Originally one of Devon's grandest stately homes, Gidleigh Park has been named Enjoy England's hotel of the year . Tim Bennett finds out what makes it so special.
The hotel, built in the 1920s, lies at the end of a seemingly endless narrow country lane leading out of Chagford village, at the edge of Dartmoor. It's so long, in fact, that a welcome sign half way says: "Take heart you are nearly at Gidleigh." But it's worth the trek.
Once you cross into the hotel's 54 acres of grounds which house a tennis court, croquet lawn, and 18-hole putting course, as well as woodland walks a heart-stoppingly impressive driveway sweeps you up to the main entrance.
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This grand exterior might have guests used to more informal hotels feeling a little apprehensive. But step inside and you relax immediately. The hotel still has the unmistakable whiff of a grand English country house think oak floors, open fireplaces and antiques but combined with just the right amount of designer panache, so that the overall impression is welcoming rather than stuffy.
But plenty of English country-house hotels combine designer chic with a sense of history. There are two key things that really set Gidleigh apart from its rivals. One is the service. Perfect service is attentive, but never overbearing. That's a tough balance to strike, but Gidleigh's helpful and friendly staff are masters of the art. But this isn't Gidleigh's ace card that honour goes to its restaurant.
At £115, the tasting menu isn't a snip. And Devon is a long way to come for it. But I am so glad I did. The head chef is Michael Caines, who despite losing his right arm in a car accident 15 years ago, has attained two Michelin stars. And unlike some absentee celebrity chefs, he cooks regularly at Gidleigh. He produced perhaps the best meal I've had in Britain.
Every dish I sampled before losing count on his new, eight-course tasting menu (or was it nine?) scallops, quail, turbot and foie-gras was close to perfection and left me drooling at the thought of what might arrive next. So regrettably, I had no need to drop in on the first-floor pantry, where guests can pick up homemade biscuits and snacks at any time.
Back upstairs, the plump beds with their satin quilts were tough to give up the next morning. My room, overlooking the grounds, came with a huge free-standing bath, an en-suite, oversized rainforest shower and L'Occitane toiletries. If you choose a spa suite, you can even enjoy your own personal sauna or hot tub.
Breakfast was a portion of fresh haddock and eggs, although I was sorely tempted to try the porridge with whisky. All too quickly it was time to pack up the car and head back down that magnificent driveway. "More like coming home than going away," say the owners. All I can say is, if my home was even remotely like Gidleigh, I'd never leave.
Rooms cost from £310 per night, including breakfast. To find out more, visit Gidleigh.com, or call 01647-432367.
'Hotel of the Year': the runners up
Double rooms cost from £160 per night on a B&B basis. Visit Eastlodge.com, or call 01629-734474.
Double rooms cost from £210 per night, including breakfast. See Thebildestoncrown.com, or call 01449-740510 to find out more.
Tim graduated with a history degree from Cambridge University in 1989 and, after a year of travelling, joined the financial services firm Ernst and Young in 1990, qualifying as a chartered accountant in 1994.
He then moved into financial markets training, designing and running a variety of courses at graduate level and beyond for a range of organisations including the Securities and Investment Institute and UBS. He joined MoneyWeek in 2007.
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