Cowley Manor and C-Side Spa
This recently refurbished retreat near Cheltenham boasts an impressive Italianate manor house, heated indoor and outdoor swimming pools and beautiful gardens that cascade down to a lovely lake. Rooms have been reimagined to offer a uniquely fun and stylish stay. And, with its hidden spa, and a secret garden that’s rumoured to have been the inspiration for Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, Cowley Manor’s a magical choice for a relaxing break or staycation.
The hotel appeals to party types too, who like to enjoy the bucolic-view balcony and serene C-Side spa with a shot of the design-forward décor and DJ nights at the Experimental Cocktail club.
I was excited to return to Cowley Manor, having first stayed in the beautiful Grade II listed hotel in the early noughties when it was one of the first to inject a contemporary interior into a classic country manor house. But the years following its bold opening by the Curious Group saw the colours fade, the zebra skin bar stools bald, and the animal heads lose the glint in their papier-mâché eyes, until the much-loved hotel closed its doors in 2021.
Now, new owners, The Experimental Group, who already have an array of party properties in Paris, New York and the Balearics, have reopened Cowley Manor’s door for its next chic chapter, bringing the Group’s trademark Parisian pzazz and cool cocktail vibes to this charming country house hotel.
Cowley Manor’s naturally nurturing and award-winning C-Side spa is built into the landscape, just across from the main hotel. With two large and lovely pools, it’s the perfect place to kick back and spend a few relaxing hours enjoying a bit of ‘me time’.
Dive into the 17m indoor pool lined in moody green slate, or chill-out by the large heated outdoor pool with its spacious terrace and Riviera style umbrellas. The spa has a pared-back look, with stone and wood elements giving it a relaxing, organic feel. The indoor pool is flooded with natural light, and its floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking woodlands give a sense of almost Alpine escapism, and the chance nature bathe while you swim.
You’ll also find a sauna and steam room, along with four treatment rooms, a nail bar and a well-equipped gym.
Changing rooms can be found concealed behind flush wooden panels in the spa, with towels, robes and lockers provided. But they’re quite a small spaces, and can get quite busy, so if you’re staying at the hotel you might want to change in your room and head down to the spa in one of the fluffy robes provided in your ensuite.
C-Side spa’s treatment menu features a good range of treatments by local Cotswolds brand, Monu skin. Choose from a range of massages, facials, and exfoliating wraps plus pregnancy treatments. More specialist hi-tec facials are available like the novel Radio Frequency Facial, which aims to firm skin and reduce lines using radio waves. Prescription facials are also available as are those including skin resurfacing using facial peels.
On the body treatment front, the Lime and Walnut Body Wrap exfoliates and nourishes the skin as well as providing 60 minutes of muslin-cocooned relaxation and includes a stress relieving face and scalp massage. Or transport yourself to more exotic climes with the Coconut Indulgence Ritual.
For anyone who doesn’t want to tear themselves away from the pool for too long, the Flash Facial offers a quick pick-me-up, and the Collagen Eye Treatment will help to fight any dark circles or puffiness caused by daily life (or one too many cocktails in the bar).
The 60-minute Muscle Melt Massage is particularly popular with male guests. And there’s a Mum to Be prenatal massage that can be enjoyed for either 60 or 90 minutes.
Spa day packages are also available including, morning or twilight spa sessions that include a 60-minute treatment and either lunch or dinner, plus spa access. Or, you can visit for a full spa day from 10am-6pm with two hours of treatments lunch and full spa access.
Alongside spa treatments, C-Side offers manicures, pedicures, waxing and eyelash tinting.
The spa is open from 7:30 am until 9:00 pm weekdays and 8am ‘til 8pm at weekends and bank holidays.
Children can use the pool between 8:00 am and 11:00 am and 3:30 pm to 5:00 pm
I tried, the signature Mindful Massage, designed, as the name suggests, to soothe body and mind.
The friendly therapist went over the consultation form that I’d completed at reception, asking me about any issues so she could tailor the treatment to target areas of concern – in my case tight shoulders and calf muscles. She then led me down a corridor to one of the four quiet and understated treatment rooms at the back of the spa.
The treatment was relaxing from the get-go, with the therapist starting by inviting me to take some deep breaths, and gently pressing down on my shoulders to start the relaxation. She then got to work on my muscle tension using a range of massage techniques to address my tight shoulders and back, with strong sweeping strokes, and using her forearms for added pressure where needed. She also placed some welcome hot stones on my back for greater muscle release, before working on my legs.
Once I’d turned onto my back, the de-stressing continued, starting with a soothing hot cloth foot cleanse, which always adds nurture points in my opinion. The therapist then worked up to my décolleté and shoulders where she further targeted my tight ‘traps’, this time from above, sweeping down underneath my neck and using the weight of my relaxed torso to increase the pressure. It felt great, and very effective. Before I knew it, the 60 minutes were up, and the treatment came to an end with a soothing scalp massage.
After the treatment, rather than recommending further massage for ongoing self care, the therapist showed me some specific daily stretches, which I really appreciated. I felt that she’d done a great job of listening to what I wanted and tailoring the treatment to my specific needs. She then made me a cup of fresh herbal tea to enjoy at one of the tables in the stylish foyer, while I eyed up the cool cozzies in the shop. There’s no dedicated Relaxation Room at C-Side spa, but there are plenty of poolside loungers, so finding a space to relax post-treatment was no problem.
There are just 31 bedrooms and suites at Cowley Manor, which gives the hotel an exclusive, boutique feel. 16 rooms are in the main house, with 15 more in the Stable Block, just across from the hotel, near the spa. All rooms have been imaginatively refurbished by award-winning French designer, Dorothée Meilichzon, who’s given the rooms a unique, design-forward feel, embracing muted brights and natural light. Real indoor plants add to this, and the décor is refreshingly different from other similarly pitched hotels.
I stayed in room no. 20, overlooking the terrace and well-maintained gardens that cascade down to the hotel’s picture-perfect lake. With a luxurious modern four-poster bed and supersized terracotta-coloured lava stone bath, the room has design-forward look that happily doesn’t compromise comfort. Real up-lit plants create a peaceful ambiance, and chequerboard motifs and bunny door knocker give a nod to the hotel’s Wonderland connection. The room also has its own large private balcony with a table and chairs, and a couple of sun loungers, offering a perfect vantage point from which to admire the view, and enjoy the contents of the carefully curated mini bar.
Other rooms include cosy Petite Cowley rooms in the main house, spacious four-poster Wildflower rooms and suites, and lovely lake view Water Lily rooms. The hotel acknowledges that the cool crowd can also have kids in tow, and younger guests are catered for in the triple-storey Family Tree rooms and two-storey Alpaca rooms. Dogs are welcome in Alpaca and Wildflower terrace rooms too.
wining & dining
Cowley Manor has a grand wood-panelled restaurant offering seasonal dining with locally sourced ingredients. But, as with everything else, the dining experience has an Experimental Group edge. The hotel has enlisted the services of London-based chef and restauranteur Jackson Boxer, who’s created a modern Mediterranean menu, featuring local produce with a French twist. Expect to find delicacies like caviar, ‘raw beef’ and foie gras alongside Tamworth pork chop and Bibury trout from a fish farm just down the road. There are good vegetarian and vegan options too, a decent Anglo-French wine list, and chic and cheerful desserts.
I enjoyed sharing Gloucestershire Old Spot croquettes for starter, and Salt-Baked Beetroot with Sea Buckthorn & Burrata. For main, my fresh Tagliolini with Cornish Lobster and Pickled Chilli, was perfectly piquant and I was happy to find good-sized chunks of lobster hidden in the al dente pasta strands. I finished the meal with a refreshing seasonal pear granita, and a stolen forkful of the to-die-for Caramelised White and Dark Chocolate Mousse, then headed to the bar to chase it all down with some funky tunes and a seasonal Saint Germain cocktail.
As with all Experimental Group properties, cocktails are taken seriously, and the enthusiastic bar staff are keen to shake or stir you up the cocktail of your dreams at the electric blue bar, where you’re invited to get up close and personal as part of the Experimental Cocktail Club experience.
The restaurant serves and great breakfast, with pretty much any cold or continental breakfast item you can think of laid out on an impressive four-metre marble table. And, once you’ve surfed the smorgasbord of breakfast delights, you can take your pick from the equally appealing cooked menu.
why so spavellous?
Cowley Manor’s a fresh, stylish and fun choice for a night away or a longer staycation. Its location is stunning and its interior design has been imaginatively conceived and lavishly executed to offer cool contemporary comfort.
The atmosphere’s grown up, but playful, and the grounds are simply stunning. The spa will put the ahh into your stay and the experimental food and cocktails will surprise and delight. We think a stay’s currently pretty good value for a hotel of this genre too.
Turn-down service is cute with homemade macaroons so delicious that I defy you to disobey the ‘eat me’ instructions.
It’s worth scanning the QR code which leads you to all the hotel info. and mini bar prices before you quaff and scoff the contents of the more-ish mini bar.
Book now before prices inevitably increase.
‘The best pools around – it’s like being on holiday.’
‘I’m so glad the spa’s open again, and I love what they’ve done to the hotel.’
‘I’d not heard of the brand Monu Skin but my massage was lovely.’