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Tortworth Court Hotel, Tortworth, Wotton-under-Edge, South Gloucestershire

Tortworth Court“You might never be able
  to stay in the National Trust’s
  massive Victorian mansion
  Tyntesfield, which is currently
  undergoing the
Trust’s biggest
and costliest restoration
  programme ever. But...”

BUT NOT FAR AWAY IS TORTWORTH COURT built fifty years later but in nearly the same scale and style, it does give you that pleasurable option. Restored at a cost of 20m following a devastating fire, it has been given a new lease of life as a comfortable and characterful hotel with 190 bedrooms, some with four posters and other interesting touches.

There are some splendid public rooms and features — the large dining room (formerly the library) is straight out of Harry Potter; and the hall and stairway soars several stories with galleries around.

The stylish Orangery doesn't quite make it but only because it lacks the essential palms and ferns, whilst the tower's 'Room at the Top', with its commanding panoramic views, is a peaceful haven. A little note of apology explains that service might not be so quick due to its high elevation — a good touch. That noted, despite the hotel being full, service was always prompt.

All the other elements you would expect of a large well-equipped hotel are there: gym, spa, sauna and pool, plus lots of attractive add-on packages of fruit and wine, etc. Wi-Fi is free but broadband is 15 per hour — Ouch! A small gripe but, taken overall, Tortworth Court has that essential element of 'good value for the money'.

The hotel, set in glorious countryside and gardens, and together with the several spectacular 'time capsule' rooms and a marquee for civil ceremonies, is a popular venue for weddings. It is additionally pleasing that the renowned arboretum with over 300 specimen trees is still being maintained — and added to — by three highly talented gardeners.

Naturally an hotel of this calibre also has an interesting programme of events. When we stayed, falconer Ray Prior was captivating and involving his audience (young and old) with both eagles and owls. Even if his feathered friends hold no interest for you, his humorous banter is highly entertaining.

Tortworth Court is situated near the Severn and even nearer to the Slimbridge Wildfowl Trust about halfway between Bristol and Gloucester — the M5 motorway is just a couple of minutes away. Naturally the countryside is quintessentially English with mature hedgerow trees, bijoux villages and a few grand houses. Nearby, there is Westonbirt where Princess Diana went to school and where scenes from — Yes, him again — Harry Potter were filmed. We were even able to visit 'the house', which is still a school, as there was an excellent regular art and antiques fair taking place.

So, which way... Gloucester or Bristol? It has to be both as they are equally attractive whilst being so different. The Gloucester docks are being sympathetically restored and regenerated. It would be all too easy to mirror the traditional styles, so it was refreshing to see that not only is the Viking Restaurant unapologetically modern but that it fits wonderfully within its setting. The Mariners Chapel is a gem; small and simple but such a haven amongst the warehouse goliaths towering above it.

The nearby cathedral is a rich storehouse of history brought alive by Eric, our guide. His infectious enthusiasm even after 17 years of guiding wraps you into his colourful commentary. Altogether Gloucester may be small but it buzzes, and you can see there is so much more still to see on another visit.

The scale of Bristol is very different so it is a question here as to what one should leave out. Certainly not the SS Great Britain; brilliantly presented, she epitomises the dominance of Britain's position at the forefront of international trade when she was plying the world's oceans at a great rate of knots.

A must for everyone, for its gardens, research programmes and creatures, is the zoo — mostly smaller breeds. View the sea lions underwater as they play, admire the agility of Colin the lemur with his keepers during a great display on the outdoor stage, feed nectar to the shrieking Lorikeets and smile when you see the most aloof creature imaginable — a colourful Victoria Crowned pigeon with a very fine tiara of a crest. Thinking of colour, plan your visit to catch the Balloon Fiesta that is a riot of colour as a huge cloud of balloons drifts across the sky. — Bonnie and Tim Stevens

The Details

Tortworth Court Four Pillars Hotel, Tortworth, Wotton-under-Edge, South Gloucestershire, GL12 8HH. Telephone: 01454 263000.

Local Attractions

Ray Prior Falconry | Slimbridge Wildfowl Trust | Visit Bristol