There is a moment, while I wait to be taken to my cabin at Soho Farmhouse, when I’m reminded of Blur’s “Country House” video. Granted, there aren’t pigs running amok amid scantily clad milkmaids and straw bales; nor are there bowler-hatted city types, because Soho House has a strictly “creative” members policy (though Farmhouse is open to non-members overnight too). But as a milk float pulls up to ferry guests across the Cotswolds countryside on a wet November night, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Alex James on board, in the spirit of the Londoner-escapes-to-the-country Damien Hirst-directed 1995 music promo. (Actually, the Blur bassist is likely to be at his farm down the road, churning his Blue Monday cheese that’s for sale in the hotel’s Farmshop.)
Unsurprisingly, this is a milk float done Soho House-style – reconditioned in pastel green, with a complementing horseshoe of scalloped leather seating inside. It is electrically charged and primed to ferry guests around the Farmhouse estate, which had its soft-opening this summer.
Having deposited our car at the wood-smoked gatehouse, my husband and I are whisked off to our cabin in a 4×4 (the three milk floats are all full on this particular Friday night). We are about to open the door when we spot guests already quite at home through the window. Happily, this is just a minor hiccup that prefaces an otherwise peerless weekend. Moreover, it speaks of the kind of efficient informality that so appeals to Soho House’s reputed 50,000 global members – the only rules: no photos or social media.
There is still some work to do on this grand design that transformed a 100-acre derelict farm over 18 months into a souped-up Center Parcs for sharp grown-ups. Later this month, the Pen Yen Japanese restaurant will open next to the Boathouse pools, complete not just with Robata grill, but an ice rink, too. Dining – at the heart of the farm’s operation – is overseen by Tom Aikens, with head chef Ronnie Bonetti in charge of no fewer than six eateries that radiate from the cathedralesque Main Barn all-day restaurant and bar. There’s the Fancy Farm dining room, the Shack (curry, seafood, Sunday roasts), Barwell Barn (Italian, more roasting) and the Deli. At Fancy Farm, we enjoy refined comfort food – cheese soufflé with parmesan sauce and black truffle, burrata with figs and rocket and roast pheasant with cabbage and mash, rounded off with syrup sponge. There’s also a pub attached to an original water mill where the picante de la casa tequila, agave, chilli, lime and coriander cocktail is so good that we have to summon the cocktail truck (a libatious version of the milk float) to come and mix one at our cabin door when cravings set in. We are restrained enough though, not to need to call on the breakfast truck to whip up a full English the following morning.
Indeed, when the set-up is so ravishing, you’d be a fool to stay in your room all weekend. Guests are all assigned a custom-painted Foffa Dutch fixie, plus a pair of wellies – which are in evidence everywhere, from Fancy Farm to Alex Eagle’s elegant lifestyle store – so there’s no excuse not to get out and explore. I see one man in cow-print boots and PJs at breakfast, then playing ping-pong in the same get-up in the early evening.
There are plenty more opportunities to work off the excess – from a hi-tech spinning studio, tennis courts, football pitch and barn yoga sessions to a vast gym. Less energetic pursuits include the most inventive crazy golf course my husband has ever seen (and he’s seen a few), a 50-seat cinema, Cowshed spa, boating lake, riding stables (complete with Shetland ponies for kids) and sauna/hammam island with steaming waterside cedar hot tubs. The Cookhouse school will round off the gourmet experience once fully operational next month.
The nearest village is Great Tew, which one member of staff points out, is “wet”, backwards. True to form, it’s tipping down during our visit, which reinforces the desire to snuggle up in front of a blazing fire and watch a film for the afternoon. Had we been feeling more adventurous, Great Tew’s 16th-century Falkland Arms (falklandarms.co.uk) is highly recommended.
Chipping Norton and its Brookses, Clarksons, Camerons, Bamfords and Murdochs is only a 10-minute drive away. Trains (gwr.com) from London Paddington, Oxford and Hereford stop at Charlbury, which is around 15 minutes south by taxi.
The accommodation is all about beating a retreat and, judging by our fellow guests, that’s a retreat from London. Cabins are planted sparingly around the estate, ranging in size from studios to three-bedroom houses. The blueprint is the Cabin at Babington House (the group’s Somerset retreat), a precursor to the current “cabin porn” trend that’s got social media hot under the collar. Supremely spacious, they are plotted along babbling streams, with two snug hotel-style rooms in the Main Barn complex and a pair of traditional Cotswold stone cottages, original to the farm, ideal for larger parties.
Reclaimed timber is used inside and out, creating a pioneer-meets-upstate New York vibe that’s enhanced with outdoor tin baths and covetable interiors (handily, the Eat, Drink, Nap book will show you how to have a go yourself).
The decor is beautifully done, with low but functional lighting, log-burning stoves primed for just the strike of a match, lampshades created from antique saris, wardrobes and kitchen units sealed with chicken wire, a surfeit of cushions, blankets and throws and a Shaker-style wall mounted with fishing rod, scissors, hurricane lamp, spool of string and so on. The larger cabins come with proper kitchens, while family options have bunk rooms and bathrooms with scaled-down fittings, including a half-size roll-top bath.
To get the measure of the place you need only look down. Throughout, the flooring is attractive but hard-wearing – untreated floorboards in the cabins, rough stone in the restaurants, softened with well-trodden rugs – this is truly a playground for both the well-heeled and the wellied.
Soho Farmhouse, 1 Tracey Farm Cottages, Great Tew, Chipping Norton OX7 4JS (01608 691000; sohofarmhouse.com).
Doubles start at £330 for non-members, room only.