Each of the 45 bedrooms at the Kings Head comes with its own unique period and architectural features
There are hotels that make for a nice stay during your city break, and then there are hotels that are a wonderful experience in themselves. The Kings Head is a place you just don't want to leave, owed to its relaxed atmosphere, professional service and well-executed details in its decor, food, wine list and event spaces, all within a grade II listed building with interiors that seem to go on forever, smack in the heart of the Cotswolds' charming town of Cirencester. And it's only going to get better.
The Kings Head reopened its doors in September after its greatly anticipated refurbishment as Cirencester's first luxury bolthole was completed, but for a spa in its subterranean quarters (due to open soon). The building dates back to at least the middle of the 14th century when it was a coaching inn, and today the facade still resembles its early 19th century incarnation, according to an illustration dated 1804. The 45-bedroom project was overseen by the General Manager of the Kings Head, Stephen Mannock, who carried the spirit of the building's historical origins through with a contemporary vision.
A delicate process to undertake due to Cirencester's town centre sitting atop Roman ruins, archaeologists were brought in to perform the excavation in the cellars to ensure any remains were protected. If you find yourself standing in the lobby waiting to check in at the desk - it's literally a desk where you take a seat to confirm your reservation to check out as is the more personal, traditional British way - be sure to look down or you'll walk right over the window display in the floor housing Roman mosaics dating back thousands of years. The case has been vacuum sealed and lit with special lighting that doesn't damage the remains.
Other noteable details to look for include a painting in the hotel's reception by John Beecham that depicts the town's 1642 revolt against the arrival of Giles Lord Chandos and his company, sent to recruit men for King Charles I. Lord Chandos barely escaped with his life to the Kings Head where he went into hiding. And the staircase leading to the second floor will reward closer inspection. Its iron ballusters have been cast with faces, and if you look closely you can see that the images begin as male babies and 'age' as you climb the stairs until the face of an old man meets you at the top. A whimsical detail that you wouldn't really notice unless it was pointed out, and that's part of the Kings Head's quiet charm.
One of the cozy lounges off the Kings Head's reception area
Let's go up to my room:
I immediately felt at home in my warm and elegant suite, one of the Kings Head's feature spaces, this one standing apart with its preserved 19th century wood wall panels, painted a distinguished sage green. The decor, designed by Calico Interiors and featuring bespoke furniture by Style Matters, has a comfortable sophistication and is just what I'd like to see more of in traditional British hotels which can sometimes make you feel like you've slid back in time (and not in a good way).
I was also greeted with a very nice surprise. If I had been asked what I would like my welcome drink to be, it would involve gin. Favourite fruit? Grapefruit. So I couldn't believe what was waiting for me on the desk when I walked into my room:
And now I'm going to make a really big fuss over the bathroom. I think we all love to be surprised by a beautiful, spacious bathroom in our hotel suite (because we so rarely get one), and I was very excited to see a bath and separate, oversize shower done in white subway tile with dark grout, with ceramic tile masquerading as rustic, wood plank floors. (Mental note to look into this when redoing our bathroom.)
I brought my daughter along as my guest and after checking out the bathroom she came out to tell me that there were 'towels with belts' hanging on the door.
And here's a gorgeous bathroom from one of the other suites:
Now we'll head downstairs for dinner:
Stephen joined us for dinner and told me some great stories about the re-development of the hotel. I had difficulty choosing my starter and main course from the varied menu of modern, seasonal British faire, created by Executive Head Chef Wayne Sullivan. Locally sourced, Farm Assured steaks are prepared in the robata way - the Japanese method of cooking over hot charcoal to seal in the natural flavours of the food, and that was tempting. But I decided to take Stephen's recommendation to have the Roast Pork Loin which comes with cider braised belly, black pudding croquette, roasted apple, sweet potato, broccoli and bourbon jus - and he was right, it was to die for. To start, I ordered the Chargrilled Squid Salad. Each course began with a wine pairing, expertly selected by award-winning sommelier Alan Holmes, the Kings Head's restaurant and cellar manager, and surely one of the hotel's greatest assets. It's always a treat to have wine pairings as they do complement the flavours of the food in a way that choosing randomly off the wine list just can't accomplish, and I have to say that Alan's service was the most enjoyable I've had yet. The apéritif he chose was a glass of 2009 Schramsberg Vineyards Blanc de Noirs, Napa Valley, California and it was a highlight of the dinner. If you have an opportunity to try it, do!
And for dessert, it was the Jack Daniels Cheesecake with peanutty dark chocolate and milk ice cream that completed the courses, and it was so rich that it finished me off, too. It's really delicious and I couldn't bear to waste any, so I persevered until I left an empty plate. (My philosophy is that if you leave a gorgeous dinner not feeling as if you might explode, you haven't done it right.)
The Kings Head also offers private dining rooms to accommodate larger groups (I had the urge to dance around this room):
After all of that glorious food and wine, I stumbled made my way back up to my room in an elegant fashion, drank lots of water, watched Graham Norton on the large, wall-mounted LCD smart TV - it comes with a mini Mac computer and free wifi - and slept like a baby. In the morning I was tempted to make a coffee using the room's Nespresso machine, but instead we headed downstairs to the restaurant for breakfast. In addition to the cold buffet options there was a made to order menu, and I had the huevos rancheros which spoiled having it again anywhere I've had it before because it was the best I've ever had.
Afterward we were given a tour of the hotel by the very lovely day manager, and I couldn't believe just how many spaces of all kinds this building was concealing behind its high street facade, from vaulted cellar tunnels to formal dining to an intimate library with a turntable and an extensive collection of 45s to spin.
In addition to being available for hire, some of the venues will be used to host regular events such as jazz nights, and whatever else the local community would enjoy, Stephen told me. I love the idea of letting the hotel and the locals become acquainted to allow the individual spaces to develop organically. And from what I saw while there, the honeymoon phase was already in full swing; a lively crowd had gathered in the bar next to where we were having dinner, and I passed many smiling visitors coming in off the street for lunch or a coffee the following afternoon. As lovely as the Cirencester town centre is, I have to admit I wanted to spend my remaining couple of hours in the hotel having a coffee in one of the lounges and soaking up more of its intriguing atmosphere. But it was my first trip to the Cotswolds and you can't have the Kings Head without Cirencester, so a venture out was a no-brainer. (The locals are very proud of their town and it's so endearing.)
My overall impression of the Kings Head is that it delivers the best of both worlds: it's high-end and relaxed, with attentive, well-informed service in all aspects. Luxury without the pretension. All are welcome, and it's genuinely family friendly. I really, really wish I lived closer so I could go for dinner or meet friends for a latte or afternoon tea on weekends. It's an experience that stays with you. I am a little bit jealous of the locals who get to party in that super cool vaulted cellar. I have to go back.
The Kings Head Hotel is managed by the Vineyard Group and is located at 24 Market Place, Cirencester GL7 2NR. You can visit their website at kingshead-hotel.co.uk
Photos by The Swelle Life unless otherwise credited