Jewel of the Crown

A boutique stay in the North Cotswolds.

If you’ve always wanted to explore more of the Cotswolds, then there’s much to be said for staying overnight to appreciate the charm of the area to the full. We were recently invited to enjoy a night’s stay at The Crown at Church Enstone, some four miles from the bustling town of Chipping Norton.

Drive into Church Enstone, and it’s as if all the cares of modern living have dropped away. You’ll find thatched cottages, the fine local church, apples ripening on the trees and the sounds of bees doing what bees do best. Then there’s The Crown itself. You get a real sense of its history as a centre for village life, complete with a snug bar, stone floors and beams to endorse that heritage. Now owned by local artist George Irvine and his wife Victoria, The Crown includes a restaurant and dining conservatory plus five splendid rooms in which to enjoy your time in the Cotswolds. You’ll see the artist’s works in the public spaces of the building, adding vibrancy and colour aplenty.

We visited during a July heatwave, and were immediately drawn to the beautiful gardens where we enjoyed the artwork (yes, it extends to the garden too) while shading ourselves in comfort under a big, beautiful umbrella. Birds sang, bees buzzed and flowers bloomed. It was definitely a matter of living our best lives.

Upstairs, our room was full of character, while being packed with every convenience. Beamed and with an enormous bed, our room (named Great Tew) overlooked the front of the property, with a view of thatched cottages in the lane. Simply and elegantly styled – the work of Victoria Irvine – the room demonstrates design decisions that seem easy, but are so difficult to achieve as successfully as is demonstrated here. From the little details – tea came in a tin marked “Tea Rations” – to plump pillows and a stylish grey comforter, it’s a room in which to revitalise yourself for the next day’s exploration of the Cotswolds.

Then there was the bathroom. I had fantasies of kidnapping it, and sneaking it home in my pocket. There was a large elegant tub, in which a person shorter than me could probably have swam. The walk in shower was the perfect balance of style and function. Toiletries from 100 Acres added to the feeling of wellbeing, and made both room and person wonderfully scented.

Suitably refreshed and very hungry, we headed down to dinner. It’s possible to eat in the bar, the garden, or the conservatory, as well as in the restaurant. The menu was reassuringly focused, with a selection of seasonal choices, plus a number of regular favourites. My starter of a chicken terrine came with a spicy chutney which made a perfect counterpart. My partner’s choice of smoked trout with a potato salad was described as wonderful.

Mains involved fish and chips, featuring a fine tail curl on the crispy batter. I opted for swordfish nicoise with a tomato and mango salsa. This was summer on a plate, singing out in colour and flavour. Both healthy and delicious, it felt as if a party was going on in my mouth. I didn’t have room for dessert, but from the speed with which limoncello cheesecake disappeared, I can only conclude that it was fabulous.

We sat outside for a while enjoying the night air in the garden. The bar at The Crown carries a good selection of real ales. We loved seeing that the bar itself is dog friendly – I may have fallen for the rather waggy black labrador enjoying his evening there. The magnificent hearth speaks well of The Crown’s appeal across the seasons. I can imagine enjoying the warmth of an open fire there on a chilly winter’s night.

A sound night’s sleep in the exceptionally comfortable bed had us ready to explore more of The Crown’s culinary offerings at breakfast. We ate in the conservatory, with the doors open to a gentle breeze and the sound of more birdsong. There was a table to help ourselves to many breakfast offerings, from homemade granola through to some magnificent choices of breads – the kinds with crust so crisp you know they are going to taste incredible. Even the marmalade was packed with rich peel and the honey was local, showing beautiful attention to detail.

Neither of us could resist the kedgeree, which came with more of the smoked trout that proved equally wonderful as it had been in last night’s starter. We both gazed rather enviously at the smoked salmon and scrambled eggs making its way to another guest. You can also try a traditional English cooked breakfast, of course, or poached eggs with salsa verde.

If you have food allergies, I am also very happy to commend The Crown to you. Being gluten free and lactose intolerant, I’m often in a position where I have very little choice from a menu. But that’s not the case at all here, where I was spoilt with plenty of options at both dinner and breakfast. The chef was diligent and painstaking. Little details like making me the crispest gluten free toast I’ve had the pleasure to experience made the experience even better.

If you can drag yourself away from the charms of The Crown’s hospitality, there is plenty to do in the surrounding area. You are just a few minutes drive from Chipping Norton, with its classic honeyed stone buildings. We encountered a bustling market there. Not far away, you also have Blenheim Palace, birthplace and ancestral home of Sir Winston Churchill. Then there’s the wonderful Arboretum at Batsford, where you can enjoy the pleasures of wandering the woods, or the Cotswolds Way, one of Britain’s national paths.

Don’t forget Snowshill Lavender Farm, full of fragrant beauty, and Chipping Campden, a town that seems to encapsulate so much of the beauty of the Cotswolds. This is a trip you could take at any time of year. From the celebration of endless summer days, to a carpet of crispy autumn leaves and hoar frost in winter, the Cotswolds is enduringly appealing.

We stayed as guests of The Crown Inn, Church Enstone, Oxfordshire.