If you long for log fires, real country charm and wintry walks where you hardly meet another soul, then head to Old Swan & Minster Mill in the Cotswolds. This pair of historic properties, the Old Swan an authentic six-hundred-year-old inn and Minster Mill a former 18th century mill, separated by a lane in the middle of a lovely Cotswold stone village is a perfect setting.
With over sixty-five acres of picturesque countryside surrounding it, the Old Swan and Minster Mill is located in the village of Old Minster, Minster Lovell, between Burford and Witney and less than 2 hour’s drive from London.
My husband and I arrived late on Friday night and check in was done very efficiently in Minster Mill. We were taken to our room, the Garden Suite which sits in the courtyard of the Old Swan and greeted by two ducks that reside in a small pond less than 10 metres from our front door.
Expectations are always going to be high of a de Savary property, given the entrepreneur’s reputation for making over old properties and introducing them with a touch of quirky class.
The Old Swan has 15 bedrooms, three with four-posters and all different, but furnished in traditional style. Money has been spent on bringing the plumbing into the 21st century, with all the stone and chrome that implies, while the decanter of sloe gin or whisky on the coffee table recalls a less judgemental age. The 44 rooms in the Mill are more functional, but equally fit-for-purpose in terms of comfort and convenience. The choice includes several outstanding river rooms with their own private terrace with Fire Pit, family (interconnecting) rooms and several dog-friendly rooms.
Behind the scenes there’s an impressive commitment to green energy: much of the Old Swan is run on hydro power, particularly since the recent installation of an Archimedes Screw, harnessing the power of the river.
Next door to the Old Swan is the newly restored detached Swan Cottage dating back to the early Victorian period. Set behind its own gated garden with private parking, the cottage provides 3 luxurious en-suite bedrooms (2 king and 1 twin/king). The cosy sitting room has a log-burning stove and separate dining area with a wet bar. Outside is a terrace with dining area and a fire pit leading to a cottage garden with lawn. Ideal for families and friends or those looking for more space and privacy, the cottage is also dog friendly.
The River Windrush meanders through the back of the property and is a lovely spot for fishing and a great spot for picnics in the summer.
Our garden suite, recently renovated, has a beamed ceiling, an enormous comfortable bed, a comfy leather sofa plus desk and chair. The suite has a bathroom on one end of the room and a walk in shower room at the other end of the room.
We had made a late dinner reservation and the staff made us feel relaxed without the usual rush of closing the kitchens.
Old Swan serves gastro-style pub food and the pub and restaurant have an incredibly warm, cosy atmosphere and brimming with character. The philosophy of the de Savary Family’s inns is to serve fresh, homegrown and locally produced ingredients cooked simply and with inspiration. The gastro-inn inspired menus are created by their celebrated Chef, and are changed regularly according to what’s available in their vegetable gardens as well as the excellent selection of real ale and fine wines.
I decide to go for baked fillet salmon whilst my husband, a vegetarian, had roasted butternut squash and garden sage risotto followed by sticky toffee pudding which was superb.
We wanted to make the most of the weekend and had an early breakfast which is set up buffet style with an array of tempting treats on offer. After indulging in a full English breakfast, we decided to walk off the calories.
As this was our first time to the Cotswolds, we decided to explore and with the help of a great self-guided booklet put together by Old Swan and Minster Mill we headed off for our walk to Crawley and back. The booklet also tells you approximately how long the walks will take and highlighting areas of interest.
Our walk took us past the water meadows on the south side of the river before passing through the ruins of Minster Hall, a 15th century manor house located by the river. Built in the 1440’s by Lord William Lovell it was further extended by his son, Lord Francis, who was Lord Chamberlain to Richard III. The King is known to have stayed at the hall. Later the house passed into the Coke family and the last resident Thomas Coke dismantled much of the house to sell off the materials to raise money to build his great house at Holkham in Norfolk.
Recorded in the Domesday Book, the Minster Mill served the community until 1924. Winston Churchill is known to have been a regular at the Old Swan whilst Harold and Mary Wilson spent their honeymoon in this 15th century inn.
Slightly exhausted but exhilarated from the walk we went for a nice wholesome lunch at the Inn.
Local attractions include Blenheim Palace, the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford, the Cotswold Wildlife Park, the Cotswold Falconry Centre, as well as pretty Cotswold towns.
Instead we decided to spend the rest of the afternoon exploring the grounds. There is no shortage of on-site activities. The hotel has a mile of private fishing on the Windrush for trout and coarse fish including pike, grayling and barbel. There’s a tennis court and a boules pitch, plus croquet and badminton lawns so a return will need to be organised in the summer. Two giant outdoor chessboards invite a more intellectual approach.
In addition to the well-equipped fitness room and treatment rooms, the state-of-the-art Windrush Spa will open this year, overlooking the River Windrush. The new Spa will have an indoor/outdoor swimming pool, sauna, steam and a full range of specialist treatments and sunbathing terraces.
Another reason to come back in the summer!
Wonky corridors and a wooden spiral staircase conjure up the creakiness of six centuries, though the suit of armour in the hall is a more modern artefact.
Minster Mill offers several ground-floor bedrooms accessible to wheelchair users whilst narrow corridors and frequent changes of level make the bedrooms unsuitable for wheelchair access. Dogs are especially welcome. Complimentary Wi-Fi throughout although it can be patchy when staying at the Old Swan.
Prices start from £175 per night and include breakfast and are based on two sharing.
Old Swan & Minster Mill
Oxfordshire OX29 0RN