Reviewed: Hotel Endsleigh
A majestic Grade I historic house in the Tamar Valley, set deep within 100 acres of mystical Humphry Repton gardens. Spielberg, I've scouted out your next film location!
I’m starting this review with a stark warning: it’s going to be hard not to wax lyrical about this place. I mean, if you serve up history, romance and great big dollops of beauty what’s a girl to do?
Hotel Endsleigh is one of renowned hotelier Olga Polizzi’s two hotels in the South West. While Hotel Tresanton on the Cornish Roseland Peninsula is all sea breezes, palm trees and timeless nautical style, this is the elegant and historic country retreat. Once owned by the Duke of Bedford, it’s a hideaway deep within Repton’s 200 year-old gardens (one of his last commissions), where the emphasis is on welly walks among the flora and fauna, roaring drinks by a crackling fire and indulgent, candlelit meals.
It’s one of those hotels that rolls with the seasons; where you and the family could batten down the hatches and feel perfectly content in the depths of winter, but come the summer months, when the gardens spring into bloom, life spills outdoors onto manicured lawns, with sun loungers, croquet and cocktails. If Gatsby did Devon, he’d have chosen somewhere like this for a raucous house party.
For those zipping into the county from Somerset and beyond, you’ll find Hotel Endsleigh right over on the western border as Devon becomes Cornwall, near the village of Milton Abbot. Unlike our seaside towns, this is a slightly less discovered spot, on the edge of Dartmoor, within the Tamar Valley, with views into Cornwall in places. The Duke of Bedford, who once owned a third of Devon and knew it well, chose Endsleigh for his fishing and hunting lodge, because he was savvy like that.
Once you’ve been lured this far into Devon, it’s tempting to experience the best of both worlds; stop at Endsleigh for a few nights to revive and then motor on down to Tresanton for some coastal action. I totally would.
If you’ve stayed at Olga Polizzi’s Hotel Tresanton, or any other swish Rocco Forte hotel around the world (the dynasty that Olga and her daughter Alex belong to), you’ll soon pick up on a very subtle signature style, one that you can’t obviously point out, but is definitely there.
While the interior design scheme is individual, bespoke according to the history and architecture (loads of original features here, like the wallpaper above), Hotel Endsleigh has that reassuringly colourful, classy – verging on playful at times – style that makes it feel more like a comfortable home than a hotel (yeah alright, a millionaire’s one, but still). You know when a room just looks casually thrown together and works? That, in every space. Somebody really knows what they’re doing and has a great eye for detail.
It’s peaceful – no music, just crackling fires and birdsong, along with the odd rustle of a newspaper, burble of chatter, clink of china or pop of a cork. It’s not hush-hushy in an intimidating kind of way; but visit and you’ll find you have no real reason to be shouting, either.
I came to stay with my husband just before Christmas, which was a perfectly relaxed time of year, like the calm before the storm. Behind the scenes, you could feel the excitement of guests arriving any day for the holidays (jealous, moi?) and yet, for the moment, it was twinkly and serene….very twinkly, with candles lighting every room, adding a fuzzy glow to proceedings. Or was that the red wine?
Oh, the rooms. 18 of them, all individually designed in-keeping with the house and the landscape, with intricately painted wallpapers, roll top bathtubs, antiques and books, always books to hand, begging to be leafed through.
There are a mixture of classic doubles, larger rooms and suites, split across the house and just across the courtyard in the old Grade I listed stables. The two newest suites in the stables, one of which we snaffled for the night, are ideal for families and include a second bedroom and separate sitting room.
Ours, number 18, was split across two floors, like our own mini-apartment. Downstairs, you could snuggle down in front of a wood burning stove, fix yourself a cuppa in the pantry and, had we been with the Mudlet, we’d have tucked her up in the little bedroom.
Upstairs, the main bedroom was cosy, classy and that bed took some serious willpower to get out of, once you’re in, cocooned between an enormous thread count and plumptious topper.
The bathroom was gorgeous, with original freestanding bathtub, separate walk-in shower beneath a double-height ceiling going into the rafters. Honestly? You could happily hole up here for days without even thinking about the outside world.
SCOFF & QUAFF
It’s here that I mustn’t forget to give special mention to the service – something I honestly reckon elevates Endsleigh to world-class standards. There’s nothing stuffy or pretentious here and that’s down to everyone you meet. Under GM Adam Cornish, everyone from the waiting staff to housekeeping play a part in keeping the atmosphere relaxed, welcoming but running faultlessly, which can’t be easy in an old listed house, when you think about it.
Afternoon tea is legendary here; every day the library table gets laid up with an array of scones, cakes and sandwiches and you’re free to help yourself and scoff, which we did.
Head Chef Jose Graziosi – a great character, whose passion for food is something else – came out of the kitchen for a natter. He’s fun, loves the creative license he has to be inventive with the natural larder on his doorstep and offered up a tasting menu for us at dinner.
Blimey, we went from duck to turbot and crab, through to an explosion of chocolate. I’m not going to lie, it nearly floored me into a coma but my God, what a way to go if you had to choose. The menu is all about fresh produce, delivered in a way that makes you talk about the dishes and their flavours. If you’re a local and you’ve not yet booked for dinner or lunch, then I would highly recommend getting in there soon.
Err, yes and didn’t we feel guilty for ohhh, five seconds, when we discovered the cute second bedroom in our suite, with bunkbeds (the Mudlet LOVES the novelty of a bunk!). Then we quickly had words with ourselves and decided we deserved a night away from incessant 4 year-old questions and popped a cork. If you don’t manage to bagsie a suite then z-beds and cots are available and actually fit most of the rooms, too. Worth mentioning though that, while families are warmly welcomed, I wouldn’t come expecting to be able to let your kids run riot inside the house, like they might do in other family-focused hotels; it’s not the kind of place where your littlies’ screams will blend in to the background.
There is however plenty to do outdoors, in a Famous Five kind of way. The gardens are full of little hidey holes and alluring paths to explore, not to mention full of wildlife. There’s a croquet lawn, ping-pong table and smalls can have a go at trout fishing on the river. If the weather doesn’t play ball, then there’s a games cupboard in the library, with plenty of books and DVDs to entertain, too.
OUT AND ABOUT
If you’ve checked in for a weekend, it’s unlikely you’ll feel compelled to leave the grounds. There’s a corridor full of outdoor gear and Hunter wellies for you all to borrow, and you can lose hours walking the gardens (guided by the head gardener if you fancy it or just with a map), exploring the historical grottos and follies.
You might want to venture further along the river to the local pub for a brief change of scenery, but the lure of afternoon tea and the papers back at base will be too strong to resist, I almost guarantee it.
If you’re staying longer, then rejoice because the Tamar Valley is ripe for exploration. Some of Dartmoor’s prettiest spots, National Trust houses, like Cothele and Buckland Abbey and the market town of Tavistock (with the best cheese shop in the world, Country Cheeses) are all nearby. And then there’s the rugged North Cornish coast to explore (but Devon’s always better, right?).
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: Couples in need of a peaceful and restorative break; foodies who expect the menu to match the rest of the package; families are most welcome and the hotel really comes into its own for festive stays when the packages are carefully thought out to give everyone a blissful break.
Not for: travellers who get a bit wobbly when they’re miles from civilisation might feel they’re a little remote; and while plans are afoot for a boutique and a simple treatment room, there are no spa facilities. Just an abundance of fresh country air.
££: This is a special place with five star luxuries and service to boot and the price reflects that. Classic rooms start from £200 per night in winter and our suite starts at £350. Dogs are welcome everywhere except the restaurant and can stay for £20 per night. Dinner is available at £47 and there’s a set lunch menu at £22 for 2 courses, or £26 for 3.
Hotel Endsleigh, Milton Abbot, Devon, PL19 0PQ. Tel: 01822 870000. hotelendsleigh.com