Luxe lodge life: Kentisbury Grange
Want a crowd-pleaser family break with luxe trimmings and a hot tub? Don't want much, do you? Pack your bag, we're heading to the fringes of Exmoor.
What do you do when you fancy a super-indulgent minibreak with all the trimmings but the babysitter has taken a leave of absence? Book yourself a family-friendly hot tub lodge at Kentisbury Grange, that’s what.
This is a corker of a boutique stay, known until recently for its Michael Caines restaurant, The Coach House, which Muddy gave a rave review back in the winter 2018.
Last year, that all changed when – shock-horror! – the hotel suddenly closed in a move so sudden even chef Michael expressed surprise.
A short while later it re-opened, still with the same owner, but with a new focus – less about the food and more about family, with the fine dining replaced with a more relaxed brasserie menu and crowd-pleasing Sunday roasts. High time for a nosey…
Right on the edge of Exmoor National Park, and minutes from the North Devon coast – big skies, shaggy hedgerows full of wildflowers and cool Volkswagen campers. In reality, you’re just off the A39 and about 25 minutes from Barnstaple (an easy zip north from the M5 if you’re coming from outside the county).
The gorgeous windswept stretches of beach on the North Devon coast, Woolacombe, Saunton and Croyde are an easy drive, too. So, a pretty decent location for a country break with biking, body-boarding, surfing and walking all in easy reach.
Sitting pretty amongst the rhododendrons and a sweep of gravel, the Victorian Manor House has a definite ‘ooh’ factor, with the hotel in one building and the restaurant behind, along with 16 en suite rooms and a plush drawing room indoors – remodelled by interior designer Karen Gray no less – plus 11 luxury hot tub lodges to the left of the drive and five brand spanking new one-bed cottages for lovebirds up by the hotel.
You want dog sculptures guarding the grand entrance? Done. For guests, there’s clearly the one objective here: to relax.
As I say, we arrived mob-handed: me, Mr Muddy and our two youngest kids, aged 15 and 18, so opted to stay in one of contemporary lodges, all 2-bed en-suites, with a well-kitted kitchen (hello Smeg fridge), teen-friendly tech, and three glass doors which peel back for access to a wrap-around deck and hot tub.
It’s inside-outside holiday living, spacious, airy, comfortable – with that inviting hot tub giving you the option of ‘actively doing nothing’.
It’s brilliant for people who struggle to decompress in the limited time of a minibreak and perfect for a spot of family bonding.
As we chilled in the hot tub I thought of who would love it here – my friend with young kids who misses the luxury of grown-up stays; my elderly change-averse dad who would love the lakes and the ducks flying overhead (plus the fact he could bring his dog); and friends like myself with older kids, who’d like the option of hiring two or more lodges with extended family or friends.
According to the GM Wayne – a hospitality pro and good egg – they see most lodge visitors only twice: when they check in and check out. But we really appreciated having such a good bar and restaurant right there, meaning we could dodge the driving and the self-catering.
Extra Muddy ticks for the dressing gowns and slippers; the bath-end TV in the kids’ en suite, the TV-come-mirror which swings 180 degrees to face both dining and lounge area and the well-kitted out kitchen (enough to do a big family Christmas, we thought).
If it’s just the two of you (lucky you) there’s much to recommend indoors with bedrooms broken down into a mix of suites and doubles in the main house, along with those pretty one-bed cottages.
SCOFF & QUAFF
When you get bored of the self-catering, I urge you to head to The Coach House, just a short wander from the hotel, and open to residents and non-residents alike.
When Michael Caines was at the helm – he of Lympstone Manor Michelin-starred fame – it had three AA Rosettes and a Gold Award from South West Tourism two years running, so a hard act to follow.
Inside the 17th century building, it looks as glam as ever with midnight-blue velvet upholstery, a statement walnut and marble bar and a window allowing you to eye up the chefs at work, and who doesn’t love a good ogle at some kitchen theatre?
Out front is a south-facing gravel terrace, which is sun soaked when it deigns to shine, surrounded by mature trees and tweeting birds, so an idyllic setting for both an al fresco breakfast and a cheeky sundowner.
There are two main menus: brasserie style serving up classic pub fare of burgers, fish and chips and the like and an a la carte. On Sundays, the two merge into one menu, with the addition of Sunday roasts, a fairly even mix of fish, meat and veggie options.
Top marks for chef Ryan and the team, and front of house too – genuinely interested in your enjoyment but with zero hovering.
Leave room for dessert because they’re the anecdotal kind you find yourself talking about the next day.
Needless to say, the food knocked us out for eight hours straight; but the next morning we trotted back over ready for breakfast, again faultless table service, perfectly cooked eggs, amazing granola and not a mini box of Kelloggs in sight. Made all the more lovely by eating al fresco.
Here manages to blend upmarket luxury with a child friendly feel. The decks provide a safe space to play; the kids menu comes with crayons and colouring sheets in the restaurant, and while there’s no play-park or pool, you have tranquil grounds and lakes to wander with early-bird toddlers, plus highchairs, playcots and Z-beds if you need them. And teens will approve of the wifi and hot tub.
OUT & ABOUT
For beach babes and nature lovers, there is loads to do in these parts. Award-winning sands of Saunton and Woolacombe are less than half an hour’s drive away, or if you want to swerve the amenities and don’t mind the narrow lanes to get there Putsborough (above) is beautiful.
Bring bikes and walking boots as the western gateway to Exmoor National Park, Blackmoor Gate, is just five minutes walk away. Kids are well served for adventure parks, too, with The Big Sheep and The Milky Way Adventure Park or if your littlies are mad for diplodocus, the animatronics at The Dinosaur Park (I’m told you mustn’t stand too close if you don’t want to get squirted by the water jets).
When you’re bored of the beach, there is Victorian charm at Lynton and Lynmouth, where you can take a ride up 500ft of steep cliffside in the Cliff Railway (above), for amazing views across the town, rocky beach and Bristol Channel. We had lunch in The Pavilion Dining Room and you’re sitting right next to it as it trundles up and down, amazingly all powered by water from the river. A must see for heritage lovers.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Seriously, I can’t fault it. Yes, you’re paying that bit extra than for some lodge stays but the exclusive feel, the tranquility and location – and the food – make it worth it.
Good for: family bonding with taciturn teens in tow; parents looking for some indulgent me-time with young kids; extended families wanting to a holiday together but not too close could book side-by-side lodges; couples after space and relaxation, with reading, walks and lazy days on the beach. Some of the lodges are dog-friendly.
Not for: people who hate wide open spaces and prefer the clamour and glamour of the city.
The damage: From £275 per night per lodge, minimum three night stay.
Kentisbury Grange Hotel, Kentisbury EX31 4NL Tel: 01271 554008