Were you to venture beyond London into the gloriously green English landscape, you'd come upon one stately old country-house hotel after another. And you'd probably notice that, in an effort to bring the majestic 18th-century piles into the twenty-first century, many of these grandees are suffering an identity crisis of sorts. Metropolitan modernism has been transplanted to the provinces: Babington House in Somerset and Cowley Manor in Gloucestershire, for example, have turned to design—and hype—which would normally belong to, say, a new Schrager (and still Babington and Cowley lack the service that would justify their rates). Others, like Chewton Glen in Hampshire and, come spring, a new Four Seasons in Hampshire, are more resort facility than hotel, with the requisite golf course, spa, and convention hall. Of all the recent openings and refurbishments, Whatley Manor, a new 23-room modern classic about two hours from London, between the lovely market town of Malmesbury and the spa city of Bath, we're happy to report gets it just right.
Whatley's style might best be described as "groovy grand," combining traditional English good taste with contemporary design. Leather sofas and club chairs in the sitting room and reception lounge cozy up to open fireplaces; lush, tactile fabric and suede wall coverings by Nina Campbell and Chivasso Carlucci mix with lushly textured upholstery. The 15 rooms and eight suites, many with fireplaces, combine chalet chintz and serious English antiques with Philippe Starck bathtubs and flourishes of Chinoiserie here and there. The effect isn't successful in every room—be sure to book number 17, a suite with a mezzanine level that does work very well—and Whatley's exterior, in golden Cotswold stone that sits comfortably in its rural context, needs some time to age. But these are just quibbles about a place with much to its advantage.
The two French restaurants at Whatley are terrific. In the Dining Room, the fresh pea cappuccino with quail eggs and the turbot with caramelized langoustines are particularly good, as is the wine list. Le Mazot, a popular lunch spot, serves enlightened traditional fare, like calves' liver with garlic and creamed spinach. The La Prairie spa, Aquarias, is also a smart addition. And the staff—imported by the Swiss owners from some of Europe's grandest hotels, like the Ritz in Paris and the Beau-Rivage in Geneva—provide attentive, old-world service, from sommelier to massage therapist. The gardens, too, are simply glorious, with beautiful terracing, perennial borders, rose gardens, and views of streams and hills beyond. And may I confess that I love the fact that in this peaceful Wiltshire vale, cell phones, alas, struggle even to find a signal. Rates, $460-$1,420; 011-44-16-6682-2888; www.whatleymanor.com.
Hotel prices show high-season rates from the least expensive double to the most expensive suite.