STAY: The Porch House, Stow-on-the-wold
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Like you no doubt, I had great expectations of superb work-life balance at the beginning of the year. Week one was gloriously successful, but by the end of January it was plainly obvious that the hour-to-myself, weekly drinks with girlfriends and leisurely bath-and-novel idea was never going to work. However, the one part of my plan I have managed to stick to has been one night a month away with Mr Muddy, swinging in joyful abandon from the chandeliers of various hotels (or, um, watching Come Dine With Me before snoring gently with the papers).
We stayed at The Porch House in Stow-on-the-Wold a few weeks ago, and I think you’d love it there. It’s a really impressive refurbishment of what was a very tired Cotswold inn – well priced, relaxed, stylish, not ostentatious, and just off Market Square (so away from the tourist buses), absolutely perfect for a night or weekend away in the Cotswolds.
The Porch House claims to be the oldest inn in the UK – the ‘snug’ goes back to a mind-blowing AD947 – and it’s been refurbished with great respect for the fabric of the building but with some quirky touches, such as parquet on the walls of the breakfast room and antler chandeliers below.
The bedrooms show a similar attention to detail. Period features such as ornate radiators, old-fashioned phones and antique-effect light switches go hand in hand with Nespresso machines, flat screen TVs and cascade showers. Ours was one of the three, more expensive ‘Feature’ bedrooms (from £159 per night, I’d request one if you’re away for a romantic weekend) but there are also smaller more standard sized rooms from £99 if you just want to dump your bags, go out for the night and have somewhere comfy to rest your head on your return.
We had a couple of hours walking around Stow in the sheet rain – yes, because we’re British! – which was a bit of a revelation. Cotswold towns and villages can merge into one as soon as you step into the first Ye Olde Tea House but in fact Stow has a small clutch of trendier shops worth mentioning:
Foundation, a designer fashion boutique on Market Square is small but decent (great jewellery). Vintage & Paint just down from The Porch House is half antique/curios, half paint shop and groovy with it, Law & Company is Stow’s version of an emporium, lots of bits worth buying here, Saltmarsh, a Scandi organic shop that was so new it didn’t even a sign up is unashamedly high end and gorgeous, and Opus Art is surely the coolest gallery in the Cotswolds, stocking Peter Blake, Damien Hirst, Banksy, the Chapman brothers and literally hundreds of other collectible modern artists.
The one thing Stow looks a little short of – admittedly from a cursory whizz around – is a decent variety of restaurants, so The Porch House has been smart in making its restaurant and pub so amenable – by all accounts, the locals use them as much as the guests! We ate dinner in the restaurant, and it was great – I’d heard a report from a local that service was very slow, but my experience was the opposite, possibly a bit fast, but nothing that a request to wait longer between courses couldn’t fix.
My pan fried scallops with parsnip and smoke bacon (£8.95) were delicious. I followed it with a main of roasted duck with horseradish mash, root veg, thyme and garlic sauce (fabulous too), and then shared a cheeseboard with Mr Muddy, before being wheeled out of the room and rolled up to bed. Apologies for not taking pictures of the food, but it was all dimmed lights in there and I didn’t want to upset the other guests by using my flash all the time. I know, strangely considerate, but don’t worry, I’ve made a full recovery.
The next morning it was frankly essential to have a full English breakfast – how else can I hope to gain my goal of reaching 20 stone by 2015? – in the banquette-and-parquette-tastic breakfast room.
No surprise that it, too, was perfectly presented. After the massive fires and historical atmosphere of the restaurant, it was the complete opposite experience for breakfast – light, airy, modern.
I think for me that was the real pleasure in The Porch House – I’m an absolute nut for old buildings, love them in fact – but I like mod cons too, and I much prefer service non-stuffy and friendly. I think The Porch House has steered that line perfectly.
And on that happy note, here’s the Muddy loo shot to complete my review, back by reader demand. Bizarre but true!
The Muddy Verdict:
Good for: couples making an escape, friends gathering for special occasions – there’s a lovely private dining room and with 13 rooms available you can have quite a bash. At rooms from £100 a night, it’s not going to break the bank either, and of course you have the Cotswolds literally on your doorstep.
Not for: those who like things formal. There’s a slightly odd arrangement where there’s no physical reception desk, so you have to wait in the hallway until a staff member stops to help on arrival and departure, though the upside is you’re taking upstairs immediately and check-in via ipad in the bedroom. Car lovers might um-and-ah at the small car park. We had to park on the roadside but it was fine (I mean, it’s Stow for godsake!) but maybe I’d think twice if I had an Aston Martin. *sigh*
£££: Good value for rooms with rooms starting between £99/£129/£159 (including breakfast and papers). The restaurant was mid-range too – there are some more expensive dishes (rib-eye steaks for £19.95 for example) but soup starters were £4.95 and mains started at £12.95 so you could eat well without feeling the pinch.
The Porch House, Digbeth Street, Stow on the Wold, GL54 1BN. Tel: 01451 870 048. www.porch-house.co.uk