The glorious Cotswolds, England’s largest Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, has long been a popular choice for a leisurely break. Tourists from all areas flock to this charming stretch of south-central England to stroll through its picture-postcard towns, famous for their golden stone streets, bridges and monuments.
Such an idyllic setting means there is a wide choice of accommodation to choose from, but it can still be challenging to pick just the right place for a well-earned respite, especially if you’re going as part of a mixed group. A recent invite by Michael Paul Holidays to stay at Bruern Cottages with a group of fellow bloggers gave me the perfect opportunity to discover exactly what makes this group of luxury cottages one of the region’s best self-catering options for families and mixed groups of friends.
Michael Paul Holidays
Our host during the stay was Michael Paul himself. After many years in the leisure business, Michael set up his own distinctive and high-quality brand, offering hand-picked luxury leisure accommodation and the highest service standards in the industry. He now features over 1000 properties, partnering with only the very best providers in the UK.
Thanks to its customised technology, you can book any of the properties on the Michael Paul Holidays website in the knowledge that the prices are exactly the same as you’d find directly and the availability is completely up-to-date.
From country estates to coastal delights such as a former lighthouse keeper’s cottage and from stunning barn conversions to log cabins with hot tubs and spectacular views, it’s the focus on quality and service which really stands out with Michael Paul Holidays, because each property is personally vetted before inclusion in the portfolio.
A country retreat at Bruern Cottages
Snuggled in the rolling countryside between Chipping Norton and Burford, the award-winning Bruern Cottages comprise 12 individual self-catering dwellings, each one oozing its own blend of countryside ambience with modern comforts.
The centrepiece of the Bruern estate was once the stately home of Bruern Abbey (you can catch sight of it across the lane), whose origins go back to the early 18th century, with the Stable Yard being completed much later, in 1882. The entire estate was bought by the celebrated Astor family in 1947 and although the main house was sold off in 1984, the Stable Yard, since converted into the stylish cottages we’re staying in, remains under the ownership of Judy Astor.
In an intriguing example of history coming full circle, Judy’s current home stands on the site of the original Cistercian Abbey in the area, which was founded in 1147 but fell foul of Henry VIII’s campaign against the monasteries in the 16th century.
Each of the cottages has the core hallmarks of an elegant English country residence, with welcoming hearth and either a four-poster or canopied bed. Thoroughly modern and high-spec kitchens and well-equipped bathrooms complement the traditional features in the rest of the accommodation, and antique furniture combines with classic late-20th century décor to give an ambience of authenticity. These aren’t soulless, design-by-numbers show properties, they very much have the air of living, breathing homes.
An overnight stay at Aintree Cottage
I stayed in Aintree Cottage, which once served as a bothy (staff accommodation) – and it proved to be the most wonderfully cosy and relaxed environment.
A grand fireplace provides the impressive focal point for the lounge, around which the rest of the furniture is arranged, from comfy sofas to individually-upholstered chairs and even a kelim-covered broad stool. Clusters of artsy books, various ornaments and pictures, all set against a backdrop of pale colours and stencilled patterns, complete the home-from-home look. But among these features of refinement and sophistication, we discovered Aintree Cottage’s other side – a door under our stairs revealed a huge and impressively equipped ‘cubby hole’ playroom, containing a treasure trove of toys and games for younger generations.
In the spacious kitchen, a country dresser, circular dining table, chunky butcher’s block trolley and a mix of stainless-steel and ceramic utensils on flecked-granite worktops all come together to give a contemporary feel.
The upstairs, partly built into the eaves, is all understated charm; the muted tones of the bedrooms are splashed with accents of chintz and white linen, and original wooden floors creakily display their well-trodden heritage. The bathrooms feature heated towel rails, power showers and a range of skincare products from the luxury skincare range Elemis.
That evening, with the log fire spluttering away, a glass of bubbly in my hand and the good company of my fellow guests, the hours drifted dreamily by in easy conversation. Once we’d called it a night, my bed, with its black-painted bedstead, was super snuggly and if it hadn’t been for the aroma of sizzling bacon wafting up the stairway the following morning, I would have struggled to tear myself away from the fabulously fluffy bedclothes.
A welcome hamper of local delights
Speaking of the sizzling bacon, one of the key benefits of a stay at Bruern Cottages is the luxury welcome hamper that awaits you on arrival and makes your mouth water before you even sample it – we’re talking quality organic ingredients from local suppliers; thick slices of bacon and succulent sausages from Paddock Farm, a hearty farmhouse loaf, regional cheese and butter, fruit juice, home-made cake (lemon drizzle…my favourite!) and one item from a little further afield – a bottle of Heidsieck & C° Monopole champagne.
Also in the kitchen was a much appreciated selection of essential ingredients, such as fresh milk (in glass bottles – I love that), condiments, preserves, rapeseed oil and quality tea and coffee. And yes, the coffee machine was there too! Each welcome hamper is tailored to the specific needs of the visiting party, so your holiday will always get off to the best possible start.
Bruern’s grounds and facilities
The grounds around Bruern Cottages are as impressive as you’d expect, with sculpted hedges and an arched colonnade providing intrigue, despite the limited blooms at this time of year. Throughout the grounds, clusters of shrubs in verdant shades huddle together, waiting for warmer times ahead. But it’s late autumn as I stroll around on this visit, so it’s down to the hardy perennials and seasonal berries to provide a burst of colour.
There’s a grand lawn at the back of the cottages, with a couple of goal posts and a lone football in place for the next afternoon kickabout – further evidence of the family-friendliness of the whole place. And there’s a well-equipped gym and spa within the estate too, bringing an extra dimension to the country retreat experience. From the outside, it’s impossible to tell what the other cottages are like inside, but luckily, two of our group were staying at Sandown Cottage next door, so I was able to pop over and appreciate how the layouts vary between cottages, although the amenities are of the same high standard and the styling and décor consistent with the overall theme.
Stepping out into the surrounding Cotswolds
While it may be difficult to tear yourself away from the arduous task of relaxing at Bruern Cottages, there’s a whole world of Cotswold quaintness just a few minutes away. Stow-on-the-Wold, Chipping Norton, Bourton-on-the-Water, Moreton-in-Marsh – these iconic towns are famous for a reason and are well worth exploring, especially as they are so close by (just 16 minutes by car to Stow-on-the-Wold). I managed to squeeze in a brief visit to Burford on the way home and enjoy the golden architecture of its cute shops, pubs and hidden alleys. Needless to say, I can’t wait to return for a more in-depth look around the area and if I can persuade some friends to join me, I know just the place to stay.
Getting to Bruern Cottages
The Bruern estate’s location in south-central England makes it easily accessible from multiple directions, such as from the M5 to the west, from the M4 to the south and from the Midlands to the north. It lies just 45 minutes from Oxford by car, along the A40 and turning off at Burford. The nearest train station is 3 miles away at Kingham.
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Boutique Travel Blog was a guest at Bruern Cottages courtesy of Michael Paul Holidays. Thanks to Michael for hosting our group and for regaling us with some marvellous stories and thanks also to Bruern Cottages for the very lovely stay and welcome hamper. Our appreciation also goes to Heather Cowper for arranging the event.
Sara is a writer and editor with a varied background in tourism, encompassing content creation, product development, and health and safety.