There’s a gate by the lawn of The Newt in Somerset with a sign: “Hotel Guests Only”. Day visitors to the expansive, bucolic gardens next door can go no further.
“Is that to keep us riff-raff out?” asks one old gent with a twinkle in his eye as I pass through. “Well it didn’t work with me,” I respond en route to a waiting geranium and rose-infused G&T in the Croquet Room.
English country-house hotels present something of a dilemma for Londoners. The truth is, with advance planning, an easyJet ticket to Italy with a couple of nights in a charming, family-run place often costs no more than a weekend here. Not to mention, with things the way they are on a Friday night on the M25, about the same time to reach.
But The Newt, near Castle Cary, is a game-changer. Opened in August, it’s from the same stable as Babylonstoren outside Cape Town, and South African owners, Karen Roos and Koos Bekker have put an equal amount of love, care and detail into this new property as into their wildly successful southern hemisphere estate.
So, do you come for the country-house design aesthetic, the food, the spa or the gardens? The answer is all four: they play an equally intertwining role. There are 23 rooms, some in the sturdy main house, others in former stable blocks. My husband and I were in number three, which has a separate bathroom along a corridor with shower and capacious bath for two.
It looks out over the croquet lawn with its own sun-trap balcony. We sit out, drinking the estate’s own cyder (yes, with a y) and listening to a young couple below excitedly FaceTiming their parents that they’ve just got engaged. She likes the place so much they’ve extended their stay and she’s booked in for three 90-minute spa treatments tomorrow. (The call was on speaker, by the way).
The spa is in a converted cow barn and has a treatment room, relaxation area and indoor-outdoor pool, with a bath-temperature outdoor section I can see being a big hit on grotty days when you want to be cosy. There’s a gym stuffed with the latest Italian Technogym equipment and a huge glass window to stare out of while you make yourself beautiful.
The food is impressive and the staff, many of whom are local, seemed to know their stuff. In fact, they are worth highlighting. In so many British hotels employees don’t seem empowered by management and everything is either “no” or “I’ll have to check.” Not here: what I got was: “Not a problem” and “Yes.”
Whether that can-do attitude extends beyond the garden gate, I’ll have to find out on my next visit.
The Newt (Bruton, Somerset, BA7 7NG) has doubles from £255 B&B. Guests have access to the gardens, entry for non-guests is £15. GWR trains run direct from Paddington to Castle Cary; thenewtinsomerset.com