Do you remember that episode of Sex and the City (fourth series, maybe seven in) where Carrie goes to stay at Aiden’s house in the country? Cue much squealing at squirrels, falling over in mud and wearing cute off-the-shoulder dungarees. Probably by Dior because writers have that sort of money. We should know. Carrie’s a city gal, get it? She don’t do country.
Well, as much as we’d like to hold her underwater until the squealing stopped, she does have a point. If you come from the city, you do want a certain kind of country. You want a picture-perfect village set up with a pretty church and a busy, buzzy pub for starters. You want green and lots of it. And you want to stay somewhere that feels at least a little Gosford Park with views out over the walled gardens and the like. In short, you want country but you want it to have a little city sophistication.
Thanks to The Rectory, a rambling Grade II-listed 18-room set-up in Cotswolds limestone in the ancient Cotswolds village of Crudwell, all of those boxes have been ticked, probably because it is the project of a former music business executive who understands that when you come for a country retreat, you don’t want to take things too far.
The house itself, a former *checks notes* rectory from the 18th century but with bits that go back to 1200 and something, has been redone but not so much that it’s had the character knocked out of it. The stairs still creak, the windows look like they might rattle in a wind (they don’t – we were there in a storm – but appearances are everything) and the rooms – all completely different one from another – are quirky and cosy without ever getting close to corny. Roll-top baths, Farrow & Ball palettes, four-poster beds, rumpled sofas, window nooks you can sit in and read the Vanity Fair that’s been left in the room. You know, smart.
Downstairs, past the home-made cakes in reception, there’s the back bar where they’ll bring over city-quality cocktails while you disappear between velvet cushions on the squashy sofas and maybe chat to Alex, the owner, who has some old music biz stories to put a curl in your hair. Or you can pour your own at the honesty bar out by the pool, which is very Christine Keeler/Profumo/Princess Margaret in the third series of The Crown. And though they make a point of the dog-friendliness of the place, we certainly didn’t see any. Which was fine by us… not that we would have squealed or anything.
Across the road from The Rectory is The Potting Shed, the village pub, also cunningly run by the hotel. It may be a real village pub (apparently, it used to do naked Thursdays where swingers from far and wide would come to press their naked flesh to the upholstery) but the menu and the service are very far indeed from the usual ploughman’s lunches and oven chips the country often thinks it can get away with. They even do a vegan roast, which is not very country but is very welcome especially when eased down with Bloody Marys and more-than-decent reds.
And on the subject of food, make sure you have your lunch in The Potting Shed and save yourself for the absolutely gorgeous offerings in the hotel’s own restaurant. Bare wood floor, tinkling silverware and food that can hold a candle to anywhere fancy in west London and which veers between Mulligatawny soup with puffed rice through chateaubriands to imaginative desserts, with almost everything priced under £20, which is more than decent for nosh of this quality. As you might expect, the playlist is clever and eclectic. Breakfast, meanwhile, is a totally informal affair in a light-drenched conservatory with some serious art on the walls.
If we have to do countryside – and sometimes it doesn’t hurt, especially when it’s only a short train ride from London – then this is the way we’d like to do it please. They even have a lawn where, if no one is picnicking, you can land your helicopter. Now, even Carrie would be impressed by that.