Deep in the Wiltshire countryside, nestled between Badminton Park and the Westonbirt Arboretum, yet less than 15 minutes from the M4 Whatley Manor lives up to its promise to “Restore and Revive”. A tree lined drive leads you to Whatley Manor’s huge solid oak gates which swing open in front of you, then shut silently behind you to embrace you in the hotel’s inner tranquility. This private manor house, in 12 acres of stunning and intriguingly landscaped gardens, was beautifully restored in 2003 to become the luxurious 23 bedroom hotel it is today. The hotel aims to host rather than serve its guests, giving more of a feeling of staying in a large country house rather than a hotel. While we were there, for example, manager Peter Egli greeted all of the guests during breakfast. While retaining its Cotswold charm with roaring log fires and herbaceous borders, it features some modern twists including a purpose built conference suite and a 40 seat cinema, available for private hire. With a Michelin two-starred restaurants and one of the finest spas in Europe, this hotel lays down the gauntlet to Britain’s “greats” such as Le Manoir aux Quatre Saisons. The hotel offers a choice of two restaurants; “The Dining Room” for formal dinner from Wednesday to Sunday nights inclusive, and a brasserie, Le Mazot, for breakfasts and less formal dinners and lunches. The Dining Room offers the ultimate in formal dining, with an intimate dining room and very attentive service. Choose from a taster menu, or “a la carte”, both of which are punctuated with additional amuse bouches. This is, from recollection, the only restaurant that I have been served not one but two pre-dessert courses. The chef works hard to demonstrate his two Michelin star credentials with dishes to suit all tastes, including some interestingly edgy combinations, such as a dessert of chicory served with black truffle icecream and roquefort cream. The wine list is varied and priced for all tastes, and the Sommelier both knowlegable and charming. Le Mazot, by contrast, has a much more laid back attitude to service although the food is of a similar exceptional standard, and the kitchens for both restaurants are presided over by the same chef. There are a choice of 15 standard, superior or deluxe rooms and 8 suites, each one equipped to the highest standards with antique and contemporary furniture, interesting art, Bang & Olufsen sound and vision and sumptuous beds. The bathrooms are bright, spotless and decadent; think stone, glass and gleaming stainless steel. We stayed in one of the deluxe suites; a beautiful self contained stone cottage on the central courtyard with a huge bedroom looking over the gardens, with tow bathrooms and a comfortable mezzanine level for lazy mornings with the paper and a cup of tea, both delivered to us in the morning. There is a significant price difference between the different grades of room, but all are delightful and include early morning tea or coffee, newspaper, full English breakfast, use of the spa facilities, VAT and a 10% discretionary service charge, which we feel represents exceptional value for money.
The hotel’s Aquarias Spa is a destination in its own right, but only accepts day members from Mondays to Thursdays. It is imaginatively designed following an age old concept and centers around a large round indoor/outdoor hydrotherapy pool with relaxation areas including a sensory wave room, a tepidarium and a stylish bistro area. There is also a range of saunas, steam rooms, a thermal cabin and salt rub showers, plus various treatment rooms including a VIP suite suitable for couples. We tried a deep tissue massage, which was delivered with skill, and a La Prairie facial, made all the more decadent with an ergonomically contoured heated treatment couch. The therapists were friendly and clearly very knowledgeable. Aquarias is the only spa in the UK to offer the Iyashi Dome Ritual. Lying in a heated cabinet with your head gently cooled with a fan, the dome heats your body to induce a profuse detoxifying sweat. Fans of this unique treatment find that it re-energises, regenerates and tones as a result of the inevitable break down of fats within the body.