Art and soul: why everyone needs a night at Broomhill Art Hotel
Contemporary, quirky and one-of-a-kind: and the artworks aren't bad either! Muddy heads to North Devon for a top-up of sculpture-culture
I tried to be a self-portrait painter but in the end it just wasn’t me (sorry) but Broomhill Art Hotel is very me. And if you like art, fabulous food, and quirky boutique stays then I think you’ll find it very you too.
I came for the night with my other half in late August when the hotel was buzzing with couples of all ages and nationalities and a well-heeled family with older kids. It would be a fab getaway just for the location, the hotel and the food (OMG the food) but add over 300 sculptures into the mix (and a giant red stiletto at the entrance) and you have a winner. If there was a Turner Prize for hotels, Broomhill would get it.
A boutique 8-bedroom Victorian hotel in 12 acres of leafy North Devon valley, Broomhill has been owned by hands-on Dutch owners Rinus and Aniet van de Sande for 20 years and boasts the largest private collection of sculpture in the south west.
Their reach extends beyond Devon, with notables including British sculptor and painter Giles Penny, a figurative artist whose bulky sky-seeking bronzes you can see from the terrace, and Netherlands artist Ronald A Westerhuis, a Saatchi-approved ex-rig worker who specialises in industrial-looking orbs and shards. The current guest exhibition is Shona Sculpture, a display of hand-carved stone (an ancient art under threat from technology) from Zimbabwe.
Indoors, you’ll find a bar-come-art-library, two lounges and the Terra Madre restaurant – all dripping with gorgeous ceramics, paintings and glassware. This is connected to a gallery where you can splash the cash – erm, support the arts – with prices starting at a very affordable £50 rising to a couple of thou’ for small bronze pieces.
Stop for a coffee and cream tea out the front, which overlooks the sculpture park. I’d get one if you go just for a day trip as for £8.25 per person it gets you admission into the park too.
Look at all that lovely objet d’art. If Broomhill ever goes on tour, I’d be the first to offer up my pad as a location (selfless I know).
Peaceful and invigorating all at the same time, a bit Arts & Crafts with a gorgeous curving staircase as a welcome. Good art should make you stop and look, and there is loads to stop you in your tracks. Humorous figurative art, abstract paintings and those pops of colour in the stairwell can’t help but top you up. It’s set against a backdrop of tasteful, neutral tones – wooden parquet and white walls – all designed to show off the works. The quality of everything from the cups, to the flooring, suggest a belief things are more than just their function, but how they look.
It was homely though, less like being in a gallery and more like being in a friend’s house – a friend with incredibly good taste, and lots of art. A friend who isn’t afraid to be a bit political (Brexiteers look away now).
THE SCULPTURE PARK
I do like a bit of art in the landscape, and this is a magical mix of human-made and natural, of aged and new, bronze, stone, plastic and metal, ranging from the small ground-dwelling stone of the Shona carvings, to the resin Hoola by Jim Rattenbury, camouflaged among the ferns and greenery.
I’d describe it as ‘feel-good’ and fun. You can’t get a sense of size of Framed by Nadine Senft (above) from my pic but standing next to it feels like you’ve stumbled on an alien landing.
Even if you’re not interested in the works (and why woudn’t you be?) a walk in the woods with a babbling river and dragonflies bobbing by is good for a de-stress, but add sculpture and it takes it to another level – playful discovery, contemplation and a great conversational cue when you run out of things to talk about with your other half. That is unless you’ve got the tinies with you, when you’ll be arguing about who’s turn it is to stop them touching everything and tripping into the pondweed.
Maybe that’s what happened to poor A’net (by Brenda Jet) who I found upside-down, clinging desperately to a tree. We’ve all had those sort of days. She’s made from discarded fishing twine collected from Devon beaches.
And what do you think of these beauties? I think it captured Mr Muddy and l perfectly.
Welcome to the Third Millennium by Mike Roles was commissioned by Broomhill specially for the garden, evoking civil unrest and eerily lifelike. My favourite part of the park, it’s a must-see for fans of zombie movies and dystopian fiction.
Does my bun look big in this? I like how there were no guides, and signage was sparing. Some people might prefer more interpretation, but this is how Rinus and Aniet want you to enjoy it. Follow the path and have fun, with just the name of the work and the artist next to each piece, you’re free to interact with it how you like.
SCOFF AND QUAFF
All that art works up an appetite, doesn’t it? Winners of a Food and Drink Devon Award, dinner is a curated three-course affair cooked by owner-chef Rinus, with Aniet as front of house. Inspired by travels around north Africa and the Mediterranean, this is slow food with a twist, so ethically sourced, made with love and made to be savoured, and boy, it deserves to be.
Each course had a choice of six options with plenty for veggies and vegans (and vegan wine). Once happily installed with a refreshing Wicked Wolf, unexpected extras started arriving: a plate of smoked nuts with our gin, home-made sesame-studded bread with olive oil, and then two plates of Kuku – presented to diners as ‘a little gift from the kitchen’: a spongy Persian tart of courgette and potato, with a speared anchovy on top of a creamy tzatzki – heavenly.
For starters, I tucked into fishcakes with what looked like a miniature fish finger scattered with calendula petals, shelled peas prawns, green beans and bites of sweet fennel.
Mr M went meaty with a ham hock terrine which he said was a nice balance of sweet, sour and salty, preserved and fresh.
For mains, I went for Ox cheek ragout on a textured tagliatelle which mopped up the flavour – imagine the best bolognaise you’ve ever had and then some.
He fancied the Moroccan tagine which was rammed with savoury treats, topped with a couple of Merguez sausages, crispy Julienne carrot and parsnips, on a base of potato, aubergine, couscous and lamb. It just fell apart in your mouth like a dream.
The semi-freddo for dessert was an X-factor Golden Buzzer moment – creamy and fruity, with hits of mint and cranberry. Ice cream will never be the same again.
Mr’s M’s sorbet was a real hit too, thanks to the vodka. A fabulous dessert that should come with a designated driver.
We stayed in Room 6, a spacious double with a bay window overlooking the park and walls covered in original art (of course). The two pieces of fudge waiting on the cups didn’t hang around, and helpfully for those who never have time to iron before they leave home (make that ever): an iron and board in the cupboard.
The bathroom was quality too: a double-size shower, ceramic shower tray, chrome rail, oak floor and grey slate on the walls. And big, thick, fluffy towels. Lovely.
Even the landing was full of art and cool covetable furniture.
Fancy yourself as an art critic? Make like Will Gompertz and vote in their annual National Sculpture Prize which runs from May to October (now in its 10th year) where guest artists are invited to create a shortlist of 10 entries from emerging UK based artists to exhibit. One dropped out so it’s 9 this year with the winner announced in October.
OUT AND ABOUT
The north Devon coast is not far away, and Barnstaple is worth a trip for the shops and cafes on Butcher’s Row alone, or you could split the day between Appledore’s art and craft shops and the beach at Instow (pictured).
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: culture vultures; romantic weekenders; a peaceful defrazzler; a North Devon foray – it’s well placed for Barnstaple, Bideford and the coast; big bashes and weddings – the restaurant can cater for up to 80.
Not for: anyone who can’t live without wifi – it kept dropping out. Teeny terrors – book the baby-sitter it would be too stressful with kids and all those breakables. Swimmers – there’s an outdoor pool but it’s closed to the public.
The damage: fantastic value – dinner, bed and breakfast in Room 6 costs £165 with entry to the park included.
Broomhill Art Hotel, Muddiford, Barnstaple EX31 4EX. Tel 01271 850262