Hillside Hangouts review: Finding a happy place in the Cotswolds

In the hills outside one of the most beautiful villages in the north Cotswolds lie the Hillside Hangouts on the Farncombe Estate in Worcestershire, an attempt to provide a self-catering break that is all things to all people. Toby Keel paid a visit to see if they've succeeded.

I’d barely been in the Cotswolds for an hour when a man I’d never met handed me three of the most fearsome-looking weapons I’ve ever seen, let alone handled. They’re a trio of heavy, triple-bladed metal implements that I learn are called, rather chillingly, ‘Angels’, and I’m meant to be learning how to throw them. Feeling every inch the medieval assassin in training for an attempt on the life of a recalcitrant baron, I take aim at the target ahead, and throw.

The weapon leaves my hand, pirouettes through the air… and sails over the top of the target by a good six feet.

Whoops.

It’s not the usual start to a weekend away; then again, this is anything but a normal weekend away type place. I’ve brought the family down to The Hoot, one of the newly-opened ‘Hillside Hangouts’ on the Farncombe Estate. The estate — a 400-acre chunk of the northern Cotswolds in Worcestershire that sits in the hills a mile or so from the almost absurdly perfect village of Broadway — has several options for places to stay, from the elegant and traditional rooms of Foxhill Manor and Dormy House to the very 21st century treehouses of The Fish.

For this trip, though, we’re staying in one of the newest options: The Hoot, The Nook and Elsker are the three Hillside Hangouts, each of which aims to blend the best bits of self-catering with the best bits of staying in a country house hotel. Hence, as you might have guessed, the chance to try your hand at activities like axe throwing and falconry, being able to while away a few hours at the bar, or sit in the sunshine enjoying a proper restaurant meal, while also having the benefit of a big, comfortable space to call your temporary home.

Actually ‘big’ doesn’t quite cover it when talking about The Hoot. It’s huge. With seven beautifully-done bedrooms and able to sleep 15 people, it’s been gorgeously decorated and brilliantly thought out for what people in the hospitality world like to call ‘multi-generational travel’. There is a vast kitchen with endless appliances (Two dishwashers? Check. A fridge the size of a studio flat in Camden? Check.) while out on the patio there’s a barbecue so big you could probably spit roast an entire pig on it. It’s a venue crying out to host a party, and is far enough away from any neighbours that you won’t have to worry about making noise.

Keep going past the barbecue and you’ll find the hot tub, placed just-so beneath the cherry tree, and looking out across the Cotswolds. They say that from Broadway Tower — which is two minutes up the road — you can see 16 counties on a clear day; frankly, you can probably see a dozen of them while sat in the hot-tub with a glass of something cool and bubbly. Call me a philistine but I’d probably rather stick with the latter.

Okay, so that’s a bit tongue-in-cheek; being able to nip out to such lovely spots nearby is part of the appeal here ( as you’ll see in ‘things to do’, below), but actually, the emphasis at the Hillside Hangouts is on being exactly as active, or not, as you feel. There are TVs on the walls of almost all the rooms (we stole the remotes to stop the kids staying up until 1am), including one in the huge kitchen-dining room which is very nearly as big as the screen at my local village cinema down in Hampshire.

There is also a ping-pong table, log burners and cosy armchairs for damp, chilly days, a load of board games, and — best of all, for an ’80s kid like me — a pair of old-school arcade machines, each loaded up with several hundred retro games from Pac Man to Street Fighter 2.

The Hoot comes with two electronic babysitters.

The sofas are cosy and inviting, the vibe is relaxing and decadent and the staff couldn’t be more helpful whenever you find something you need.

Any downsides? Well, it’s not the sort of beautiful country manor you expect of the Cotswolds, while if you’re after a place with a swimming pool and a classic country house garden, it’s not for you — ignore The Hoot and go for the slightly bigger Elsker instead. And if all this talk of mooching sounds like a big waste of time to you, and that you’d rather be marching across the hills or scouting for antiques up the road in Chipping Campden, then that’s entirely fair enough; spend your time and money elsewhere.

But if you’re looking for an ideal place to chill out for a long weekend with a big, happy group of family and friends, then you may just have found your happy place in the Cotswolds.

Stays at The Hoot start from £1,100 a night based on a minimum three-night stay. If Stays at The Hoot (which sleeps up to 15 in 7 bedrooms, 11 adults and 4 children) start from £1100 per night, minimum three-night stay. For smaller parties, The Nook sleeps up to 8 (6 adults and 2 children ) in 3-ensuite bedrooms, and starts from £625 per night based on a minimum three-night stay.  Stays at Elsker (which has an outdoor pool, a large private garden and sleeps 14 adults and two children) have a minimum one-week stay starting from £9,510 per week, based on up to for a minimum 7-nights. All Hillside Hangouts are dog friendly (up to two dogs). To enquire about bookings please call 01386 854300 or contact the team through the website www.hillsidehangouts.co.uk.

 

Food and drink

One of the joys of self-catering — compared to a hotel — is that you can create your own evenings of food, drink and entertainment just as you like them, and the kitchen as The Hoot is very much made to be used. The Hillside Hangouts hosting team can help source hampers of local produce, if you don’t feel like popping down to the Co-Op in the middle of Broadway.

If you do want a restaurant, though, The Hoot is about 90 seconds walk from Hook, The Fish’s restaurant, whose menu is the brainchild of Michelin star-winning chef Martin Burge; their lemon sole is a true sight to behold. A little further up the hill is the restaurant at Dormy House, with a selection of classic dishes and a garden dining area. And if you are in one of the aforementioned multi-generational groups, you may not even have to look that far: the pizza at on The Deck is genuinely the best I’ve ever had outside southern Italy. And it was better than a fair few I’ve had there.

Things to do

Axe throwing, yoga, golf, archery, falconry and clay pigeon shooting (hopefully those last two are kept well away from each other) are among the activities you can do without even leaving the Farncombe Estate. There are also gardens, ponds and walking trails (they hotel can lend you wellies if you forget yours) which can take you all the way down the hill to Broadway. Just be warned that it looks a lot steeper on the way back up than it does on the way down.

Once you’ve run out of ‘angels’ you can try your luck with throwing knives… good luck with that.

Broadway itself is an unmissable highlight of Cotswolds like, with its classic golden-stone buildings and its high street of delightful independent shops, as well as the Gordon Russell Design Museum. Chipping Campden is another similarly well-known hotspot that’s well worth a visit, while the Slaughters are only a 20-minute drive.

The idyllic image of cottages covered in flowering wisteria on a Cotswold stone wall. These homes are in the village of Broadway, but there are all sorts of other options for those looking to move to the Cotswolds.

The idyllic image of cottages covered in flowering wisteria on a Cotswold stone wall in the village of Broadway. Picture: Robert Harding, Alamy

If you’re keen to visit some of the great houses of the area, don’t miss the very close by Snowshill Manor, and the irresistibly exotic Sezincote, an Indian-influenced marvel that’s like discovering Brighton Pavilion just outside a charming Cotswolds village, and whose ‘adaptation of Indian forms is without precedent in its depth and detail’, according to Max Bryant writing for this very publication.