“Don’t munch on a hunch,” advises Emanuelle Paulson as we pause in the country lane to take a closer look at Jack by the Hedge (a plant not a person). She gives me one of the distinctive heart-shaped leaves to rub between my fingers to release the gentle garlic scent before I nibble one of the leaves which tastes a bit like horseradish. “Feel, smell and see how and where things grow,” she continues. Get a book and look online to be very sure and if you are not sure don’t bother.”
With Emanuelle as a guide we don’t need to worry, as the kitchen gardener at Burleigh Court is also an expert on wild plants and knows exactly what is edible and what’s not. We joined one of her foraging tours at the Cotswolds’ hotel and it was one of the highlights of the stay, bringing us closer to the nature surrounding the handsome Grade II listed property which was built outside Minchinhampton in the first years of the 19th century and overlooks the Golden Valley near Stroud.
As a complete foraging novice, I was amazed to discover the wealth of edible species you can also find on ‘urban routes’ alongside pavements. Emanuelle pointed out leaves and plants that could variously be steeped to make hot drinks or combined to produce ‘hedgerow ketchup’. “Foraging can be done anywhere,” she said as we made another stop on the way back to the hotel, this time to look up for a change and eat a few jewel-like red berries from a yew tree; mindful to spit out the seeds as instructed by Emanuelle.
Depending on when you go, foraging finds might include wild strawberries, lime tree leaves, nettles, rosehips and sweet chestnuts. For plant experts and novices alike Emanuelle provides advice on how to safely identify edible species allowing guests to leave with ideas for turning their foraged finds into meals. The walks include discussion around seasonal eating as well as insight into the nutritional values and medicinal use of plants. Guests also learn about the conservation of species and their habitats, with guidance on what to take from nature, and, most importantly, what to leave behind as well as how to store wild foods.
The foraging experiences are among the new innovations at the 18-room hotel which is set in three acres and has undergone a series of upgrades since being taken over by new owners in 2019. It closed during January 2022, to enhance more rooms and enlarge the restaurant, and has reopened this month.
A world away from the stuffy and chintzy vibe that still seems to be the norm in some country house hotels, Burleigh Court elevates the concept to a contemporary level with its combination of traditional and modern interiors and relaxed atmosphere. Indeed, it was good to see a real mix of fellow guests, including young couples, a family and a group of friends.
Staff members were friendly and helpful and there were none of the hushed reverential tones you get in some places.
Accommodation comes in different categories – classic, cosy, superior, noteworthy and romantic – divided between the main house and adjacent coach house, which is where you will find pet-friendly rooms. All rooms are individually decorated and there are plenty of photos on the website to help you choose.
I stayed in the beautiful Romantic Room with its four-poster bed and window seat overlooking the gardens. Quirky and fitting touches included an old-style radio and telephone, along with the modern trappings of Wi-Fi, TV and DVD player, as well as tea and coffee-making facilities. The huge bathroom has his and hers wash basins, an indulgent whirlpool bath and generous bottles of organic toiletries, ultra-fluffy towels, robes and slippers. Again, there are plenty of nice touches such as a wooden bath rack with room to prop up a book and sip a glass of wine while you soak.
Public rooms in the main building include a cosy bar with an impressive line-up of bottles, including Cotswold distilled gin. Next door is the lounge, full of plump chairs, settees and eclectic artwork, and down the wood-floored corridor are the two dining rooms – one for dog owners accompanied by their four-legged friends.
The imaginative and well-presented menu showcases seasonal and regional produce, which doesn’t come more local than herbs, salads and vegetables from Emanuelle’s kitchen garden. Everything she supplies is incorporated into a selection of dishes as well as cocktails. During my stay the menu included Wiltshire-produced pork, plus fish, poultry and plant-based fare. It’s good to see ‘proper’ puddings on the dessert menu alongside lighter options, all of which come with enticing suggested wine and digestif pairings such as Cotswold cream liqueur and toffee apple moonshine liqueur.
The main wine list is also notable. In order to decrease its carbon footprint, the hotel is reducing wine supplies from non-European producers as well as offering wines from smaller producers, including organic, biodynamic and vegan wines. Although I went for a white, I loved the sound of the Petit Ours or Teddy Bear, Syrah from the Rhone.
For breakfast there’s a good array of fruit and baked goods, including towering muffins and various takes on the full English and other cooked options.
From its tasteful décor to its tasty meals, and certainly not forgetting the delicious edibles to be uncovered on the foraging walks, Burleigh Court certainly satisfies all the senses for a weekend stay or short break.
Burleigh Court Hotel, The Roundabouts, Brimscombe, Stroud, Gloucestershire, GL5 2PF, England.
Tel: +44 (0)1453 883804
If driving from Stroud (Junction 13 off the M5), take the A419 towards Cirencester. 2½ miles outside of Stroud take a right turn signposted Burleigh and Minchinhampton and head up the side of the hill. After 500 yards take the sharp left turn, signposted Burleigh Court, which is on the right after a further 300 yards.
Driving from Cirencester (Junction 15 off the M4 or along the M40 via Burford and Bibury), join the A419 towards Stroud. Take the first exit off the roundabout signposted Aston Down and Minchinhampton and continue along this road to reach Minchinhampton Common on the left and take the second turning on your right, signposted Burleigh Court on a small crossroads with Dr Browns Road on the left. Continue along the narrow country lane, cross a cattle grid and Burleigh Court is signposted on the right.
Type of Hotel: 3-Star Country Hotel (boutique, romantic, country, lifestyle and pet-friendly).
Number of Rooms: 18 rooms and suites, tea and coffee making facilities, room service and complimentary Wi-Fi.
Price Band: Classic Rooms start from £130 per night and a room only stay in Burleigh’s new four-poster ‘romantic’ category suite is priced from £219 per night (Sunday to Thursday) and £239 per night (Friday and Saturday). Dinner, Bed and Breakfast packages are also available.
Insider Tip: The Wild Foodie Foraging Experience is a fun and insightful addition to a stay. Priced from £65 per person or £130 per couple, the group sessions run from 9:30am to 2:30pm and 2022 dates include 7th and 28th April, 5th and 19th May and 2nd and 16th June. Private foraging experiences are also available.
Reviewer’s Rating: 9/10
Known as the ‘River Cruise Queen’, Jeannine Williamson is an award-winning travel writer, cruise expert and our cruise correspondent, who has clocked up thousands of nautical miles.
Photographs courtesy of Burleigh Court Photography, Beth Harvey and Jeannine Williamson