Ventures to country houses are often considered just for those with deep wallets, couples celebrating an anniversary, businesses looking to motivate/bribe staff or the retired frittering away their dependents’ inheritance – but they needn’t be…
It’s true, my latest trip to Barnsley House, near Cirencester, would make many a mother gasp ‘how much?’ – a G&T will set you back a tenner and don’t expect a room for less than £275 a night – but with the return breath there is also something reassuringly expensive about ‘paying for what you get’. And what you get is worth that extra dollar.
To start with, the set-aside Garden Spa at Barnsley House is a little thing of beauty. Featuring a steam room, a sauna, a relaxation area, a couple of treatment rooms and an outside hydrotherapy pool, it’s not the biggest set-up you’ll find, but the clean design and attention to detail complement the history and expected creaks and groans of the old house perfectly. Think Adele duetting with Bing Crosby on a Neil Young number through the medium of vinyl and you’ll be in the right ballpark.
The house, built by the village’s squire in the 17th-century, is contemporary and stylish but packed with character and makes history fun again. While the lounge and bar are snugs in their own right, the bedrooms seem to go on forever, beautifully furnished and created solely with you, the customer in mind. There is no attempt to scrimp on space – the bathroom itself is as big as my front room – and if I had brought my cat we could have swung merrily. The facilities are modern, extremely comfortable and if you have the time and with the weather against you, lounging around in the bedroom makes perfect sense. If the gods are smiling and the sun is out, however, the gardens are well worth a potter around and the kitchen garden especially will plant seeds of hunger as you prepare for your dinner in Barnsley House’s own restaurant.
The Potager retains the informal approach of the hotel and has a creative menu that leaves no stone unturned. The Vincisgrassi (Barnsley house’s speciality of baked pasta with Parma ham, porcini and truffle adapted from an 18th-century recipe) is lasagne without the mess and plenty more flavour. I followed this unabashedly with the fillet steak, accompanied as it was with garden greens, hand-cut chips, shallot tempura and red wine. Down my way the shallot tempura may well be known as onion rings, but they were better, way better, and added a subtle tone to the excellent piece of meat. A side of Swiss chard rounded off the dish perfectly and the chocolate fondant completed my three courses with bells on.
My partner’s vegetable tempura looked stunning and word is the taste matched the visuals, while her main of Isle of Mull scallops, pancetta cime di rapa and chickpea purée was the star of the show. The homemade sorbet desserts gently concluded her time at the table. An obligatory digestif in the lounge by the fire almost put us to sleep, but fortunately we had our bedroom to fulfil that task – one we were quite ready for by this stage.
Barnsley House is one of those places that you would always recommend to friends. It has charm and it’s unhurried and casual. The staff are there in force to make your stay as agreeable, although their presence is rarely noticed as they go about their business with clarity and conviction, leaving you to reap the numerous benefits.
When parting with large sums of money for a weekend away it’s important that you choose the right venue where you are assured of value for your buck. Barnsley House has a price, but it’s definitely a price worth paying as you will leave satisfied that not a penny has been wasted and with relaxed smile ready to take you into the next week ahead.