Karma Salford Hall Hotel, Abbots Salford, Warwickshire – Review

Karma Salford Hall Hotel, Abbots Salford, Warwickshire – Review

By Clare Jenkins

The week we stayed at the Karma Salford Hall Hotel, their Tempest Restaurant was crowned Midlands Hotel Restaurant of the Year in the 2022 Food Awards England.

The restaurant is in one of the 16th Century hall’s oak-panelled rooms, with latticed windows inlaid with pretty stained-glass birds, and an ancient coat of arms above the open fireplace. At night, there’s candlelight as well as bright chandeliers – though the Olde English atmosphere is rather diluted by a music playlist featuring not madrigals or Greensleeves (Henry VIII once owned the hall) but 60s, 70s and 80s hits. I mean, I like Roy Orbison, Dolly Parton and The Monkees with the best of them, but not necessarily accompanying a meal in a room that started out as the chapel of a Benedictine guest-house.

The food, though, is excellent, thanks to head chef James Woodhams and his team, and the fact that their location – the hamlet of Abbots Salford – lies in the fruit- and vegetable-growing Vale of Evesham. As my husband and I are vegetarian, James came up with a separate menu for us both nights of our stay, with dishes including goat’s cheese and red onion tart, aubergine steak and roasted butternut squash, cumin and quinoa.

Karma Salford Hall Hotel, Abbots Salford, Warwickshire – Review aerial

Karma Salford Hall Hotel


But more about the food later. The 32-bedroom hotel itself is the latest addition to the Karma brand (“Your gateway to a world of bespoke lifestyle experiences”) which spans 40 locations in India, Bali, Egypt and Europe, and five in the UK, including the Scilly Isles and Scotland’s Lake of Menteith.This particular one officially opened in May 2021 after many years as a Best Western (a programme of refurbishment is ongoing).

Just off the main Stratford to Evesham road, the Grade 1 listed hotel is well placed to explore Worcestershire and Warwickshire. It’s also within reach of the Cotswolds in one direction, Stratford-upon-Avon and Leamington Spa in the other, with miles of rolling countryside and villages full of thatched, black-and-white timber-framed cottages and crooked barns.

It’s a striking place to come across: an asymmetrical stone-and-glass jumble of roofs and curved Dutch gables on the outside, a higgledy-piggledy warren of creaky-floored rooms, passages and uneven stairs on the inside. There’s even a Priest’s Hole dating from Elizabethan and Jacobean times when the then owners, the Roman Catholic Stanford family, held forbidden Masses here. A warning on the door advises guests not to climb in.

Karma Salford Hall Hotel, Abbots Salford, Warwickshire – Review aerial reception


“Oak beams”

Originally built for the monks of nearby Evesham Abbey, in the 1800s it became a refuge for Benedictine nuns fleeing from France after the revolution. The former stable block and Tudor coach house have also been converted into rooms, where dogs are welcome – with their owners.

To one side of the main hall is the whitewashed Sir Phillip Hobbie Bar. Named after one of Henry VIII’s ambassadors and closest allies, it’s a traditional English pub with leather sofas, plump Union Jack cushions and an open carved fireplace, serving local beers and ciders. A maroon Rolls Royce parked outside advertises the hotel as a wedding venue.

The first impressions of a small country house continue inside in the oak beams and exposed stonework, the Jacobean chests, and the framed portraits of Kings and Queens that line the wood-panelled walls. Again, though, I somehow can’t imagine James 1 or Victoria boogying along to the piped music – Queen’s Don’t Stop Me Now, Elton John’s I’m Still Standing – playing in the lounge.

Reception supervisor Ella Speirs showed us to our executive room – not one of the four-poster bed ones but large and well equipped with king-size bed, table and chairs, sofa bed, two cubbyhole wardrobes, a low chest of drawers, a very fine fireplace with painted coat of arms above, and a rather temperamental TV. The bathroom contained a shower over the bath and lovely Cornish Land & Water toiletries.

Karma Salford Hall Hotel, Abbots Salford, Warwickshire – Review aerial Almonry Heritage Centre

Almonry Heritage Centre, Evesham
image: Stephen McClarence

“Ancient market town”

Ella – who, like a lot of the young staff, is local to the area, and therefore very knowledgeable about it – also showed us round the small spa treatment room, the library (home to an impressive if incongruous juke box) and the games room, with its snooker table and board games. There’s a dog-friendly conservatory restaurant and, outside, a small gym with Peloton bikes.

But the weather was good and the countryside beckoning, so we headed out along the A46, negotiating many bypasses and roundabouts. No wonder a workman we met in the neighbouring village of Harvington complained that “The A46 is like a bloody great vein going the whole length of the county”. We were heading for Evesham, the ancient market town which, while pleasant enough, has seen better days. A number of shops have closed, including along the traffic-filled High Street, though there’s still an interesting little museum in the Almonry Heritage Centre, and a good antiques centre. One corner of the latter was reserved for “genuine 1920s boot polish tins and signs from Wheatley’s of Evesham”, among which were Novino black boot polish and “Avon brilliant polish for boots and leggings”.

Directly across the road, the striking half-timbered 15th Century Round House – long a Nat West bank – was shrouded in sheeting as part of its renovation. Outside is a sculpture of Eoves, the 8th Century swineherd whose vision of the Madonna led to the founding of Evesham Abbey, once one of the most important monasteries in England. Now all that’s left are its solid-looking Bell Tower and archway, St Lawrence’s church (closed), and Abbey Park, with its memorial to Simon De Montfort. This French-born uncle to Edward I and brother-in-law to Henry III was “one of the fathers of modern Parliamentary democracy”, as a pavement plaque puts it. He died at the Battle of Evesham in 1265 and, like many of the medieval monks, is buried somewhere under the park, as it slopes down to the River Avon.

Karma Salford Hall Hotel review restaurant

The restaurant

“Treasures around the altar”

Back at the hotel, we had an excellent dinner of roasted carrot soup and spiced crispy halloumi, followed by creamy wild mushroom risotto and delicious pesto tagliatelle. Other guests were choosing between Karma gin cured salmon, duck breast and steak, followed maybe by honey and whiskey crème brulee or dark chocolate fondant.

After breakfast the next day – a decent spread of cereals, fruit salad, cold meats and cheeses, with hot dishes to order, including smoked haddock, grilled kippers and eggs benedict – we drove to Worcester, past the startlingly golden gates of a luxury retirement village, with its “promise of a life less ordinary”.

Still in a monastic frame of mind, we headed for Worcester Cathedral, not realising that we were coinciding with the university’s graduation ceremony week. So we couldn’t see the famous 1936 Dream of Gerontius window, dedicated to local boy Sir Edward Elgar, who conducted many Three Choirs Festival concerts here. But that turned out to be a blessing, as it concentrated our minds on the treasures around the altar – notably the tombs of King John (reputed to be the oldest royal effigy in the country) and Prince Arthur (elder brother of Henry VIII, who died a few months into his marriage to Catherine of Aragon), and Izaac Walton’s memorial to his wife Anne (“Alas that she is dead!”).

Karma Salford Hall Hotel review stained glass

Stained glass in Worcester Cathedral
image: Stephen McClarence

Then there were the entrancing medieval stone carvings – bishops cramped inside pillars, sleeping saints, five-men-in-a-boat, dogs on their hind legs, a knight doing battle with a lion, a naked sinner being roasted over the fires of hell… And cathedral founder St Wulfstan’s 11th Century crypt, with its striking silence, and its glass case containing the tattered boots of a 15th Century pilgrim.

“Gilded statues”

We didn’t have time to explore the cathedral library’s Anglo-Saxon manuscripts – second only to Durham’s in its importance – or Elgar’s musical manuscripts. But we did salute the composer’s statue at the end of High Street and the plaque outside the H&M store commemorating the site where his father’s music store – Elgar Bros Pianoforte & Music Warehouse – was based. Edward and his siblings spent much of their childhood above the shop, he and his brother Frank started a wind quintet here, and he eventually accompanied singers at Worcester Glee Club before moving on to be organist at the town’s Catholic church – and, of course, to greater things. The shop ran for 50 years but disappeared during rebuilding in the 1960s. In that same decade, the Shell guide to Worcestershire talked about the “narrow streets of medieval, Tudor and Stuart houses, very many in half-timber with gables and overhangs” that used to once fill the town. “No English city was so rich in houses of these early periods,” wrote James Lees-Milne, adding darkly, “What the war did not do, peace, prosperity and lack of appreciation was doing instead…”

But there are still many buildings worth seeing, including the 15th Century Greyfriars House, now owned by the National Trust, and the splendid 18th Century Guildhall, with its baroque façade of red brick, its Hanoverian coat of arms above the door, and its alcoves for gilded statues of Charles 1, Charles II and Queen Anne. Though not, to date, Charles III.

Karma Salford Hall Hotel review bedroom

A bedroom inside Karma Salford Hall Hotel


Back in our hotel bedroom, the noises off – laughter from downstairs, a child’s voice in another room, someone filling a kettle, a door closing – reminded me of Alison Uttley’s book A Traveller in Time. Written in the 1930s, the novel tells of a 20th century child staying in an old house who finds herself back in the 16th Century when she opens certain doors. At times, Karma Salford Hall can feel like that, as though you’re hearing voices from the past – until everything swings back into the present.

Dinner that night was melt-in-the-mouth butternut squash and sage arancini and Warwickshire truckle cheese tartlet, followed by Ashlynn and red onion tart tatin and a filling dish of gnocci with spinach, roasted tomato and ricotta.

We spent the following day in Pershore, a town described in a 1949 guidebook as “perhaps the most beautiful and perfectly built town in Worcestershire… Houses were built to live in and to last, spacious, well-mannered, a little prosy, sometimes even a little hoity-toity”. To better find the hoity-toity houses, we picked up an information pack from the library, which included maps and walking trails. And the guide was right – Bridge, Broad and High Street are full of Tudor, Regency and Victorian houses with bow windows, fanlights, pillared porches and the occasional canopied balcony. Plus independent shops including the excellent Coach House Books, tearooms, restaurants, and a good indoor market.

Karma Salford Hall Hotel review the ‘benefaction board’ in St Nicholas Church, Alcester

The ‘benefaction board’ in St Nicholas Church, Alcester
imager: Clare Jenkins

“Community spirit”

Then there’s the abbey – there’s always an abbey around here – this time dating back to Saxon times and mentioned in the Domesday Book. Set in meadows leading down to the Avon, its highlights include superb vaulting in the ceilings (“the crowning glory of 14th Century architecture in England”, according to churches expert Simon Jenkins), stained-glass windows telling the story of the town, and a carved Crusader’s tomb depicting a knight in chain mail armour, carrying a hunting horn.

On our way home from our short but rewarding trip to the ‘orchard of England’, we discovered the delightful market town of Alcester, with its Elizabethan timber and Georgian brick houses, its Roman Heritage Centre, its independent bakers, greengrocers and butchers. In St Nicholas Church, a man doing the crossword pointed out the Civil War musket hole in the 16th Century ‘benefaction board’ – a hinged wooden cupboard with painted doors showing 17th Century townspeople dispensing money to good causes. As we wandered up and down the narrow streets lined with pretty cottages, a smart woman on her way to a U3A coffee morning told us about the town’s friendliness, summer floral festival and community spirit. As The Guardian said a few years ago, “Think of it as Stratford-upon-Avon but nicer, and without the coach parties.”

Karma Salford Hall, Abbot’s Salford, Warwickshire WR11 8UT; tel: 01386 871300
Rooms at Karma Salford Hall range from £100 to £300 per night, with Continental breakfasts £10 pp extra, Full English breakfasts £15



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