Monday, February 29

The Porch House, Cotswolds, England

The Cotswolds is a rural area of south central England covering parts of 6 counties, notably Gloucestershire and Oxfordshire. Its rolling hills and grasslands harbor glorious thatched medieval villages riddled with beautiful old mansions of honey-colored stone, thatched cottages, atmospheric churches, and rickety old pubs. If you've ever coveted exposed beams or lusted after a cream tea in the mid-afternoon, there's no finer place to fulfill your fantasies.

Of the many exquisite towns and villages in the Cotswolds, Stow on the Wold is one of my favorites. Its hilltop location, while famously a little chilly, affords stunning views of rolling Gloucestershire countryside which, on our brief visit a few years ago, was enveloped in one of those magical mists that gives way to lovely blues skies and golden sunshine.

While unashamedly and understandably proud of both its history and its good looks, Stow has done a fine job of reinventing itself - there are numerous boutique food shops selling local meat, cheese, chocolates and bread; then there are the tea rooms and coffee bars, antiques and design shops and one of the best kitchenware shops I have ever encountered. By midday, this sleepy little town feels like the busy market town of old, buzzing with locals and tourists alike.

While many visitors are passing through, others will be stopping over in Stow's surprisingly extensive array of hotels, inns and B&Bs. Which brings us to The Porch House. Claiming to be the oldest inn in England, The Porch House, a coaching inn, with 13 bedrooms, a bar, a restaurant, a private dining room, and a snug and a pretty rear garden. As you would expect, the Porch House has all the crucial features of a Cotswold inn - uneven floors, nooks and crannies, low-slung ceilings, ancient beams, old stone fireplaces, narrow, crooked staircases and heaps of charm. It positively oozes the kind of warmth and character that makes you feel pampered and at home. With all this being said, is it any surprise that The Porch House has been awarded the AA Pub of the Year England 2015-16?

Even with the best rooms in the original Grade II-listed building, the decor is classic English 21st century style. Meaning well-sourced fabrics and wallpapers, comfy beds dressed in luxurious bed linens, freestanding clawfoot tubs, good coffee machines and wifi. While the modern comforts are seen here you can still enjoy the quirky touches. Including vintage pieces like the Singer sewing machine tables refashioned into desks, Bakelite phones, Roberts' radios and hot water bottles in cosy knitted jackets. You couldn't really ask for more.

But if you need more of an incentive to visit The Porch House, look to the quintessential Englishness that the staff extends to the food. The bar offers robust pub regulars - fish and chips, shepherd's pie, sausage and mash -and the dining room is a fraction more formal. Like so many restaurants these days the approach is distinctly one of local is best. The menu changes regularly according to the seasonal  availability of produce, and while it appears straightforward and familiar - cheese soufflĂ©, pork chops, partridge, lamb, treacle tart and hedgerow crumble - served with sophistication.

If you plan a trip to Stow and The Porch House, spare a couple of days to wander round the Cotswolds by bicycle, to explore the multitude of nearby shops, markets, houses and gardens or to take the Porch House up on its offer of a picnic lunch and a map and head off into that beautiful countryside on foot.

The Porch House, Digbeth Street, Stow on the Wold, Gloucestershire tel: 01451 870048; Standard rooms cost from £99-£129; superiors from £129-£159; and feature rooms from £159-£219 (prices vary according to weekday or weekend stays and include breakfast and a newspaper).

The Domestic Curator

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