The hills are alive with the sound of luxury

The Cottage in the Wood and its stunning setting high on the Malvern Hills is the perfect escape for city dwellers, as Lisa Piddington found out on a recent stay

I admit it; I’m an absolute city girl. I love Birmingham and everything it has to offer, whether that’s having the world’s biggest Primark and the luxury of Harvey Nichols on my doorstep or the endless theatre shows, great restaurants and canal-side bars where I can catch up with friends for a night out. But even the most hardened of us city types needs to escape every now and then, and for me, ever since I was a child, that escape has been the Malvern Hills.

The Cottage in the Wood is tucked away in the Malvern Hills

From 1980s school trips to the Three Counties Show (I remember we were allowed to take off our ties and blazers if it was an unbearably hot day) to endless vintage hunting at the Flea, I have long held Malvern close to my heart as a place that provides me with the chance to turn my back on the bustle of Birmingham, if only for a couple of hours. And so when I was invited to spend a night at The Cottage in the Wood, my “yes please” couldn’t have come out of my mouth any quicker.

Less than an hour’s drive from Birmingham, this little slice of luxury nestles high in the Malvern Hills and offers breath-taking views across the Cotswolds, the Vale of Evesham and the Severn Valley. With 30 individually-designed rooms, ours was in the Main House at the front of the hotel, and boasted a large bay with an unspoilt outlook across the valley.

Beautifully styled in muted shades of blush pinks and creams, the decor gave more than a nod to the hotel’s Georgian heritage – think roll-top baths and huge picture windows – cleverly combined with contemporary touches, such as USB power points, the comfiest of beds and the most wonderful power shower. As well as those in the Main House, there are additional rooms in Beech Cottage and the dog-friendly Coach House, where a certain Margaret Thatcher used to stay.

The hotel features 30 individually designed rooms

With access to the hills directly from the hotel grounds and the sun set to shine all afternoon, we set off for a stroll with the aim of reaching the top of the Beacon and returning in time for a well-earned drink on the hotel’s terrace. Now, I’m not one of life’s great hill walkers (note earlier reference to being a city girl) but the well-trodden pathways are easy to navigate, the tree-tops provide a canopy shade for much of the way and there are plenty of benches dotted around should you need to catch your breath. We made it to the top, met lots of very friendly fellow walkers and took the obligatory selfie, obviously, before heading back down the path for that promised glass of wine.

With time to freshen up before dinner, we took our table in the double AA Rosette 1919 Restaurant (its name comes from the year the hotel opened). Because of its commanding floor to ceiling windows, each table gets to enjoy the amazing view, and its calming colour scheme and statement wallpaper – Indie Wood by Timorous Beasties – provide the perfect backdrop. We were quickly given our menus – I was impressed there are separate ones for vegan, dairy-free and gluten-free – and our drinks orders taken. It was great to see so many diners filling 1919 on a Thursday night, a real testament to the standard of food on offer and the talent of head chef Mark Redwood.

An indulgent menu has been crafted by head chef head chef, Mark Redwood

As a vegetarian I was delighted to note there wasn’t a goat’s cheese tart in sight; instead there was a choice of really interesting-sounding dishes, each one making the best use of locally-sourced, in-season ingredients. With starters priced from £8 and mains from £18, I decided on tempura courgette flower with sheep’s curd, wild garlic, pine nuts, smoked aubergine puree and nasturtium pesto followed by parsley gnocchi with girolle mushrooms, peas, broad beans, gem lettuce, glazed onions and pine nuts; my partner plumped for duck liver parfait with rhubarb and smoked bacon before tucking into a classic 10oz Herefordshire rib eye steak given a modern twist with a chimichurri sauce. We were both seriously impressed; every mouthful offered a wonderfully worked mix of flavours – even the bread and salted butter was deliciously moreish – and rarely can I say that my veggie choices matched, if not surpassed, those of my fellow meat-eater.

It would’ve been rude to have missed out on a pudding – especially having caught sight of the dessert menu – and so after at least ten minutes of yo-yoing between choices, I feasted on The Cottage salted caramel, peanut and chocolate bar with white miso caramel ice cream (yes, it tasted as good as it sounds), while my partner chose the blackcurrant and liquorice mille feuille with honey wafers and thyme ice cream. If we weren’t already filled to the brim we both agreed we would have happily eaten the whole meal again.

The Cottage in the Wood boasts a double AA Rosette 1919

Our stay finished with breakfast the next morning; again, served in the 1919 Restaurant, and again our expectations were well and truly met. We helped ourselves to the well-stocked buffet – bursting with the freshest of choices, including homemade granola and muesli, fresh fruit, preserves and individual bottled juices – along with our orders off the menu: poached smoked haddock, spinach, poached egg, mustard sauce for him; tomato, mushroom, avocado  and perfectly scrambled eggs for me.

Driving back to Birmingham filled with fresh air, exquisite food and a great night’s sleep, I was struck by one thought in particular – our stay at The Cottage in the Wood was just one more reason, if one more were needed, why I hold Malvern so close to my heart.

Rooms at The Cottage in the Wood start from £99 for bed and breakfast and dinner packages are available. For more details visit the website or call 01684 588860.

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