With a collection of 12 stunning Cotswold cottages in her portfolio, plus a flagship 14-bedroom guest house in Bourton-on-the-Water, Gemma Elizabeth Conway of Cotswold Cottage Gems shares the secrets of curating the perfect home-from-home luxury break.
About the owner: Gemma Elizabeth Conway
I am a country girl, through and through. I grew up on a farm in West Wales and fell in love with horses and the countryside from a very young age.
When I was a teenager, I would muck out for Peter Andre's godfather [the late Angelo Panayiotou] on his stud farm in Wales for £50 a week and this, very quickly, taught me about hard work.
Later on, I moved away to study equine sport science at the University of the West of England, and while studying, I worked two jobs in retail to fund much-loved trips to Cheltenham Races.
After I graduated from university, I was lucky enough to land a job as a nanny and personal assistant on a private estate in Lechlade-on-Thames, where I began to appreciate a taste for the finer things in life, alongside the desire to provide exceptionally high levels of service.
How did the idea for your company come about?
I have lived and worked in the Cotswolds for over 10 years and I've built up some great relationships in that time. I’ve also been lucky enough to experience some of the hidden gems this Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty has to offer, and I wanted to shout out about these to like-minded people and offer a bespoke, affordable service, too.
And so, in February 2018, after much thought and careful planning, I launched Cotswold Cottage Gems, with the aim of providing beautiful properties in the best locations, with an additional bespoke concierge service, so guests can feel completely taken care off.
Where was the first property located and how did things progress from there?
My first purchase was a gorgeous cottage in Lechlade-on-Thames, on the southern edge of the Cotswolds. I remember installing the Airbnb app and getting so excited by the ‘ping’ of a booking. I would do the changeovers in the evenings to fit around my day job and found it hugely satisfying to interact with the guests and listen to their positive feedback and comments.
Once bookings were under way and the property was established, I thought, 'we could actually do this better – offer flexible check-in days, shorter stays and a ‘concierge’ service for the trip'. After this initial experience, I then went on to partner up with a Cotswolds couple, to go on and buy Greystones Cottage in the picturesque village of Cold Aston, near Bourton-on-the-Water.
your business unique from other companies offering cottage getaways?
We own all of our properties. We don't just market other people’s accommodation. And it's me who you'll find at the end of the phone to liaise with guests before, during and after their stay.
We pride ourselves in creating real home away from home spaces, where guests can relax with friends, family and pets. Alongside this, we can tailor stays to exact needs. Guests might not need anything, they might just want to escape to the countryside for a few days. However, if they’d like a personal chef, a private tour of a local attraction, their favourite flowers on arrival, pet sitting or bespoke itineraries, then we have an amazing team who can arrange all of this.
We also offer a complimentary welcome hamper on arrival, showcasing the very best products from local suppliers, such as Cotswold Lavender, Cotswold Gold oil, Diddly Squat chutneys and crisps, Cotswold Cheese Co jams and FCP wines, among other fabulous products.
more about your bespoke concierge service. What sort of things have you arranged?
We have booked in-house massages, private chefs, racing yard tours and Cotswold vineyard and brewery tours; we arrange transport and can even book tables at local restaurants that are otherwise fully booked. And sometimes it’s just small personal touches, like a guest’s favourite flowers on arrival.
Recently, we looked after Marvin the Labrador whilst his owners were at a wedding in Hyde House at Stow-on-the-Wold – and we even dropped him off there at the end of the night for them.
With so much choice in our beautiful county, whereabouts in Gloucestershire did you choose to base yourself?
I am lucky enough to live just 10 minutes from Bourton-on-the-Water. It’s funny how life has a way of working out, especially if you are dedicated and work hard.
There is a pub called The Feathered Nest in the neighbouring village that I used to go to when I was at university; and it very quickly became my favourite place in the Cotswolds. Now it’s on my doorstep.
If you could create the dream Cotswold holiday for yourself, what would it look like?
I love converted historical buildings. It would be small and romantic, like a converted pigsty but with modern day luxuries like Jo Malone candles, local goodies and a huge outdoor bath tub.
And the perfect itinerary for me would be a morning on Jonjo O’ Neill's gallops, followed by lunch at The Old Butchers in Stow-on-the-Wold (the best seafood restaurant in the Cotswolds); then an afternoon exploring Sudeley Castle and Gardens; finished off with pre-dinner cocktails with friends at Maxi's Tipi Lounge.