Review: Whatley Manor, Chippenham

Whatley Manor

Whatley Manor, Chippenham 
Room type: Suite
Duration: 27th > 30th May, 2016
Booked with: Directly with hotel
Offers: Stay 3 nights, Pay 2

Pre-sales

Whatley Manor’s automated email service did not care one little bit that this was my 9th stay, so it went with the standard grand plan of its masters: to send an email every 5 seconds to remind you of payment terms, dining options, activities, dates of your stay, how keen they are to see you, what the weather will be like on Jupiter in 6 weeks time, current political news from Cape Verde, Plato’s Republic, word for word and a live feed of the ant population.

Whilst their series of emails can be overwhelming, I will take it over the normal radio silence that is standard with most resorts.  The intention is definitely there, as one of the key messages is to allow hotel guests to have priority at their 2 Michelin star restaurant, and then discover any food allergies if you are coming.

Getting there

Whatley Manor entrance

Depending where you live in England, this is either delightfully positioned, or it will take longer to get there than flying to Germany.  And back.  Google tells me it’s 3 hours away, but Google does not realise how much us Brits love our bank holiday weekends and how apparently all of us have “urgent business meetings” around 2pm that means we must leave work immediately.  With everyone else having the same idea, it took four and a hour hours to arrive.  If you’re coming from London, you can get to Chippenham via Paddington train station in just over an hour and you’re then just a 30 minute taxi ride away.

After a journey that was not  dissimilar to Lord in the Rings, both in duration and difficulty, I was excited to return to my favourite countryside retreat.  What memories we have here.  What a joy every single visit has been.  It may not be the perfect resort, but it’s been my perfect resort.  We drove on, awaiting the welcome party that has always greeted us before; from the GM to the familiar faces of the reception team.

And it was not there.  Change is always inevitable, yet certainly not always for the better.

Walkway through to the spa and cinema

With the full force of English weather giving us its normal show of misery and rain, the least that would have been expected would have been someone there with an umbrella.  On approach to Whatley Manor, you reach a large gate that automatically opens as you enter.  This not only has a visual effect, but will be used for staff to be aware of when someone is arriving and prepare accordingly.  Not so this time.  Our driver was there in disbelief that no one was coming to greet me, although he had the decency to help us with the luggage.  A few minutes later someone arrived and then, whilst seeing us with all our luggage, asked us if we were staying there.  Sherlock she was not.

What then followed was amongst the worst welcomes I’ve ever received anywhere.  Even though I had previously met the receptionist before during my last stay in 2015, she decided to start giving me a tour of the property on her hurried way to our room.  Their email system identified we had stayed before, so why could a human being not?  Whilst disappointing to receive no real welcome and not be recognised, I was most disappointed by her rushed attitude that said “I do not have time for you now”; she displayed all the enthusiasm of a Greek finance minister.  If this was my first time here, the joy I would have had would have been quickly zapped.   The woman would be better suited to working in a nearby morgue or call centre – just not the Samaritans.

Setting

View from the outdoor hydrotherapy pool

When you think of the middle of nowhere, this is it.  If you find yourself amongst a crowd of people waving their phones profusely amongst the air, you have not stumbled upon a new cult, but have instead been invited to the non-exclusive club of having no phone reception.  You can go from 4G to no signal at all, all within the distance of a several metres.  Such is the appeal of the countryside, I suppose.  If you plan on leaving Whatley Manor for a charming walk into a nearby village, be prepared to take your tent with you.  Their gardens are so vast and well maintained that there are plenty of areas for you to wander into and enjoy absolute privacy, including a very peaceful stream at the bottom of the hill.

Whatley Manor courtyard

Rooms

At a very reasonable price difference between the standard room and a suite, Whatley Manor is one of the rare places where I feel paying for a suite is justified.  Whilst my vague recollection of the basic rooms is that they are more than sufficient, an extra £300/n for a room almost twice as big and with a dedicated living area, feels perfectly acceptable.  These were my views before we were given a Suite in room #9, which offered the best view we’ve had, but suffered from a bizarre layout and small living room.  With the bedroom in the middle and the living room without a door at the back, it meant that even if you did go into ninja mode and sneak into the living room, you’re likely going to make a noise whilst in there that wakes someone up.

Living room

Paradoxically, the view is straight out into the gardens and terrace, which means other people may enjoy enjoy a view – of you.  Just like during a storm or alien invasion, stay away from the windows.  If you are visiting by yourself, then you do not need to fear getting lonely, as it is quite easy to eavesdrop into their conversations and feel like you’re a part of the gang.  There is no better way to make friends with the British then turn up half-way through their private conversation and join in, knowing full well what they are talking about, so I commend Whatley Manor for this forward thinking.

Bedroom

Whatley Manor is proud of their bathrooms, even going so far as to advertise that they are all unique.  But unique does not always equal good.  I’ve always found their bathrooms to be elegant, yet in our latest suite the cracks were starting to appear and the lack of a window and natural light was not being kind.   The shower too would not consistently stay hot and would go from hot to freezing and back again in a few seconds.  Where natural light was not an issue was the bedroom, which suffered from the curtains not being blackout, so light was coming through from 5am.  I did raise this with reception and as they were fully booked they could not move us, but they did make a makeshift extra curtain with some blankets and it worked perfectly.

Sometimes the “cracks appearing” is not metaphorical
  • In room water bottles are very small and only 1 per-person is provided.
  • Asprey has now been replaced with L’Occitaine toiletries
  • B&O TVs – something I simply don’t understand the focus on, as they’re terrible.

I have stayed in their penthouse before, room #24, but I preferred suite #22.  It’s a true first world issue when you have to complain about your room being too big.  But the room was too big.

Amenities

Ample space for eating, sitting and sometimes, if you’re feeling risky, combining the two.

  • Outdoor seating area
  • Multiple living room areas
  • Beautiful, impressively maintained gardens with waterworks and plenty of seating areas
  • Cinema
  • 2 bars
  • Spa cafe
  • Main restaurant
  • 2 Michelin star restaurant
Cinema
Bar seating area
Outdoor terrace

Spa

Spa area

I love every single thing about the Whatley Manor spa.  This is everything I would like to see in every hotel that I stay in.  A spa has become a prerequisite at resorts, so older resorts have had to bolt them on as an after thought to keep up to date.  Whatley Manor built their hotel with the spa in mind, meaning you can arrive, put on your bath robe, walk comfortably from your room to the spa and lounge around all day.  I’ve had stays at Whatley Manor where I’ve never got dressed, which may make it sound like a nudist convention, but when there’s afternoon tea involved everything looks classy.

An indoor, leading to outdoor, hydrotherapy pool, surrounded by a heated indoor area with multiple loungers, water massage jets, air bed, and shower jets.  I may have just described paradise.  Add to this a sauna, steam room, so-called experience showers, dream sensory room, laconium, tepidarium and more.  Many resorts offer this, but the beauty of Whatley Manor is how empty and private it is.  I have never seen it busy.  Up until 6pm on Sunday, where apparently the entire county had been invited along.  It looked like someone had left the gate open and a stag do’s coach had broke down outside and let themselves in.  Within 30 minutes it was dead again and back to how it has always been, with just a few people around.  Many a stiff upper-lip trembled during this period of unrest.

Shoulder and neck massage jets
Main spa area
Ourdoor hydrotherapy area

Activities

Apparently you can leave the resort, but why would you want to do that?

Be the king of the swingers instead

Food

My previous complaint of Whatley Manor was that the menu changed as as I changed my underwear.  Which is to say hardly ever.  Even though I’m frequently told that they do change it every few months, the fact that even though this was our first visit in 18 months and I had tried 5/6 dishes on the signature menu said otherwise.  Maybe it’s a wonderful coincidence that the menu only changes the day after I leave?  The new menu has attempted to fix that, by giving 3 options, although only 1 of them will offer anything new: Signature, Seasonal and Vegetarian.

Strawberry cocktail from the signature menu

I’m not a fan of tasting menus, as I’m completely familiar with what I like and therefore would rather choose, rather than having to try a variety of dishes that may not be to my taste.  I end up reverting to the option I know I’ll like, as every restaurant I’ve been has a seasonal menu that tries new things that often just don’t work.  They did allow me to pick and choose some options from the other menus, so this overcame that problem, but I would still prefer 3 courses when visiting somewhere that I’ve been over 10 times.  Their new look tasting-only-menu consists of 6 dishes and costs a surprisingly high £116.  I consider the food here to be excellent, but it’s not memorable enough or good enough to warrant the price and at 3 hours long, that’s at least 3x the level of patience I have for eating dinner, so I would not return again.

Smoothie

The food offered in the rest of the resort is fantastic quality.  From room service, to their main restaurant – Le Mezot -, the spa cafe and their main lounge for afternoon tea, I don’t think you’ll find yourself going hungry here and it more than matches a high-end London hotel for quality.  Where things become less sublime is the inconsistency: room service stops at 10pm; the spa cafe closes at 6pm and won’t let you order from the main restaurant, even though it’s using the same kitchen; the main restaurant is only open for lunch until 2:30; they ran out of bananas on the Sunday for smoothies; soup of the day was cauliflower for the entire duration of our stay;  the breakfast buffet is very limited ( the crepes are wonderful so all is forgiven).  At least teacher has now approved the consumption of drinks in the spa, as that was never allowed before.

Crepes – a gift from the gods

Service

Whatley Manor entrance

Excluding Ms. Happy, the staff are friendly, well meaning, but some suffer from a lack of experience.  Any countryside/remote resort will suffer from the same thing: high staff turnover and limited selection.  It means some people working here are clearly in their first job.  Of all the staff, there were only 3 that I recognised from our previous visit in January ’15.  The long-time serving reception manager left last year after 8 years and there is currently no GM, which certainly was felt.

The service is not going to give Aman a run for its money, and nor is it advertising that it will.  At only 24 rooms, you could hope for better, more proactive, personalised service, but due to being here to relax, I am happy to accept what is being offered.  If you come expecting the highest levels of service, then you’re setting yourself up for a fall, but you’re also not going to leave disappointed.

Complaints

  • The welcome party
  • On Sunday at 7:45am, there was a buzz on the door and it was room service, saying “Did you order 2 teas?”.  You would think they would know this before knocking on the door.  No, I did not madam, you should know I only drink my tea if it has been hand pressed by Tibetan Monks.    This seems to keep happening to me.

Improvements

  • They should look into remembering preferences from your previous stays.
  • The spa opens at 8am, yet no towels were available until 9:20

Minor

  • No one ever comes around the spa area to ask if you want anything and rarely is anyone in the spa cafe, so you have to go looking for them.  The inconsistency of the food availability was sometimes down to staff awareness and other times with their strange policies.

Worth Knowing

The Internet speed wanes between bad and god awful.  It is not just a case of the Internet itself, but their wifi system has not once worked even 70% of the time.  It frequently cuts out or cannot connect in the first place.  If you read this review, it means I’ve made it out alive and have found safe ground.  Pray for me.

View from the bottom of the hill

The Good

  • Excellent food.
  • Never signing for any bill – just provide your room number.
  • Only 24 rooms and a no-children policy

The Bad

  • Clearly some rooms are in need of more love than others.
  • Non-guests can pay to be in the spa, which meant that it managed to get very crowded.

The Luxurious

  • My favourite spa facilities.  Anywhere.  Of all time.  Times infinity.  Plus one.
Reception door

Conclusion

This is our 9th stay at Whatley Manor in 5 years and this was certainly not my favourite, due to the room, the welcome and the overcrowded spa.  Some places hold an insincere level of joy, as we remember the first experiences.  Luckily I don’t suffer from this level of human empathy.  I can see Whatley Manor for what it is today, rather than how it made me feel during our first visit back in 2011. I remember the first time I stayed in a 4 star hotel, awe-struck by the size of the room and what was on offer.  How could a 5 star hotel be any better, I thought.  Years later, after getting firmly used to 5 star hotels, I had to go back to this 4 star hotel for work.  Suffice to say, it was total shit and I now do seminars on teaching the dangers of 4 star hotels, so no one has to suffer what I did again.  In between the first and current stays at Whatley Manor, I’ve been to some of the top resorts in the world, but I still find that it offers everything I want, at a price point that feels value for money.  It delivers exactly what it says on the tin, and for that I can only highly recommend it.

So what do you get at Whatley Manor?  A great room?  Only if you go for a suite, and even then you have to pick the right one.  Great service?  Not if you’re comparing it anywhere of a similar price point.  Amazing food?  Only if you work to their schedule.  Is it the best resort in the world? No. Will it convince you to write a 2000 word review of it and sing from the trees about it? Unlikely. But I love it.  I’m here for the spa.  If they offered £100/n for a room based on the spa being closed, then I would not take it.

Whatley Manor is just so classically English that even though it’s not the best, I’ll continue to celebrate it.  And I will return.

Water features

2 Comments

  1. Pam Chapple

    whatley manor is a lovely hotel have been there for lunch many times , when for lunch yesterday very disappointed was put on a table in a vegetable patch with a tree in front of our table not a very good view and the main was not very interesting totally dissapointed.

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