The Fish Hotel, Cotswolds, UK
25 January, 2019
I've always felt that English winters get short shrift. When the mercury drops, our minds tend to wander towards sunnier shores - to parasols and piña coladas, soothing sands and shimmering jade seas. However, there's a nostalgia to the classic British countryside that unfurls within me as soon as I exit the confines of the M25 - a perverse longing for sodden woodland paths and moody, bruising skies that can probably be traced back to reading too many Shirley Hughes poems as a child. Forget lounging on a tropical coastline: in January my wildest desires are to splash through muddy puddles, kick up piles of curling brown leaves and chase floppy-eared dogs (mine or otherwise, I'm not fussy) across soggy green fields.
All of which is to say, the unashamedly bucolic The Fish - located in that most chocolate-box of regions, the Cotswolds - had me pulling on my wellington boots and plastic mackintosh as fast as I could book the next train out of London. The hotel is part of a 400-acre private estate that includes fellow lodgings Dormy House and Foxhill Manor and is something of their boisterous younger sibling, with a playful sensibility that unleashed my puddle-jumping inner five-year-old in seconds.
Situated among the requisite rolling hillsides and hedgerows, this is no stuffy manor house but instead a collection of cosy farmhouse and stable suites and unconventional tree houses and huts. The latter are divided into "Hilly Huts" - fairy-light-strewn wagon-style dwellings with wood burners and hot tubs - and "Hideaway Huts", which include a photogenic roll-top bath. There's even a made-for-honeymooners version called (I kid you not) "Boaty McBoatface", which comes with its own paddle boat, private lake and private island. The hub of this little countryside community is the lodge, which contains a lounge, games room, boot room and the decidedly grown-up seafood restaurant Hook, establishing a daily routine of brisk walks interspersed with glasses of wine by the fire. While I imagine the whole set-up is also delightful in the summer, those eschewing dry Jan could do worse than hotfooting it to the country and rolling back the clock for a few days of unbridled roaming and relaxation.
The Fish Hotel
Those looking for a more traditional room can book the Farmhouse, Coach House or Stables - however for the novelty factor our favourites are definitely the aforementioned huts and treehouses. We stayed in one of the three treehouses on site - Ivy, Stumpy and our own Twiggy - which turned out to be a souped-up version of our childhood playthings. Yes, there's a swing, board games and hammocks in the surrounding trees, but there's also underfloor heating, a complimentary minibar, Netflix on tap and two deck-side baths to take the luxe factor up a few notches.
What's for breakfast?
Start each day virtuously with fresh juices, yoghurt from the local farm, earl-grey-and-date bread and zingy fruit; or go the whole hog and hit the eggs benedict bar before walking it all off.
How about lunch and dinner?
I'd heard that once upon a time the restaurant here was a less-than inspiring affair, but under the vision of the estate's culinary director Martin Bruges the revamped Hook is a laid-back yet luxurious seafood restaurant that doesn't disappoint. The smoked haddock scotch egg, crab risotto and praline and chocolate soufflé are worthwhile indulgences.
Is there a bar?
Cosy up by the fire with a whisky, wine or water in the main lodge.
A boot room with patterned wellies by the Cambridge Muck Book Co that you can borrow for the day; a games room with table football and pool; and afternoon tea for both you and your dog (for £15 your pooch can enjoy treats from Woof & Brew, The Barking Bakery and Cotswold Raw).
Things you should know
Do not attempt to walk up the stairway from Hook to your treehouse at night and in heels. If the preceding three-course meal hasn't finished you off, clinging to the banister while trying to retrieve your shoe just might.
Within a short walk you can find…
There are maps in the boot room outlining off-road routes to the nearby (and absurdly idyllic) villages of Broadway, Chipping Campden and Willersey. Take the long route to the former and stop by Broadway Tower for sweeping views of the valley, before heading down to the village for a cream tea or pint of bitter.