The Swan

Ascott-under-Wychwood, Oxfordshire, United Kingdom Book from Book from £95 per night

A 16th-century inn reinvented as a chic-yet-chilled Cotswolds gastropub, with eight seductive bedrooms and an innovative menu
The Cotswolds gastropub was in danger of becoming a cliché: snuggly candlelit bar, yellowing limestone walls (ivy draping optional), Range Rovers parked outside, Hunter wellies parked inside. So it's heartening to find that The Swan is offering such a fun and fresh twist on the formula - innovative dinner dishes, truly friendly service, bedrooms which burst with character. And no surprise that it comes courtesy of Sam and Georgie Pearman, who pioneered the much-imitated Wheatsheaf (another i-escape favourite).

They carefully chose Ascott-under-Wychwood, a just-below-radar village with all the requisite Cotswold ingredients, but not quite as instagrammable as the Slaughters. Hence, perhaps, the happy mix of locals and weekending Londoners chatting at the bar when we visited. Grab a pint of Hooky in the suntrap patio, or settle down in the cosy wallpapered dining room for a triple hamburger with toffee apple sauce (or raw grains and chermoula chicken for the more health-conscious). But leave room for spiced coconut cake with chilli'd sorbet and a slug of sweet-as-nectar dessert wine. Because this is a menu to get stuck into: packed with unusual tastes and ingredients, in winning combinations. Then stumble upstairs into bed - deeply comfy, of course, with stacks of pillows, rolltop baths, rich Farrow hues, and wonky beams aplenty.

Highs

  • A winning combination of good food, cosy bar, comfy bedrooms and sub-two-hour access from almost anywhere in southern England
  • We loved the courtyard garden, with its covered eaves for al fresco dining lending a quasi Mediterranean feel
  • This would be a great venue for a party of friends, with eight bedrooms and a private "feasting" hall
  • Many of the meats, dairy and other ingredients are locally sourced, and it shows
  • Families can book the semi-separate garden cottage; there's a nice kids' menu, and dogs are welcome, too

Lows

  • Ascott-under-Wychwood is not a pin-up Cotswold village; it's what you might call B-list pretty
  • Service had some early-day teething when we visited, but we have every confidence in Sam and Georgie's youthful team
  • Be aware that some breakfast items cost extra
  • Higher rooms can get hot in midsummer (there's no A/C, only fans)
  • Expect some gentle hubbub at weekends drifting up from the courtyard (until 11ish)

Best time to go

The Cotswolds are at their finest in the English summer - leafy woodlands, shady streams and plenty of events (music at Cornbury, horse trials and concerts at Blenheim). But spring and autumn have their own magic - bluebell woods in May, mushrooms in September (Foxholes is a top spot for both, and only 10 mins away) - as well as mist-laden valleys and foliage aplenty. The Swan is as cosy as they come for winter escapes with a loved one.

Our top tips

  • If you're in Burford or Stow, don't miss the iconic Huffkins bakery and tea rooms; both towns have one.

  • We'd also recommend the Gypsy Fair which takes place in Stow every May and October.
  • Great for...

    Cheap & Chic
    Family
    Foodie
    Great Outdoors
    Romantic
    • Pub with rooms
    • 8
    • Restaurant and bar
    • All ages welcome
    • Open all year
    • Pool
    • Spa Treatments
    • WiFi
    • Pet Friendly
    • Disabled Access
    • Beach Nearby
    • Off-street Parking
    • Restaurants Nearby
    • Air Conditioning
    • Guest Lounge
    • Terrace
    • Garden
    • Gym
    Room:

    Rooms

    Eight cosy bedrooms are split between the main inn and a small cottage across the patio. All have super-comfy double beds (one can be set up as a twin), ensuite bathrooms (most with tubs), and small windows over patio or lane. The two attic rooms - one double, the other a family suite - boast 16th-century beams and sloping eaves: very atmospheric, but not ideal for six-footers.

    Decor, overseen by Georgie, is chic and distinctive, with boudoirish Farrow & Ball hues or striking Lewis & Wood wallpapers, exotic touches like salvaged Burmese dressers and statement bedside lamps. Thread- and pillow count is suitably high; our only minor quibble was that the duck down duvets were too hot for midsummer.

    Compact but spoiling bathrooms come with all the prerequisites: drench showers or in-room tubs, fluffy robes and a whole array of fabulous 100 Acres toiletries (book through us for a free bottle to take home).

    Our favourite rooms for a couple are #4 and #5 on the first floor, the former with leafy green wallpaper and a window bench-seat, the latter with high eaves and twin sash windows; both have in-room tubs. Two rooms are dog-friendly; one of these (#7, in the cottage) can connect to the family suite to make a three-room unit with its own sitting room.

    Features include:

    • Bathrobes
    • Central heating
    • Coffee / tea making
    • Hairdryer
    • Phone
    • Radio
    • Toiletries
    • TV
    • WiFi

    Eating

    The buzzy low-beamed bar and restaurant attracts a growing following of locals and well-heeled Londoners; on a Tuesday shortly after opening, the dining room was full. We loved the vintage look (bistro chairs and banquettes, wooden cruets and linen napkins), and the laid-back vibe created by super-friendly young staff (some on their uni holidays).

    In warm weather, you can eat outside in the flowery courtyard garden, at marble tables with Med-green cafe chairs, or under the wooden porticoes for a bit of extra snuggle factor (also a great spot for a post-prandial vape or cigar; blankets supplied).

    In the kitchen, Sam has consciously steered away from the ubiquitous Cotswold menu of lamb shoulder or gourmet fish-n-chips. So expect unusual combinations of local meats and bang-on-trend veg, with a dash of flair and a (sometimes bafflingly) exotic magic ingredient. We relished the juicy Chermoula chicken and the barbecued prawns with Chipping Norton 'nduja (I did warn you); side bowls offered raw grains, sweet potatoes or roasted beetroot with candied walnuts, miso mayonnaise and ginger. There are big sharing platters, including a mouth-watering (and wallet-busting) carnivores' bonanza of lamb, rump steak, kidney and sausage - all of it locally sourced. But do leave room for desserts: maybe spiced coconut cake with chilli sorbet and barbecued pineapple, or the warmly recommended (but as yet untested) jaffa cake choc pudding for two.

    Breakfast combines a small but delicious buffet of pastries, granolas, jams and yoghurt, supplemented by paid-for extras such as eggs any way (even rancheros), or almond pancakes with lemon curd and mint. A 'prospector' sharing spread will suit indecisive morning types.

    Features include:

    • Bar
    • Children's meals
    • Coffee / tea making
    • Restaurant
    Eating:
    Activity: Lower Slaughter

    Activities

    • Ascott itself is quiet - one shop, one church, two daily trains from London - but it's a great base for visiting the Oxfordshire Cotswolds: Burford, Stow, Bourton and the Slaughters (all within 20 mins' drive) are the headliners in quaint village stakes, but pootle westwards along country lanes and you'll find dozens more

    • Heading east, it's a similar distance to Blenheim Palace - the Marlboroughs' monumental country house (and Churchill's birthplace), with its 2000 acres of park and lakes, including a butterfly house

    • Bring boots or bikes to explore some of Oxfordshire's prettiest, rollingest countryside, including ancient Wychwood Forest on your doorstep. Other top spots for a picnic (and possible wild swim) include the river Evenlode near Stonesfield (map here) and the river Windrush near Minster Lovell's half-ruined abbey (here)

    • Horse-riding and golf are available nearby; fishing and seasonal deer-stalking can be arranged at Cornbury; or there's Birdland (20 mins' drive), Cotswold Wildlife Park (15 mins) and Cotswold Water Park (45 mins)

    Activities on site or nearby include:

    • Cycling
    • Fishing
    • Golf
    • Hiking
    • Horse riding

    Kids

    The Swan welcomes children of all ages. The relaxed, pubby ambiance means it is probably best for older kids.

    Best for:

    Teens (over 12)

    Family friendly accommodation:

    The garden cottage makes a good family option, with a cosy attic double and adjacent twin bedroom sharing a bath; plus an optional add-on double room for larger families. Some double rooms can fit a cot or Z-bed.

    Baby equipment:

    High chair

    Remember  baby and child equipment may be limited or need pre-booking

    Children's meals:

    Kids' menu available

    Kids Activities nearby:

    • Cotswold Wildlife Park (15 mins)
    • Cotswold Water Park (45 mins)
    • Blenheim Palace (25 mins) - buggy tours, giant hedge maze, miniature train, butterfly house

    Distances:

    • Small shop: Two mins' walk
    • Supermarkets: 10 mins' drive (Milton / Charlbury)
    • Health centre: 25 mins' drive (Bourton)
    Kid Friendly: Family suite

    Location

    The Swan is in the small Cotswolds village of Ascott-under-Wychwood, in Oxfordshire. You're close to Bourton, Burford, Stow and Chipping Norton.

    By Air:
    London Heathrow is your best bet if arriving from overseas; Bristol and Birmingham also receive international flights. There is a small airfield in Kidlington, just outside Oxford, which receives private flights if you're feeling flush.

    By Car:
    It's easiest to arrive by car, and there's parking on-site. It's within 1.5 hours' drive from Southampton, Birmingham or Bristol; around two hours from London. If you need to hire a car see our recommendations.

    By Train:
    The tiny station in Ascott has two or three daily direct trains to London Paddington, but times are unlikely to suit overnights away. Neighbouring Charlbury has faster and more regular services (1h15min).

    Detailed directions will be sent when you book through i-escape.

    Airports:

    • Birmingham Airport 82.0 km BIR
    • London Heathrow 100.0 km LHR

    Other:

    • Beach 136.0 km
    • Shops 0.3 km
    • Restaurant 2.5 km

    Our guests' ratings...

    Based on 2 independent reviews from i-escape guests

    8/10
    Room
    8/10
    Food
    9/10
    Service
    9/10
    Value
    9/10
    Overall

    Staff were very pleasant and attentive. We were in room 5. Bed was lovely and comfortable. The bath taps included a shower outlet but this was not fitted. The long curtains also covered the radiators.

    9/10,

    We really liked the Swan - the room was good (excellent bed), the food was great and the vibe of the pub was nice. We also really enjoyed playing board games by the open fire. The only downside was that I didn't sleep well which was a real shame, whilst the bed was amazing, the noise of the pub didn't stop until about midnight and the room was also very hot. The breakfast was really nice but cooked items cost extra - I do feel that a cooked breakfast at a place like this should be included in the rate.

    8/10,

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