Cowley Manor is tucked away in the Cotswolds not far from Cheltenham, less than a two-hour drive from London, making it a perfect weekend break for us. A country house hotel and spa that caters to families, Cowley Manor is set in the most beautiful 55 acres of parkland. Perfect for people of all sizes to explore AND with two swimming pools, there's a lot to keep everyone entertained. We've been lucky enough to go twice this summer, the first time was my birthday and anniversary gift to the vegetarian, and only our second holiday with baby in tow. The second was a complimentary stay because although, we'd found the place itself magical, the service had been really poor. So, we were invited back with a now toddling Archie to give Cowley another shot and I'm pleased to say we were not disappointed.
Our first trip to Cowley was in July during that intense heatwave so couldn't have been better timed. Not only did we get to escape the melting heat of London, we also had the bonus of an outdoor swimming pool and rolling lawns to enjoy. Our trip back to Cowley in August was slightly different as the weather was less kind but actually all it meant was we spent more time splashing about in the indoor pool and letting Archie loose in the sitting room whilst we covertly scoffed cream teas. Perfect!
We mentioned ahead of time that Archie has a nap at midday and although our room wasn't ready they were kind enough to reserve the private sitting room for us so junior could nap - not that he did he was too busy trying to remove all the logs from the fireplace. Both times we stayed in an 'Exceptional Room' in the stable block which had an adjoining living room space facing out onto a lovely courtyard and a mezzanine bathroom with both bath and large shower enclosure. Terribly posh! The decor has a modern Scandi vibe and the room felt airy and massive thanks to very high ceilings. During the heatwave the room and the living room with its sliding glass doors were a sun magnet and the one fan we had did very little to help, so some air con is definitely in order but our August stay was perfect thanks to the cooler weather.
The first time we stayed we had Archie in with us and of an evening we'd sit in the adjoining living room eating our dinner but this didn't work well. Firstly, it meant we had to creep through the room where he was sleeping to let room service in and then attempt to get back to our base without dropping anything or waking the baby and secondly he just woke up constantly with us creeping about in the room. So, the second time we made the living room his bedroom which worked much better. We had an issue with light flooding the room through a glass partition but when mentioned to Bethanie Lee the 'Rooms Division Manager', the team went to the great lengths of getting it painted to block out the light! Worked a treat and was really appreciated.
As you've guessed, food is a big factor for me on a vacay (who am I kidding, it's a 24hr obsession!). Cowley offers a simple day time menu of sandwiches and soups in the sitting room or bar and stone baked pizza's if you're down in the spa. You can have a proper lunch in the restaurant but we never did. There's a children's menu available all day with the kind of things you'd expect, spag bol, chicken Kiev, mac cheese etc in ample portions which went down well. Having worked up an appetite doing loads of lengths (ahem bobbing up and down in the pool with junior) we indulged in their amazing cream tea a couple of times which although pricey, as you'd expect from a hotel, were absolutely delicious. You can also order a picnic which you can have at one of the numerous beauty spots dotted around the grounds but we just never got around to it!
Come the evenings kids can eat in the sitting room or the bar area but not the restaurant so when the weather was nice we fed Archie on the terrace, dodging the militant wasps, or in the lounge looking out over the parklands which was lovely. Due to Archie's early bedtime we'd then plonk ourselves in the room, watch crap telly and treat ourselves to posh room service. The restraurant menu which bills itself as 'Celebrating Britain’s culinary heritage and embracing international food influences', was an interesting mix of dishes with sustainably sourced produce and felt very highend. Over the course of our 3 night stay we tried the Chargrilled Portland Squid W/Harissa, the Moule Mouclade, the Cowley Vegetable Garden, pizzas, burgers and, of course, indulged in the 'A Taste of Malt' pudding extravaganza. All were all delicious and survived being room service but I imagine would have faired slightly better if served pipping hot in the restaurant. On the food front, of course, I'm a hard one to please so on our second evening when our room service arrived through the pouring rain without lids , the finger bowl slopped all over the tray and the waitress giggling as she admitting she had spilt it due to having shaky hands as she proceeded to wipe off a sopping wet bill for us to sign rather than rectify the mess it's safe to say I wasn't happy. Our meal was both wet and cold. For a hotel of Cowley's calibre, charging the premium it does, this felt sloppy. The vegetrain's main complaint on the food front was the lack of exciting options for him and as he rightly points out risotto is a safe and boring bet usually on offer for veggiesso, he mostly had pizza which he will never complain about but would've liked more choice.
The lawn had lots of entertaining things for little ones to explore, from giant Connect Four to Jenga and hammocks. There's also an impressive series of lakes at the bottom with a Victorian cascade all surrounded by more magical nooks to explore so it was easy to keep Archie entertained even if we did have to stop him trying to walk straight into the water several times! We shared childcare duties so each of us could indulge in a bit of spa action, of course! The ladies running the C-Side spa which was spitting distance from our room were lovely and the treatments were good. I had a full body massage and my second ever facial and Rod had a slightly more brutal deep tissue massage. I'd love to say I came out looking five years younger and fly as (see face below) but I definitely came out a lot more relaxed and less frazzled (Archie had been up 1-2x a night teething).
I'm glad to say the service the second time was on point apart from the issue with room service. Good service is always important but even more so when you have an impatient baby or toddler in tow that can't grasp the notion of 'waiting' for anything. It has had some bad press on Trip Advisor recently which was down to staffing issues they've taken steps to right and our second experience was worlds apart from our first trip. We had a wonderful 3 days at Cowley, the staff were incredibly friendly and accommodating and Bethanie was always there to help with any queries and Archie absolutely loved tearing around the place. Our room was spacious and felt luxurious and the whole trip felt like it catered to all of us without many compromises. It would've been nice to have a romantic dinner in the restaurant one night but we decided not to try out the babysitter option (the don't do baby listening) as Archie was teething and being unpredictable. We would definitely return to Cowley, it's the perfect short break with a baby/toddler or kid as it's so easy and you know even if it's tipping down there's an indoor pool and the stunning grounds to explore - you just need to pack the waterproofs and wellies. For us, it's not an everyday getaway as it quickly adds up but definitely an indulgent once a year treat.
We stayed during the week on a 3 for 2 offer which is worth checking out. You can get more info here CLICK.