It's the attention to detail that makes Cowley Manor stand out.
The rack of Hunter wellies at the door, to wear while you stroll around the exquisite Grade II listed gardens. The golden triple cooked chips that compliment the club sandwich. The funky, Scando-style rugs and throws. From the service to the salt cellars, everything feels like it's been carefully and lovingly thought out.
Cowley is cosy and chic on the inside, but the exteriors of the 19th century manor house are gloriously untouched. There are 55 acres of land to explore, including two large lakes, a 13th century church, and a stunning old fountain lined with stone lions. We were lucky enough to spot a deer darting through the woods, too.
Despite the size of the land, Cowley has just 30 bedrooms, so you can wander the wild, country gardens with a rare sense of privacy and solitude - you really do feel like you've been transported back to another era. Indeed Lewis Carroll, a regular visitor to the village of Cowley, was said to have been inspired to write Alice in Wonderland while walking in these grounds.
Staff are relaxed but attentive - no one batted an eyelid when we asked for our puddings to be sent to our bedroom after dinner. Along with the restaurant, there is a sleek bar area, billiards room, and a sitting room with gloriously comfy sofas, newspapers, and windows looking out over the lake.
There are 15 rooms in the main house and another 15 in the stable blocks, some of which are split over two or three levels. All are generously sized and impeccably curated, combining original features such as stone fireplaces with contemporary furniture and fabrics, enormous beds and Bose docking stations (there are ready-stocked iPods to borrow from reception). For me the pièce de résistance was the spacious bathroom, which had warm wooden floors, a big bath and gorgeous views of the lake. For knock-out luxury, book the 'Best' room which boasts a four poster bed, double bathtub and large private terrace.
Nestled tastefully to the rear of the main house is the glass fronted C-Spa. There's an indoor pool with a lovely green slated bottom, big enough to do decent lengths in, and a heated outdoor pool - heavenly on a crisp sunny November morning. There's also a gym, steam room, sauna and four treatment rooms. In the summer, you can eat and sunbathe outside on the terrace.
Green and Spring Massage
A one hour body massage, incorporating elements of acupressure and reflexology and using Green & Spring products, made from local, natural resources, including the spring waters and herbs found in the grounds of Cowley. The massage was masterful, and the oils were refreshing and subtle. You can choose your own music, too.
The hotel restaurant is an impressive space with stunning high ceilings and oak panelled walls. Again, there's that wonderful sense of space. Each table has plenty of room and plenty of attention from the charming staff. The modern British menu is of very high quality and has been recognised for its use of sustainable, locally sourced food. We feasted on Dorset crab, venison and partridge. An excellent cooked breakfast is included in the room rate, served in the restaurant - grab a table by the window for one last look at the grounds.
Look out for the sculptures dotted through the grounds, part of the annual Cowley Manor Arts Award.
Two people can enjoy a night's stay at Cowley Manor, a 30minute spa treatment, three-course dinner and breakfast, from £335 staying Sunday to Thursday or £405 on weekends.
Words: Chloe Lambert