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Tortworth Court

Tortworth Court, a venerated member of the Four Pillars Hotel Group is so much more than a hotel. By this I don’t mean just the usual add-ons of swimming pool, Spa, and fantastic function rooms but its past, as richly embroidered as the swags and tails of the curtains and as ornately embellished as the library ceiling which now houses Morton’s Restaurant. Owned by the Ducie family for over 350 years it has had many incarnations since its creation by the Victorian architect, Teulon for the 2nd Earl of Ducie in 1849 when it was equipped with the most modern technology for the time, gas lighting and hot air central heating. Occupied by the family for the most part, it was offered to the Australian Navy by the 5th Earl during Second World War and also served as a military hospital.

The large estate of Tortworth was split up in the early 1990s and the house was sold to a developer who began to convert it into luxury flats and houses. Unfortunately a major fire broke out and all but destroyed the house except for the principal rooms and the main staircase; development ceased and Tortworth lay devastated and abandoned for eight years. Acquired by the Four Pillars Hotel Group, the sensitive restoration was begun, and still continues, so the house can once again bask in its former glory and preside in its rightful position over the Tortworth Estate.

As you arrive you drive in through the Arboretum, courtesy of the 3rd Earl who began planting rare specimens of trees in 1853 and continued throughout his life, and then through a large stone arch above which bears the word "welcome" that led me to believe either Lord Ducie or Mr Teulon was a sociable soul! It’s a mastery of perspective too as it frames perfectly the archway for the large double doors at the front of the house. The entrance hall is magnificent with an imposing carved staircase flanking all four walls with balconies on each floor. It’s a wonderful start to your stay as is the friendly, polite and extremely helpful welcome from the reception staff, even down to finding us a newspaper as we didn’t have time to buy one on the way.

In no time we were ensconced in a beautiful room on the second floor, with every amenity you can think of, dual aspect, beautiful views, commodious bed with crisp white linen, bathrobes, slippers and a luxury bathroom full of toiletries. There was plenty of time to relax before dinner and we took full advantage.

There are two restaurants, Moreton’s Restaurant which as said before is in the library in the main house, and the Orangery, which has the distinction of two AA Rosettes. The Orangery was built in 1899 after the style of Crystal Palace and originally housed exotic plants and blooms for use in the house. An airy confection of glass and steel we couldn’t resist such a unique place to eat, and strolled the few minutes walk to it much looking forward to our evening ahead.

It’s as amazing inside as out; the lofty curved glassed ceiling swooping down to brick walls with half moon alcoves lit softly by dozens of tea lights. The space is enormous and split by a handsome bar and wine store cabinets but despite its cathedral like dimensions, the acoustics are good due to thoughtful carpeting and use of fabrics.

As everywhere in the hotel, service is paramount. No sooner had we been seated than I found a glass of chilled sparkling wine in my hand and a menu redolent with the promise of a fine dinner. To start I ordered pressed quail and confit chicken, with morels, quails eggs and carrot chutney and my husband chose smoked duck breast and duck liver parfait with sultanas, brioche and artichokes. To follow came for me, Guinea fowl breast, poached thigh, stuffing, croquette, red cabbage with bread sauce, and for him, pork trio, belly, fillet and pork cheek with pickled apple, spinach and croquette. The wine list has some excellent choices and we ordered a bottle of Thomas Mitchell Australian Shiraz.

At an intimate table for two beside one of the candlelit alcoves we began our meal of which the highlight for me was the pressed quail and confit chicken, a truly delicious combination and the pork trio was also voted outstanding. All the dishes were attractively presented and cooked to perfection. For dessert I couldn’t let a rhubarb opportunity go by and had poached rhubarb set it its own stock - now who would have thought rhubarb could have its own stock - with rhubarb lace and sorbet. The sorbet in particular was beautifully sharp and tangy as only this love it or hate it vegetable can be!

They have a lovely selection of cheeses, all from local cheese producers in the Cotswolds and Oxford area but we were "done in" to quote a colloquial term and retired to bed. Next morning we breakfasted on smoked haddock cooked to order topped with two fluffy poached eggs and endless coffee, in the library overlooking the rolling grounds. Afterwards we walked around the Arboretum and through the manicured gardens at the front of the house, charmed as a hot air balloon drifted lazily in the morning sky above the house. It’s the perfect setting for weddings and I noticed that a tree had been planted by a couple married in 2009 to celebrate their everlasting love - how nice it would be if they could go back in thirty or forty years time for an anniversary party and plant another!

The hotel has so many facets it’s impossible to list them all, the newly refurbished Westminster Function Suite has been brought up to date neatly combining all the modern mores of technology with stunning murals painted by local artists depicting the history of the house and estate; definitely a very different venue for a seminar or special occasion. We had a wonderful time and wouldn’t hesitate to return; we felt the hotel was equally capable of making that romantic weekend for two a very special occasion or hosting a much larger celebration with aplomb.

Jacquie Vowles

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