“Watch out for ghosts,” advises the taxi driver on the way to Coombe Abbey. It’s advice that even the most sceptical may find surprisingly hard to discount at this uniquely atmospheric Warwickshire hotel. After all, it’s not every property that can trace its history back to 1150 and boast of having housed monks, princesses and earls; and where every nook and corner conjures up centuries gone by. But then again, Coombe Abbey is, as its motto proudly states, “no ordinary hotel”.
The history of Coombe Abbey
The property started life in the 12th century as Warwickshire’s most important monastery, before being seized by Henry VIII during his dissolution of religious houses, and passing into the hands of the aristocracy. As with many English country estates, the manor house has been extensively rebuilt and added to over the years. Today’s sprawling property was shaped by the likes of William Winde, the architect of Buckingham Palace, and landscape gardener Capability Brown, who created the beautiful exterior lake and pool in 1771.
“I still get a buzz from seeing the look on visitors’ faces when they arrive for the first time,” says June Picken, Coombe Abbey’s director of sales. “We have some beautiful photos of the hotel, but there’s no substitute for the impact it makes when you step through the front door.”
It’s certainly a memorable entrance: the main door is set in the oldest surviving wall of the abbey, letting visitors into a dark and ornate lobby packed with soaring stone arches, elaborate woodcarving, statuary and the odd suit of armour.
It’s hard to spot where the abbey’s original stonework ends and later Victorian and modern renovation begins – although heritage lovers can get a fuller picture on a tour with the knowledgeable duty manager, Tony Dipple.
“There are many layers of history here,” he says. “In one corner, we uncovered a beautiful floral fragment of 17th-century ceiling plaster, now on display after being restored for us by the local Herbert Art Gallery & Museum. And just outside the main entrance, you can still see some of the original floor tiles from the medieval monastery.”
Expect decadent decor
Decoration throughout is anything but minimal, with a wealth of old portraits, prints and sculpture, rich furnishings and playful touches such as the gilt-framed window in the dining area that fools the eye into believing it’s a mirror. In the midst of all this drama, it’s easy to see how stories of ghosts abound. The Abbey is rumoured to have four, although none of the hotel team admit to having personally encountered one.
Outside, the property’s surroundings are equally glorious. The encircling land that once made up the manorial estate is now the Coombe Abbey Country Park, a much-loved summer picnicking spot for locals, complete with parkland, wildflower meadows, woods and even a secluded bird hide a short stroll from the hotel, from where you can look out for the county’s largest colony of herons.
During the colder months, the Abbey’s cosy, candelabra-lit interiors are the big draw: “It’s hard to pick a favourite time of year, but Christmas, when everything is decorated, is really magical,” says Picken.
The splendour of Coombe Abbey today is all the more remarkable, given that just a few decades ago, the property was empty and derelict. But an imaginative refurbishment by the present owner has restored it to its former glory, with the current hotel opening its doors in 1995.
Since then, it has earned plaudits for both its accommodation and as a venue for meetings, conferences and special events. The property offers 119 bedrooms and suites, with 80 rooms in the main building and 39 in the modern Park Priory annex. “No two rooms are alike,” says Picken. “Visitors love the character and the quirky features – we get a lot of requests for room 140, where the bookcase is actually a secret door into the bathroom. And our Grand Feature bedrooms offer something really special for the incentive market.”
Within easy reach of Coventry and Warwick, the Abbey offers 11 varied events spaces, all with their own brand of historic character. “There’s a real sense of occasion to holding a meeting or event here, because of the nature of the property,” says Picken. “We can offer unique themed experiences, such as our medieval banquets in The Abbeygate, and we’re often asked to host prestigious occasions, such as mayoral receptions with visiting VIPs.”
Indoor and outdoor team-building experiences, from archery and ‘It’s a Knockout’ challenges to cocktail making, are also available.
With a dedicated events team overseeing each day’s schedule, the larger self-contained venues also have their own kitchens and catering staff. This allows the team at Coombe Abbey’s main restaurant, the elegant conservatory-style Garden Room, to concentrate on what they do best – serving up fine dining with a strong emphasis on local English produce. If you’ve brought a hearty appetite (and a colleague), you can indulge in the signature dry-aged ‘Knighted Baron of Coombe’ steak platter with all the trimmings. However, there are also plenty of lighter options, as well as regularly changing seasonal specials and an ever-popular afternoon tea menu.
An award-winning venue
For all its grandeur, Coombe Abbey strives to offer value: “Some people assume a venue like this must be out of their budget, but we are very competitive on costs,” Picken says.
Little wonder, then, that the property recently scooped three gongs in the M&IT Awards 2017, winning gold for Best UK Unusual Venue and Best Value for Money Conference Venue, and securing a silver award for Best Conference and Banqueting Staff.
It’s an impressive haul to add to the hotel’s already sizeable (and characteristically Gothic-looking) trophy cabinet – but Picken insists the team aren’t about to rest on their laurels any time soon.
“We were over the moon to win this industry recognition, especially as we’re not a big chain with a huge sales team,” she smiles. “And we were also blown away to be shortlisted for best UK hotel overall – that certainly gives us something to aim for in future.”
If it’s low-key minimalism you’re after, Coombe Abbey is unlikely to top your wish list – but for the rest of us, its quintessentially English charm and quirky grandeur, along with the evident enthusiasm of the entire hotel team, make it a venue with a real wow factor. And as for the ghosts – if one or two former residents have chosen to linger here beyond their time, who could really blame them?
Travelling to and from Coombe Abbey
- By rail: Coombe Abbey is around 15 minutes by taxi from Coventry rail station, with fast trains to London taking approximately two hours.
- By road: The hotel is situated within easy reach of the M40, M1 and M6. Note that there is a charge for parking.
- By air: Birmingham Airport is the closest air hub, within 20 minutes’ drive of the hotel.
To book an event or stay at Coombe Abbey, speak to our team today.