Take my advice when you visit Cowley Manor. Even if the Isamu Noguchi table in the sitting room is a little ill-placed, don’t try to move it yourself. Even when you know the freeform glass top merely rests on the swiveling wooden legs and even when you think you’re being careful and it just needs a nudge, you won’t be able to predict how the table will move and inevitably the water tumbler, the potted succulent and the whole glass shebang will tumble dramatically – and loudly – to the floor.
In a cool and stylish place like Cowley Manor, this can make you feel extremely unhip. But don’t worry. Two nice ladies from the bar ran over to help me as I tried to explain I was just trying to shimmy it this way *a little bit*. Surely I must have been one of the most uncool patrons to have committed such a hotel faux pas.
Fifteen minutes later, a man came in, sat on a sofa across the room in front of another Noguchi table…and did the exact same thing. This time I helped along with the two ladies from the bar.
While the hotel certainly doesn’t recommend this little manoeuvre, it’s the kind of place that oozes style and ease while still allowing for that bit of chaos that comes with kids…or slightly clumsy parents.
A retreat not just for young families
Cowley Manor is not a secret –it’s a favourite country house retreat for families looking for a pastroal getaway that’s stylish and off-beat. Ever since my daughter was born, fellow parents have recommended staying there with young children. But thinking of it only as a place for young families misses its appeal for tweens and teens too.
The former dilapidated 19th-century manor, set in 55 acres of land with a Grade II listed garden, eschews the traditional approach of chintz and Chesterfields. The wellies lined up outside the front door are a crayon-box of colour. The original art is modern. The bright colours offset the Cotswold stone fireplaces, arched doorways, pastoral views. The furniture is modern, the textiles British, the vibe fresh.
For the kids, the things that interest are the play areas with croquet, blocks, hammocks, the funky slide on the lawn, the games room, the pools at the C-side spa. Our two 12-year-olds made a beeline for the pool table, covered in brilliant blue baize, before we’d even checked in.
In the room, the two tweens were all oohs and ahhs, from the moment we unlocked the door. “Why don’t we always stay here?” they asked. As soon as we walked in, they stepped outside again. “I have to show Hannah how this works,” my daughter said, closing the door so they could open it themselves with novel electronic key.
We stayed in room 8 in the Stable Block. My husband and I slept in the main room, with an upstairs bathroom cantilevered dramatically over the bed. The bathroom is host to both a tub and a shower, as well as the spa’s Green & Spring toiletries. The girls swooned at the smell of them.
Just off our room was the girls’ nook. A mid-century style sofa had been very cleverly flipped, lifted and locked to make two single bunk beds. A large sliding glass door led to the stable courtyard, with a serene view of a few young trees and some colourful plastic bottles scattered around. “What are those for?” the girls mused. You can lead a tween to a modern art installation….
The room was its own self-contained if small unit. They had their own TV and – crucially for family happiness – their own loo.
What teens will love
The indoor and outdoor pools have family swimming times both morning & afternoon, which means you can splash around without worrying about being “those people”, annoying everyone else. Both pools are heated year-round. Children under-16 must be supervised. I found that wasn’t a problem as I was drafted in to judge the underwater handstand contest.
Lounging here is no hardship, with the fieldstone and slate design.
“The gardens are so big – you can really explore,” my daughter says. With younger children, you’ll need to watch them near the stream that runs past the back of the house. Older kids can be left to roam. They’ll roll themselves up in hammocks, knock around a croquet ball and venture amid the award-winning sculpture in the gardens.
Naturally there’s a games cabinet filled with the usual assortment of half-complete board games. Better to nab a seat at the chess board and test your strategy. The beautiful blue pool table is a joy to play on and even with plenty of families around you’ll be able to claim a slot. The hotel also organises kids’ activities such as learning workshops and animal experiences.
The Malt restaurant is fancy enough to make eating there as a family an occasion, but casual enough, with a Scandi-design feel, that you won’t feel out-of-place with the kids along. We ate in the dining room on the evening of our stay, ending our meal with a bombe that melted under a stream of hot chocolate poured from a jug. The next morning we ate the breakfast buffet on the sunny terrace, a vista of the water and rolling hills racing out in front of us.
Facts to know before you go
- There are 2 dog-friendly rooms
- For children under 12, stays include complimentary breakfast and dinner from kids menu
- The Hambledon shop, a miniature version of the gifts, homewares and accessories boutique in Winchester, is a great place to pick up cute items like vintage games, funky tattoos (I loved the robot one), delicious-smelling toiletries and more
Have you visited Cowley Manor with your young children or teens? Tell me what you thought!