Sezincote: India in the Cotswolds

It means ‘home of the oaks’ and there are plenty of oak trees on the estate. But that’s not what you will remember when you leave. The broad views across the undulating Cotswold hills may be one, or the sweeping arc of the orangerie, or more probably the sheer romance of it all.

Sezincote is an evocative country house estate in the north Cotswolds. Inspired by the mogul architecture of India, the house resembles an Indian palace. Built from golden Cotswold stone, the main building is topped with the classic ‘onion’ dome of Moghul architecture along with several minarets. The windows are based on the romantic scallop-edged arches of Rajasthan. The combination is exotic and alluring.

The appeal is heightened further by the setting amid gently sloping hills which have been landscaped to include a water-garden, lily ponds, a mock temple, orangerie, and a wild flower garden.

Entrance to the estate is over a bridge that cuts through the water-garden. Four Nandini Bull statues adorn the bridge. To the left one pair frames a coiling, snarling snake leaping from a water feature, while the other set, on the right, frame a pond and fountain. Crossing the bridge takes you onto the path up to the house.

Nandini Bulls on the Bridge
Nandini Bull Statues Frame the Lower Water Garden

Rather than take this route, take the garden path before the bridge, on the left. The gently sloping walkway takes you down to the lower part of the water-garden. A small stream cuts through the pristine lawn, falls down some stone steps before entering the lower pond. A wooden bridge crosses the pond to provide views up the garden to the main bridge and the house.

The garden is strewn with a variety of plants, flowers, trees and benches from which to enjoy the whole spectacle. From time to time, you catch a view of the house sitting on the hill above you. The green dome and minarets adding to the enchantment.

The path continues around the bottom lake and back up through the garden. There is a swing and a see-saw along the way. We didn’t try the seesaw, but the swing was good fun. It had been a long time since I had enjoyed the carefree, thrill of a swing.

The Bridge at Sezincote
The Bridge at Sezincote

The walkway continues across the stream and deposits you at the middle pond, home to the snarling snake. From this point, you pass under the bridge, re-crossing the stream over slightly perilous stepping stones. It’s easy, and yet at the same time a little ‘Indiana Jones’!

Once you have safely navigated the stream crossing, you begin the climb to the top lake and the temple of the Sun God folly.

To see the house, you need to join a tour which lasts 30 minutes and begins on the hour and half hour. A guide will take you around five of the grandest rooms, past the spectacular main staircase. The guides are well informed and provide an interesting overview of the house’s history, although the focus is on the house and its contents, rather than the people and their lives.

The 'tent' bed at Sezincote by
The ‘tent’ bed at Sezincote by

The rooms open to the public include two bedrooms, one with the incredible ‘tent bed’, a sitting room, originally the ball-room, and the dining room.

2015 08 12 sezincote sitting room
A reception room at Sezincote by

They are all spectacular in their own way, but the most interesting was the dining room. The walls are lined with a hand-painted wallpaper which depicts a fictitious Indian landscape. It gives the room a depth and sense of space, while at the same time transporting you to a different continent.

Tall baobab trees fill the hazy, green-grey landscape, a lazy river with white turbaned fishermen dissects the land, while in the distance a dusty stone hill-top fort majestically surveys the scene. You can almost hear the bird-calls and smell the unique dusty aroma of India. It is incredibly evocative.

From the dining room, you are led out to the formal gardens where you are met by a lily pond. The pond leads to a fountain, onto a second lily pond and to steps up to two trumpeting elephants.

From this point, the grounds continue up a hill to some outbuildings in need of refurbishment and a wild-flower garden humming with bees and insects. It is wonderful to see something left to nature not far from something so tailored.

The Lily Pond at Sezincote
The Lily Pond at Sezincote

The formal garden is framed on one side by the spectacular arc of the glass orangerie. Here you can sit and enjoy tea and cake, and for a brief moment imagine this is home.

Sezincote is an unusual gem of a house. On the one hand, I feel it should be part of the country’s heritage and open to all. On the other hand, I’m glad it’s still a home and that the owners are gracious enough to open it to the public at all. It’s loved and cared for in a way that public ownership would never accommodate.

There is an easy tranquility and grace to the house, but above all it’s utterly romantic. A deep and enduring love between an Englishman and the jewel in the crown, India.

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