dinner I settled for some perfectly poached eggs (tricky to do for room service), accompanied by smoked salmon. Today was going to be a day of treats as I hadn’t even stepped foot into the Aquarias Spa, located a short walk from reception, opposite where the old stables would have been. The spa is superbly equipped, with an indoor hydrotherapy pool that extends outside, where there is a large patio with sun loungers and a view of the spa gardens and woodlands beyond. Inside there is a large tepidarium with heated stone beds and a variety of experience showers along with an aromatherapy steam room and sauna. There is a couples suite with private jacuzzi and the spa offers a variety of treatments using the prestigious product range Nature Bisse. For the energetic, there is a well appointed fully air conditioned gym
Six hours later, I’m walking on air as I leave the spa and notice that the door to the old stables opposite is ajar. I wander over to investigate and spy the absolute jewel in the crown of Whatley. In the middle of this gorgeous country manor is a private 40 seat cinema. One of the staff catches me having a look at the cinema and offers to show me around. she tells me the civilised hen party had booked it the day before for a private showing of, you guessed it, Bridget Jones. I smile to myself. I ask if anyone can book the cinema and they can, it’s very popular with couples and champagne and popcorn is provided. I’m informed the timeless romantic classic Casablanca is a popular choice, but sadly it’s never been used for a proposal, yet.
As I collect my bags and my car is brought to me, I’m really sad to leave. Whatley Manor has it all. In the Cotswolds there are so many beautiful hotels to choose from, however, Whatley Manor is certainly where I’d return. I think Whatley has it all and with the appointment of Niall in addition to the planned upgrades, it is only going to get better.
Eve Hartridge was hosted by Whatley Manor Hotel & Spa in Wiltshire, a member of the Pride of Britain Hotels collection (never more than 50 hotels, to guarantee quality and exclusivity). The elegant 19th century Grade II-listed Cotswold manor house hotel holds 5 AA Red Stars and has 15 bedrooms and eight suites. Niall Keating is Executive Chef of its two restaurants and guests can use the luxurious Aquarias Spa. An overnight stay costs from £325 per room (two sharing) including full English breakfast and use of the spa. To book call Pride of Britain Hotels on 0800 089 3929 (prideofbritainhotels.com).
Address: Easton Grey, Malmesbury SN16 0RB
Phone: 01666 822888