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Where to find relaxed country manor chic in the heart of the Cotswolds

My only knowledge of croquet comes from Alice In Wonderland. Unlike Lewis Carroll’s fantastical scene, however, at Burleigh Court Hotel, we don’t have live flamingos as mallets and curled hedgehogs for balls. Still, as my girlfriend and I enjoy a pre-dinner match on the lawn, there is certainly a hint of storybook charm.

A Grade II listed 19th century manor house in the heart of the Cotswolds Burleigh Court is nestled on a hillside above the market town of Minchinhampton, overlooking Stroud’s golden valley. Ivy and pink roses creep up its weathered Cotswold-stone walls and there’s a delightfully dishevelled edge to its gardens and four-acre grounds, with flower-lined paths and shadowed crannies tucked behind hedges, begging to be explored.

Valley views from the terrace (Burleigh Court Photography/PA)

In fact, a wander around the grounds – there’s a kitchen garden and art deco plunge pool out the back, and hammocks out on the lawn – is a great way to build up an appetite. Or you could simply enjoy an aperitif on the terrace. Thankfully for us, here for a relaxed weekend break, there’s time for all three – and an Aperol spritz in the early-evening sunshine, soaking up the valley views, takes the sting out of being thrashed at croquet.

Husband and wife team James and Corinna Rae took ownership of Burleigh Court in March 2019. They were “two people getting tired of London and wanting to do something different with our lives,” says Corinna, with no previous hotel experience (James was in banking and Corinna worked with human rights organisations) but lots of ideas and a clear aim. “Country charm with a touch of luxury,” explains Corinna. “And a ‘home away from home’ feel with an emphasis on hosting.”

Their first task was embarking on a phased refurb. The hotel already had a bit of a loyal client base, but the Raes had their work cut out to achieve the style and chic-yet-relaxed ethos they envisioned. “There was a lot of ripping up carpets!” notes Corinna, who says a lot of the items they brought in were family antiques.

Little did they know a global pandemic was around the corner, bringing the travel industry to a halt. Despite the challenges, Corinna and James embraced the opportunity to connect with the local community during lockdown, selling veg boxes, afternoon teas and takeaways.

In a way, it enabled them to lay their roots with an even deeper appreciation of the area and build on their goal of keeping things as local and sustainable as possible – sourcing meat and produce from farms and suppliers within a 30-mile radius, as well as their own garden kitchen. Now, they’re “in a good place”, says Corinna. They still have ideas they plan to introduce – like morning yoga sessions – but there’s already plenty to entice guests and bookings have been rolling in fast.

Croquet on the lawn before dinner (Abi Jackson/PA)

We’ve timed our visit for the launch of their Wild Foodie Foraging experience, which anyone staying at the hotel and non-guests can book onto (check their website for dates of future events). Professional forager Martin Bailey leads our group of ten. We begin in the gardens, with a brief introduction to foraging sensibly and the importance of being absolutely certain something’s safe before eating it (“Don’t much on a hunch!”), before heading up the road.

An Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, the Cotswolds is fervent foraging ground. We soon find ourselves on a sweeping meadow, scattered with wildflowers, shrubs and elderflower trees. Martin helps us identify some species – we spot three-cornered leek (from the garlic family), broad leaf plantain, yarrow, wild thyme and sorrel and even chew on a few.

After a couple of hours, we head back to Burleigh Court and enjoy a Wild Food Lunch together on the back terrace, chatting like old friends and tucking into colourful plates with ingredients freshly plucked from the kitchen garden. I have a forager’s salad followed by risotto with broccoli, peas and foraged leaves.

Martin Bailey leading our foraging experience (Abi Jackson/PA)

One session isn’t enough to transform you into a fully-fledged forager ready to live off the land – but a morning immersed in nature, chatting, learning and braving the odd taste along the way is a great way to spend the day.

This area has loads of scenic walks, with plenty of options whether you’re a full-day hiker or more of a stroll-to-the-pub type. Other nearby activities you could explore include mountain e-biking and golf, and of course the Cotswolds is famous for its beautiful old towns and villages, with markets, tearooms and cobbled streets galore, for those with a car.

Leave time to switch off and relax at Burleigh Court itself, though, and soak up some country manor chic. Their lounge is an ideal spot for curling up with a book and tea in the day, or a drink in the evening if it gets chilly out (they sometimes do jazz nights too). Each of the hotel’s 18 bedrooms are individually designed – including some which are family and dog-friendly, as well as a spacious romantic master with four-poster bed and spa bath.

Corinna and James were determined for the food to be a highlight too. Their historic, oak-panelled restaurant already has two AA rosettes, with seasonal menus designed to champion sustainability with a fine-dining feel – all while keeping the atmosphere relaxed. There are exciting plant-based options (like a pea and potato samosa starter, with balsamic red onions and aubergine caponata), seafood (hand-dived scallops, and delicious pan-fried cot with saffron aioli) plus farm-to-fork meat.

Everything we order is a treat – a dinner where you can’t stop talking about how good your food is, between sips of wine and satisfied sighs, which is handy when the pandemic has stripped us of having much else to talk about!

Thankfully, savouring some silence is easy when you have sweeping valley views, a cocktail in hand and a blazing firepit crackling away, as the sun goes down on the terrace.

How to plan your trip

Weekday B&B stays cost from £119 per night. The Wild Foodie Foraging Experience is available on select dates July-October, costing from £60 per person. To book, call 01453 883 804 or visit burleighcourtcotswolds.co.uk.

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