Britain is rightly famous for its old pubs. Saska Graville finds one in the Cotswolds that sets a new benchmark in luxe accommodation.
Any wannabe hotelier with plans to set up a small B&B or a pub with guest rooms, should visit The Wheatsheaf Inn to see how it's done.
The place is perfect. Very much a pub with rooms attached, rather than a dedicated hotel, it's everything you want a boutique overnighter to be - gorgeous rooms (just 14 of them), glamorous bathrooms, a cosy bar and a delicious restaurant. Oh, and a coal-shed-cum-massage-room for spa treatments. No wonder model Kate Moss housed the wedding guests here when she got married in the local church - she knows a stylish spot when she sees one.
A coaching inn since the 1650s, the Wheatsheaf has more to its heritage than rock'n'roll weddings. A historic stopping point for stagecoaches on their way to London (these days visitors from the capital can take a 90-minute train trip to Kemble station and hop in a taxi), its stables and rooms have provided hospitality to travellers for centuries - although never in the luxury today's guests enjoy. Quite what a drunken highwayman would have made of the clawfoot baths and quirky oil paintings, you can only wonder.
I am impressed. "This is my perfect bathroom," I think, as I take in the old oak floorboards, the vintage bath and the giant carved mirror that lies beyond the double doors leading from my bedroom. With its vaulted, beamed ceiling and old stone walls, I know at once I am in a bathroom with some real history, rather than an anonymous five-star box. But this bathroom feels like a bit of an event - and you can't often say that when you're staying in a pub.
My "Excellent" bedroom is equally impressive - there are three room categories: Good, Very Good and Excellent. With chic, dark-wood furnishings, a supremely comfortable bed and luxury touches such as free wi-fi, bottles of water on each bedside table and a large flat-screen Bang & Olufsen television with Sky channels, it is a lovely place to linger.
Except the bar beckons - and the Wheatsheaf Inn gives good cosy.
On the chilly English December night I am here, the roaring fire and velvet squashy armchairs are exactly what is needed. Working my way through a bottle of red and observing the locals propping up the bar (people-watching is always fun in the Cotswolds - Moss and singer Lily Allen are just two of the many famous residents in the area), everything feels as it should be.
The staff are friendly, the atmosphere relaxed and the bar snacks above average - wasabi broadbeans, smoked almonds and pork scratchings.
And surely that's the point of a great overnight stay - you know you're away somewhere special, but you still feel at home. It's not an easy trick to pull off.
Dinner at the Wheatsheaf is also a treat. The local suppliers are championed (and listed on the inn's website), and my pot-roasted pheasant, with bread sauce, game chips and watercress is delightful. There are two public dining rooms, or for those who want to make a real night of it there's a private function room. Here, a long table seats 20 for a feasting night to remember. Order a whole suckling pig and party away beneath the chandeliers and vaulted ceiling beams.
The next morning, as I settle down in the bar in front of the fire reading the Sunday papers, I am already plotting my return to the Wheatsheaf Inn.
My winter visit doesn't make the most of the large terraced garden, with its banks of lavender and picturesque Cotswolds views, so a springtime check-in is definitely called for. An alfresco lunch, a massage in the coal shed, a nosy around the mediaeval market town of Northleach ... yes, I'll be back.
The writer was a guest of The Wheatsheaf Inn.
A historic pub crawl
Fancy a pub with heritage? Some of Britain's travel experts recommend their favourite watering holes around the country:
The Lindsey Rose is a 15th-century Suffolk inn and one of the country's oldest. With a warm and friendly atmosphere and located in the scenic and peaceful village of Lindsey, it welcomes families and dogs and can be relied on for a tasty meal and a refreshing pint of local ale. Seasonal menus and fresh ingredients make this a top pub and one of Suffolk's hidden gems. There are lots of cycling and walking routes in the area, and this pub is great for rewarding yourself afterwards. redroseinn.co.uk.
Amanda Bond, Visit Suffolk
The Gipsy Moth is one of my favourite pubs in Greenwich, and sits right next to the Cutty Sark in the centre of the Maritime Greenwich World Heritage site. It's atmospheric and cosy inside, and there's a fantastic garden that looks out at the famous old clipper ship, which was reopened after a long conservation process. The pub serves excellent food and drink, and it's an instantly relaxing place to chat away the afternoon or evening. Whenever you go, and you really should, you'll come across groups of friends doing just that. Try it. thegipsymothgreenwich.co.uk.
Al Barker, Royal Borough of Greenwich
The Turf Tavern in Oxford lies hidden behind high walls, down St Helen's Passage (real name Hell's Passage) and has been frequented by town and gown for hundreds of years. It's said young students from New College would lower baskets over the wall to haul up tasty victuals and liquid refreshment. Former Australian PM Bob Hawke still holds the record for downing a yard of ale here. With a fine range of local beers and foods, it's a great place to see and be seen — as well as eat and drink — right in the heart of Oxford's heritage. theturftavern.co.uk.
Heather Armitage, Visit Oxfordshire
Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem may not look like one of England's oldest pubs at first glance — the brick and timber exterior dates from the 17th century — but step inside this Nottingham institution and you'll find yourself in a cave. Yes, a cave! People have been brewing and drinking in these caves since 1189, and they're just as cosy today. Order a pint and settle down on one of the padded leather benches that line the soft sandstone walls, as generations of people have done before you. A drink here is like stepping out of time. triptojerusalem.com.
Emma Field, Visit England