One minute you’re battling traffic on LA’s 405 Freeway in your 1990s Honda Civic, the next you’re sitting in a 16th-century farmhouse in the English countryside deciding between goose and braised brisket for dinner. A change of scenery can be a beautiful thing.
I’ve travelled more than 5,000 miles for this farmhouse, now a boutique hotel with six rooms, called Artist Residence Oxfordshire. Since opening its doors, the property has landed on The Times ‘100 best British hotels’ list, been lauded by The Independent for ‘making the countryside a little more louche’ and nabbed a nomination for Best-Dressed Hotel in the Mr & Mrs Smith Hotel Awards. Word travels fast – across- continents fast.
The final straws on the property’s thatched roof had only been in place a second before friends from London to Los Angeles returned with rave reviews. One pal, a Hollywood casting agent, rhapsodised over the hotel’s attention to detail, ‘right down to the embroidered hair dryer and slipper bags.’ A Brooklyn-based couple – both photographers – messaged me that it’s ‘the quirky country retreat of their dreams’ and they’d move there if only they knew something about raising chickens. Louche, quirky, chickens – I was sold.
Artist Residence Oxfordshire is in a rural village called South Leigh (population: 336), on the edge of the Cotswolds. The place is perhaps most famous for eccentric former local, Gerry Stonhill, who took on Tony Blair’s smoking ban a decade ago and defiantly paid a citation entirely in coppers (more on him later). Though the area feels remote, it’s incredibly easy to access from London. I hop on a train from Paddington, which takes an hour to get to Hanborough. From there it’s a 10-minute cab ride before I pull into the hotel’s gravel drive. A pair of petite penguin statues greet me and I spot a door with an embossed metal sign reading: ‘NO RIFF RAFF’. It appears they’ve been forewarned.
“ The whole Mr Hanbury thing is just weird enough to work. And maybe it’s this elaborate storytelling that makes other creatives feel at home. ”