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Reinventing 4 Classic English Hotels

What has truly made the Lygon into a destination once again is the hiring of one of the U.K.'s best-known chefs, Martin Blunos. Lured to the Lygon last year, he has brought whimsy to dining in the hotel's baronial Great Hall (his pre-dessert is a replica of a soft-boiled egg that turns out to be vanilla cream with a mango purée center). The Lygon Room, formerly the Great Hall's Siberia, has been turned into a candlelit space where a handful of couples can indulge in the chef's classic-French-meets-Eastern-European comfort food.

Blunos's efforts recently earned the hotel a Michelin star; however, there's still work to be done, especially on the spa. Its slightly institutional dressing rooms and so-so facilities fail to measure up to spas at other top-rung British hotels. But for now, Furlong's plan is to focus on simply enhancing the Lygon's time-tested appeal: cherishing the building while introducing great service. I feel sure the Lygons would have agreed with that. Broadway, Worcestershire; 44-1386/852-255; www.thelygonarms.co.uk; doubles from $460.

A collection of ancient stone buildings in the mellow Cotswolds, Calcot Manor originally began as a farm, constructed by Cistercian monks in the 14th century. After the Ball family bought the property in 1984 and turned it into a seven-bedroom hotel, it went on leading a quiet, rural life. All the time, though, the Balls were working to keep Calcot relevant, converting barns and other outbuildings into guest rooms (there are now 30) and creating a formal restaurant that held a Michelin star from 1986 to 1993.

During the past two years, the hotel has taken big leaps forward with the opening of a 17,000-square-foot spa (try a spell in a flotation bed followed by a massage on a heated mosaic hammam table) and an indoor recreation area for kids that has PlayStations and a mini cinema. After a recent rethink, Calcot's Conservatory restaurant is also making a strong comeback. The food is simpler and more Mediterranean-inflected, focusing on quality produce (fruits and vegetables often come from the Prince of Wales's nearby organic gardens), and dishes (such as roasted veal chop with rösti potatoes and porcini mushrooms) are cooked in a wood-burning oven.

Despite all the changes afoot, Calcot Manor never seems to be trying too hard. Sipping a cappuccino while rockabilly music played on the stereo, I could have been in the Rockies, far from these gently rolling hills and the jacket-and-tie mentality that has sunk lesser English establishments. "When people come here, they don't want to be steeped in the grandeur of the place," says managing director Richard Ball, who stayed on even after his family sold the property in 1992. "They just want to take their ties off, put their slippers on, and throw themselves into a weekend of relaxation." And considering it was a place founded by monks, Calcot certainly knows how to soothe the soul. Near Tetbury, Gloucestershire; 44-1666/890-391; www.calcotmanor.co.uk; doubles from $385.

SUSAN WELSH is the London correspondent for Travel + Leisure.


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