Advantages Location, price reasonable given location.
Disadvantages Definitely needs a spruce up.
|Value for Money|
Located in the very centre of Stratford upon Avon, the White Swan Hotel is believed to be the oldest building in the town. Whether this is so, is a bit hard to verify given that the hotel itself isn't sure whether it is 450 years old or "over 500 years". Either way and all appearances to the contrary it hasn't always been an inn. In the days when Shakespeare was walking these streets, it was a bakery. Legend has it that here the Bard himself bought his daily bread – assuming that as a child his mum sent him out for it and later his relatively wealthy wife didn't employ staff to bake their own that is.Given the inability to date the age of the building due scepticism should be shown to any claim to identify individual customers of the time. On the other hand, if it was the only bakery in town, then the probability goes up. Certainly your man's birthplace is just a street away.
Whatever the specifics, the half-timbered building is definitely old. It is also almost certainly an amalgamation of a motley collection of buildings that, for all their apparent congruity, one suspects were independently occupied in their original incarnation. That's a long way of saying that it is a bit of a warren inside. If the story of a bakery on the site is correct, then it's unlikely to have occupied the whole of the floor-space. The frontage suggests at least four 'houses'. Whether the more prosaically pebble-dashed cross linkages at the back are contemporary with the original frontage, or modern additions, or make-do's from somewhere in between, is open to question. I didn't get to check any of the interiors so couldn't play house-detective.Given the local tourist industry, I'd have expected a lot more to be made of the building's history than actually is. It has to be said: we Brits are totally blasé about all this ancient stuff.
ExteriorAs you'd expect for a building of age in this conservation area, the outside is joyfully picturesque. Blackened beams against white-washed render above lower store of brick-facing. Flower baskets blossom in the summer. In continental style there are tables and chairs on the street front, already attracting clientele on a pleasant April afternoon.
InteriorThe bar areas on the ground floor comprise a bar and lounge that are suitably quaint.
Upstairs, corridors are narrow. Uneven floors creak reassuringly. There is no lift.
Signage is clear and effective.
The RoomThis is where it starts to go downhill a bit. Now, before I start to criticise, let us put this in context, this is only a three-star hotel. Age and connections aside, it has no pretensions to grandeur. Even so... attention is needed.
My first impression of the room was not good. The yellow-wash wall paper might always have been that colour, designed to convey "age". The equally "aged" cream paintwork makes one suspect not. An impression not helped by the fact that the walls have taken some stick. Luggage damage is marked, with slivers of paper missing – not only by the door, but throughout the room.Second impressions didn't improve matters. The phone rang. Reception called to tell me that they were having a problem with the boiler at the moment, but that the engineers were on site fixing the problem. Had the engineers arrived in the time it took me to get up the stairs, or had "reception" taken a conscious decision not to inform residents at the point of check-in? Some two hours later the hot taps were managing to produce tepidity. No further information had been received from reception. Somewhen between then and morning normal service had been resumed.
Then there was the television. A Phillips portable, the like of which I had years back. It was a great model in its day. Mine "died" circa 1998. Channels available were limited to terrestrial stations, and not even all of those – BBC2 and Channel 5 produced only snow. BBC1, ITV1 and Channel 4 were watchable, but not great. There was no remote control. [Yes I know I'm the person who normally complains about the "intrusion" of massive plasma screens in character rooms, but there must be an achievable balance.]Furniture in the room was adequate. A double bed, clad in simple white linen, crisp and clean, was firm and comfortable. One additional pillow was found in the built-in cupboard that served as a wardrobe – high-level shelf only, but a case stand and hanging rail – a single coat-hanger seemed a bit miserly.
A small desk held the portable TV, and hid the hairdryer. It was backed by a tall mirror.Wide bedside cabinets, each with shelf and single drawer, held the phone on one side, the refreshment tray on the other. The ubiquitous reading material choice was available: Yellow Pages or the Bible.
The equally de riguer Kirby press on the wall saved me having to request an ironing board.Relatively small leaded windows, looked out onto an internal roof space, not a view to spend any time on, but at least they opened wide to allow in fresh air. The internal aspect obviously added to a peaceful ambience. Sadly, curtain tie-backs were held in place by the kind of Heath Robinson contraption that has you worrying about the fact you had the audacity to want to close them and wondering if you can ever get them back in place. The nets gave the impression of not having seen soap since before the smoking ban came in.
Seating comprised an upholstered dressing chair, and a curved back "easy" chair – both upholstered in a pleasant enough gold-based tapestry that would have benefitted from a decent steam clean. They weren't grubby exactly, but nor were they pristine. Tired is probably the word.A dark wood-effect wall-fixed headboard backed the bed, matching the mock-antique furniture.
The carpet, surprisingly, felt new and clean. I tend to roam barefoot and one thing that will really have me wincing is a room in which I'm not comfortable doing so. We were definitely nowhere near that territory.Wall decoration consisted of a couple of contrasting play bills for the Merchant of Venice.
All in all not so much a mix of good and bad as a mix of okay and why-oh-why?Bathroom
The bathroom generated no complaints, once the hot water had been restored. Again it might be due for a refurb, the windows certainly could do with a wash and the paintwork a touch up, but the useable bits were spotlessly clean. Sufficient towels, suitably large and averagely fluffy. Mini-but-adequate toiletries. Wash basin, WC, bath with shower over. And space! And daylight! And a window that opened wide! Three things usually missing from more upmarket establishments.Food
I didn't eat in the hotel, but the lounge bar serves food until 7pm.A wide range of Sandwiches and Paninis between £5 and £7 (or thereabouts)
A simple but varied pub-style menu of mains ranges from £6.95 for sausage and mash to Chicken in Parma Ham with cheese sauce @ £13.95 via the usual options of fish and chips, steak, mixed grill, cottage pie poached salmon and a choice of pasta/sauce combinations.Mention is made of the "Oak Room Restaurant" on the website. I didn’t seek this out but couldn't find any obvious signs of it offering meals later in the evening. I could be wrong.
Room Service is available 24 hours. Again they slip this information in, almost as if they hope you won't take them up on it. It's not like they give you a menu or prices or anything.Breakfast in bed? Didn't seem to be an option. But down in the dining room (or pub bar) the Continental Breakfast is £5.50, but is at least a full continental version including a selection of cold meats, cheeses, tomatoes, cucumber, olives, fresh fruits as well as the nominal breads, croissants, yoghurt and cereal.
The full breakfast is £9.75 and includes all of the continental menu plus full English fry-up OR smoked salmon & scrambled egg on toast OR Smoked Haddock and poached egg OR kippers OR Scots porridge with cream or maple syrup.Maple syrup? On porridge? Oh well – I guess this is U.S. tourist territory.
PriceNot surprisingly, mine wasn't one of the rooms you'll find pictured on the website and at the quoted standard rate of £85.00 it really didn't live up to the hype.
More reasonable at the £70 (incl breakfast) paid by our agents bearing in mind that this is Stratford and it was the weekend approaching the Easter holidays. Even so, I was disappointed.RECOMMENDATION?
Not on the basis of this visit. The website implies that there are much better rooms, which is fair enough, and I don't know whether the boiler problem was a first-occurrence or a repeat on a boiler that is over-due for replacement. Maybe given the theatre focus of the town, most guests don't rely that much on the telly or on being able to eat in the place they're staying. BUT: there is absolutely no excuse for unwashed curtains – and I would have thought that being told there was no hot water upon arrival warranted at least an apology at the front desk and the offer of some kind of recompense, if only a drink at the bar or a few quid off the bill.The shame of it is, the building has the potential to be something really special. It's wasted.
© Lesley Mason
hiker @ Ciao
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Set in a Grade II listed building, this historic hotel has gone through a £3 million restoration project, yet still retains its original features...
Shipping: refer to website
Availability: Price is per double room per night and may vary depending on date booked