My most striking memory of my visit to Combe Grove Manor Hotel is the friendliness of the staff. A young woman at the front desk managed to welcome us, say farewell to some guests leaving a wedding, help someone looking for a dry corner to leave an umbrella – all at the same time. There was limited space in the hallway yet we were all attended to.
Later, with our cases abandoned, we set off to explore. Another young woman responded immediately when I asked about the history of the building (it’s an old manor house, but you may have guessed that) by bringing a hand-out with details and then showing us round. One room was dressed in purple and white for a wedding, but there was still plenty of space in the lounge for guests so we did not feel in the least pushed out by the celebrations. (The wedding explained the smell of mulled wine in the hallway: there are many worse smells to be greeted by.)
At dinner (oh the food – my friend drooled over her guinea fowl while I had bream that tasted of the sea) we asked a waitress about lights along the skyline and she took the time to chat about the view across the valley. And a French waiter attended to us, discreetly but with quiet humour and a murmured, ‘Voila’ whenever he gave us something that made us want to ask for more just to hear him say it.
The Hotel itself is elegant – and shows its age in places, leaving the owners with a problem. For instance, it is a listed building but ancient tiles in the hallway are cracked and breaking now, yet English Heritage insist they cannot be replaced. Keeping up buildings in such circumstances is difficult, and I felt that the management have done as well as they can.
The setting is magnificent – and would probably be even more wonderful on a sunny day. There are countless small bowers, and little courtyards, all with tables and chairs where guests can sit for tea on sunny days. I would have liked to explore the grounds, but the rain was persistent and unforgiving, and the hill falls away steeply. I had no wish to slip down it on my bottom, and this feels far too elegant a hotel to return to covered in mud. Even so, we admired the view from hotel windows – and were rewarded with the sight of a green woodpecker, undaunted by the weather, pecking at the lawn near the window.
Instead, we explored the Country Club. The outdoor pool was closed for the winter, though we saw how well-designed it is, nestling among the trees. Indoors: the gym is well-equipped, with plenty of machines for everyone. We could have joined in Zumba classes or Power Yoga (I looked through the window at the Power Yoga class and decided against – my body is not designed to do that!). Instead we swam in the indoor pool. The setting for this pool is stunning: when the weather is warm the doors can be thrown open. Loungers at the far end look out across the valley, and to the side are shrubs and small trees. All the doors were firmly closed when we were there, but the views through the windows make the most of the setting. The pool was an ample size for swimming. Alongside is the best jacuzzi I have ever sat in. There is also a sauna and steam room. So there is plenty to do to fill a wet day. Should the sun shine, there is a three-mile walk through the grounds – and I expect there are plenty more paths to explore through the woodland if you are feeling adventurous.
And the essentials: the room was spotless and the beds comfortable. What more could you possibly need?
Combe Grove Manor Hotel