Soho Farmhouse: the Countryside, but Not as You Know It

IMG_1188_2If Carlsberg did farms, they would probably look like Soho Farmhouse, the latest outpost of the Soho House empire of private clubs and hotels: beautiful, trendy, fun, and far more comfortable than your usual country house.

For despite its name, this ambitious project, set in Oxfordshire over a 100-acre estate, is less a farm than a country resort,  complete with restaurants, bars, spas, pools, gym, shops, stables, tennis courts, a man-made lake, a football-pitch, its own cinema and 40 lodges, which can accommodate 140 guests per night. IMG_1189_2While “real” countryside lovers might balk at this trendy, idealised, ultra-comfortable and luxurious version of a farm, it comes as an ideal escape for Londoners, only one and a half hour drive from London.

Pluses Understated luxury, great design, beautiful setting, and the Soho House trademark aesthetic, blending contemporary design and vintage finds, there’s no doubt Soho Farm House has got a lot going for itself. Perfect for a weekend, it has got plenty of outdoors activities, including tennis,  horse riding, outdoors swimming, cycling, boating and football, as well as enough to keep you entertained if the weather is not great: super comfy bars and restaurants to lounge away your day by the fire, classes at the gym, a beautiful Cowshed spa, a cinema and parties at the weekend .
IMG_1201_2It has a home from home feeling of comfort and warmth about it, and endearing little touches, like the bicycles and wellies scattered around the site that guests can use freely. IMG_1317_2No wet dog hair strong smell (although dogs are allowed, and there are plenty of them), or damp walls in here, but an idealised version of the countryside for urbanites who want some fresh air but still like their rural surroundings to be comfortable, trendy and fun. It’s also on the border of the gorgeous Cotswolds, with its picture-perfect countryside and villages only a short drive away. I found it super relaxing and convenient for a short weekend, and my two daughters absolutely loved it.

Minuses While all the above is great, it will probably not appeal to the real countryside lovers, which might balk at this slightly sanitised version of a rural paradise. One friend who visited before me pointed out that it reminded him of a gated community, and while that would be an upmarket, beautiful, stylish one, he has a point: the hotel/club is a community in itself, rather than part of the larger rural community surrounding it, and while there are some gorgeous 18th-centuty outbuildings, the overwhelming look feels very new, lacking somehow the historical, cosiest charm of its Somerset big sister hotel Babington House.IMG_1316_2 It also has a strong commercial touch, with several shops where guests and visiting members can buy into the Soho House lifestyle, from home furnishing to clothes to beauty products to food. IMG_1320_2Not a bad thing, as the products tend to be genuinely nice and good quality, but quite “American” in its marketing orientation. At last, the lodges, while they’re gorgeous and spacious, are not on the cheap side either, with prices starting from £330 per night, and usually more around the £600 mark on weekends. But if you can afford it and adhere to this perfected version of a farm, it’s definitely a great place to visit.

IMG_1221_2The People There is a mix between guests who stay the lodges (members from Soho House clubs get a discount but non members can stay at the hotel too and therefore have access to the club facilities) and of visiting members from London -like myself- or local members from the “Chipping Norton set”. IMG_1255_2It’s very family friendly, but also perfect for a romantic weekend or for a fun escape between friends, with lots of friendly, attractive people, here to relax and have fun. And of course, like most Soho House outposts, it’s quite popular with celebs, with Alexa Chung, Eddie Redmayne and Liv Tyler as past guests.

Verdict Being a long time member of Soho House, I always think of its clubs as a home from home, and felt perfectly content on my visit there. Maybe I’m too much of a creature of habit, but I enjoyed finding the Soho House “look” and philosophy, albeit in a rural setting, and found comfort in the familiar touches that make the brand so great -friendly staff, gorgeous design, total, laid back comfort, amongst like minded people. Highly recommended.