It’s not every hotel where your interconnecting family rooms have their own conservatory complete with orange trees and grapevines, or where the chef hands your kids some freshly picked strawberries on his way back from the vegetable plot to the kitchen. But then the Old Swan and Minster Mill on the gorgeously named River Windrush in the depths of Cotwolds countryside in Oxfordshire is no ordinary hotel.
Of interest, particularly, to parents who don’t want to sacrifice style and sybaritic comfort for child-friendliness, the Old Swan and Minster Mill welcomes its junior visitors with a whole range of amenities including a wooden obstacle course, a ‘guinea-pig village’ and a boules court beside the kitchen garden, summerhouse, free-range chicken pen and duckhouse.
My boys loved exploring the extensive grounds through which the river does indeed rush (signs alert you to the need to supervise young children closely). Several bridges cross the water, making this a great place to play tag, hide and seek and pooh-sticks, and paths wind through the adjoining meadows, encouraging you to roam at will. Sculptures also dot the grounds, and there is a croquet lawn, a tennis court and an indoor playroom with stuff for both older and younger kids, including a mini-football table, boardgames and paints. A swimming pool will join the amenities before too long, as part of the addition of a full spa (there are currently treatment rooms and a small gym).
Our interconnecting rooms, though not huge in themselves, each had a conservatory plus a sun-trap patio, meaning we had more than enough space to spread out in. Mini teddy bears, bathrobes, White Company toiletries, plates of fresh berries and sliced oranges on arrival, and a carafe of cherry liqueur were little touches that made us feel extra welcome.
As the hotel occupies a collection of very old buildings, the rooms are all highly individual in design and feel. Ours (rooms 416 and 417) were set apart from the main buildings at the top of a slope overlooking the river and terrace courts; others have their own river terraces. But overall the hotel is so spread out that even when it’s busy, you won’t feel crowded out or in anybody’s way.
It being fine June weather, we spent most of our time outside. A leisurely breakfast on the restaurant terrace featured more fresh berries, full English, pancakes and the likes of smoked salmon and scrambled eggs from the hotel’s contented chooks. Inside it’s all uneven flagstone floors, panelled wood, low ceilings, big fireplaces and old arms and armour hanging from the walls – an interior perhaps better befitting cosy winter than summer breaks. The restaurant is as child-friendly as the rest of this thoughtful hotel, offering a kids' menu plus, for grown-ups, good local fare such as pan-roast rib of Oxfordshire lamb with redcurrant jus and rosemary mash.
The Old Swan and Minster is a rare boutique hotel in which you can genuinely relax with your brood in tow, without feeling that anyone is going to disapprove of you, and one where you feel that genuine consideration has gone into making guests – all guests – happy. Check in, and you’ll never want to leave.
Read more about family holidays and breaks in the Cotswolds, including things to do with kids.