Most people who know me know I love the great outdoors and expansive coastlines and I have a penchant for country manor houses - especially those with a relaxing spa and an abundance of oversized sofas that invite you to curl up with a good book and glass of red, post outdoor adventure, of course.
After my recent visit to the breathtaking Isle of Anglesey in North Wales for the Zest Life retreat, a trip East to the northern coastline of Devon seemed like the perfect next step in my exploration of the wonderful UK isle.
The vibe and location
Located in North Devon, Highbullen Hotel is the ideal base for exploring Exmoor and beyond. Dating back to 1879, this contemporary manor house set within a sprawling 127-acre estate boasts magnificent views across the Mole Valley and Exmoor National Park. Exceptionally inviting, this classic country manor offers sumptuous living quarters and a relaxed atmosphere combined with modern luxuries, making it the ideal place for a much needed respite, and when ready, the perfect spot to explore North Devon.
The country house lobby offers classically decorated drawing rooms off the main hall and invites you to drop your bags at the front desk and sprint to find your best viewing spot.
The main building, a Victorian Arts and Craft manor house, is home to 12 beautiful bedrooms, all individually decorated with their own charm. The spectacular award-winning Loft Suite comes complete with its own steam room and infrared sauna, while a further 30 bedrooms can be found throughout the Estate in The Courtyard, Gardener’s Row, Golf View and Stable Cottage. Highbullen also offers four luxurious self-catering cottages.
It’s the little touches that make each room welcoming; the classic William Morris style fabrics, beautiful floral and old English styled rooms, very super comfy beds, with a higher than normal level, definitely made me feel like a princess in a castle; a room with a view. Each room has tea and coffee making facilities and bright airy bathrooms with ample space to indulge in those well needed self-spa moments; a lovely hot bubble bath while enjoying cosmetic minis from The White Company. There was even a spot to carefully rest my iPad and catch up on Netflix - bliss.
The spa and leisure centre at Highbullen Hotel is a dream, especially in the warmer months, which provide plenty of possibilities to enjoy the outdoors. A short walk from the main house, facilities include seven all-weather tennis courts, an outdoor swimming pool and an 18-hole golf course set in a wooded parkland. Indoors, guests can make use of a 20-metre indoor swimming pool with a sauna, steam-room and Jacuzzi.
Highbullen Hotel has partnered with leading skincare brand, ELEMIS to offer a wide range of wonderful spa treatments. I indulged in the pool, steam and sauna before enjoying a great ELEMIS collagen facial, hoping to erase some of the years! It was a very calming, enjoyable treatment, so much so I almost fell asleep and needless to say, my skin felt exceptional for a few days afterwards. I will definitely be diving into one of those treatments again very soon.
Food and Drink
There are plenty of dining options at Highbullen. Formal dining takes place in the 2 AA Rosette Devon View Restaurant, under the careful watch of head chef Stephen Walker. The elegant dining room features floor-to-ceiling windows, granting spectacular panoramic views. The menu showcases seasonal and local produce with a modern British theme across all dishes. An extensive wine list offers wines from the old and new worlds and staff can suggest wine pairings. We enjoyed a night in the restaurant and dined on the a la carte menu and enjoyed a delicious selection of courses. The chef served up an amuse-bouche of tomato soup, with snippets of coriander, a burst of flavours and rich tomato flavour and creativity point of view. We followed this with a choice of steak, and local Hake with spring green risotto, served with care and consideration; an impressive bouquet of flavours
Highbullen recently opened Laura Ashley The Tea Room. Designed in the distinctive Laura Ashley style, the room accommodates 74 covers, providing guests with unrivalled views bringing together the quintessence of England: the timelessness of afternoon tea, elegant country living and one of the most iconic English brands. This space is converted into The Supper Room between 6pm and 10pm daily. The casual dining menu here includes a wide style of dining options that will entice everyone including; ‘small plates and sharing platters’ priced from £4.50, ‘big eats’ priced from £12.50, ‘pizza and pasta’ priced from £11.00, ‘salads’ and ‘desserts’ priced from £6.50.
We enjoyed the Champagne Afternoon Tea, I requested a gluten free option and it was exceptionally a like for like with my dining partners non-gluten free option and the staff were very accommodating.
The Local Area
Highbullen Hotel’s location in North Devon is the ideal base for exploring Exmoor and beyond. The walks in this area are particularly spectacular in the warmer months when the sun sets later in the day, allowing more time to discover this magical part of Devon.
Travelling further afield
With the coastal resort of Ilfracombe only a short drive away, we recommend a trip to see the old Victorian bathing tunnels and beaches, the Damien Hirst Verity statue or indulge in some real Devon ice cream from Hockings; a local family run business, of course after a classic paper-wrapped portion of fish and chips. And if you are in the car, take the coastal road on to Croyde, a route that's not be missed for some of the best views of the coastline.
There is an intimate green charm to walks around Exmoor. The Moors also provide plenty of myth and legend to explore. But walking here is a joy and walkers will encounter subtle blends of prehistoric past and wilderness present. Highbullen can provide written and mapped walk details for 6 walks local to the hotel.
With its exceptional location, this hotel may be suited for the traveller with a penchant for classic country comfort teamed with adventure for the outdoors.
Bed and Breakfast is priced from £110 per room per night
Hampton Manor is a family run passion-driven hotel situated in the heart of England. This historic Manor built in 1855 is set in a 45-acre estate in the West midlands and recently launched as a design-centered restaurant with rooms.
The former estate of Sir Robert Peel, Hampton Manor launched in 2010 and celebrates the best in British craftsmanship while paying homage to the building’s 19th century history and has since won a pride of awards.
Arriving on a train from London to Hampton in Arden, I made my way on foot to the hotel. As soon as I stepped into the grand foyer, I instantly felt at home, almost as if I was stepping into my own manor, a feeling that the team hope to inspire via marriage of a homegrown ethos and the spirit of family and community.
Hampton Manor is a perfectly welcoming hotel, boasting a team of staff who are friendly, attentive and knowledgeable. After check-in I was shown to a comfortable space in the foyer while I waited for a cool drink. Built in the time of William Morris and the Arts and Crafts movement, great attention, creativity and care has been poured into the design of the hotel. There is a serene creative ambience and a nod to Mid-Century Modern design.
The Rooms at Hampton Manor
Steeped in history, the team has looked to the Manor’s past to design the 15 Arts and Crafts inspired bedrooms named after someone who once owned the estate, from queens to musicians including Robert Peel, Ardene and Lord Mowbray. The rooms have been individually designed to reflect the hotel’s ongoing love affair with Morris and his nature-inspired patterns, brought to life in Morris & Co. wallpapers and fabrics. Innovative touches such as ladder bookshelves, commissioned furnishings and accessories from handpicked artists and makers, provide a unique identity for each room. The feature rooms all have big baths and separate showers.
Upon entering my room, George Fentham, I was greeted with a sumptuous lounge space and large bay window that overlooked the gardens, a huge bed to sink into and a large airy bathroom - perfect for endless hours of pampering. The extra touches in the bedroom were very welcoming, from the warm homemade cookies, fresh Has Bean coffee to grind and 100 Acres Apothecary toiletries, sourced locally.
Dine in Michelin-starred Peel’s
Peel's Restaurant won its first Michelin Star in October 2016 and it has also received its fourth AA-Rosette under current Head Chef Rob Palmer who sources the best seasonal, British produce and cooks it using modern techniques, putting the Manor on the map of Britain’s leading culinary hotels.
The collective feeling of the Manor is realised in the restaurant; at its centre a new oak dining table by revered local carpenter William Self, surrounded by dining tables, allowing parties to share a space yet maintain privacy in this comfortable wood panelled dining room.
Dinner begins with pre-dinner drinks served by the Makers Table or outside overlooking the hotel’s grounds. Both spaces are warmly informal and invite you to meet fellow diners or interact with the team and find out about the locally sourced sprits and wines.
Peel’s offers four or seven course tasting menus with each dish focused on just three main ingredients, giving them an honest simplicity. After an aperitif in the garden, I took my place in the comfortable dining room and enjoyed the seven course-tasting menu, each paired with a wine flight. The most memorable being the Duck Liver with Blackcurrant and Brioche, served with a Ramoro, Pinot Grigio Italy, an orange wine that ignited the flavours of the fruit and blurs the boundary between white and red, a truly adventurous taste. While the Smoked Eel with Kohlrabi and Samphire deals a fresh smokiness, perfectly teamed with the Kisi Amber, Pheasants Tears, Georgia - a smokey, mineral wine from Georgia that perfectly marries the smokiness of the course. A pairing that may just bring tears of joy for some. Two delectable sweet dishes rounded up the seven courses. I enjoyed the Raspberry with Skyr and Elderflower teamed with Antica Formula, Carpano - sweet vermouth and the Chocolate with Sherry and Vanilla teamed with Banyuls, France. An exceptional dining experience sealed by the knowledgeable and agreeable team and the head sommelier.
Guests looking for an extra special stay can experience The Tasting Room - the most sought after house in the table where in the comfort of a private dining room guests can be at the heart of the action while they watch the chefs at work.
The hotel also serves a fresh continental breakfast with warm dishes to order on request. I was shown to a seat in the gorgeous wooded panel dining room and tucked into a selection of cold fruits, yoghurt and ordered the classic cooked salmon and Eggs Benedict.
The wine and cocktails
The wine and Champagne list boasts natural, organic, and biodynamic wines and 25 Champagnes, 15 of those vintage, carefully selected by our Sommelier and Wine Director. Most of the wines on offer are made by small independent winemakers of England and Wales who know that healthy grapes make delicious wine.
The creative drinks team led by Luik have created a fresh and fun cocktail menu that contextualises the Manor and its love affair with William Morris. It’s not a secret, it is painted all over the walls, while the cocktail list celebrates his life’s poems and prints through the complete art of cocktail making. Dabble in a pre-dinner cocktail The Red House a marital mix of rhubarb gin ginger hibiscus and lime or the Icelandic Saga - a smokey concoction of Icelandic vodka, Reyna, smoke, or great, herbs from the garden and saffron.
Afternoon tea for foodies
The Manor offers afternoon tea but not as you know it - it's an afternoon tea fit for foodies. Hosted in the Parlour, Head Chef Rob has imagined his tasting menus for the afternoon; ‘Crab, XO Sauce’ and ‘Middle Pork, Black Pudding’ make way for ‘Chocolate, Sherry’ and ‘Parsnip, Whisky Raisin, Arlette’.
Hampton Manor invites guests to unwind with a selection of aromatherapy massages, facials and reflexology treatments at the Pamper Rooms, perfectly situated a short walk from the hotel and nestled in woodland.
Explore the estate
Wander Down to the Victorian Walled Kitchen Garden. First completed in 1891, this charming plot will soon become home to Peel’s Restaurant’s seasonal friends: beetroot, carrot, asparagus and tomato. Herbs are developed to garnish Loic’s cocktail creations, and hives erected to house the Manor’s honey bees. If it’s a little windy and wet outdoors, the hotel provides wellington boots & umbrellas.
Hampton Manor invites you to ‘share, taste and storytell’ , of which you will be sure to do at this fabulous hotel.
Rooms priced from £150 per night / £180 with breakfast. Tasting menus are priced as 4 courses (£75) and 7 courses (£95) available with wine flights also available at respectively £55 and £75 (Tuesday to Saturday 6:30pm - 9pm).
Hampton Manor is easy to reach from London. London Midland trains serve Hampton-in-Arden in 2 hours and then it is a 10-minute walk from the station. From Birmingham it is a 12-minute train journey.
A summary of our stay at Hampton Manor
Down Hall, Essex, England, UK
One of the benefits of living in London is that it has a plethora of divine country escapes on its doorstep, with a host of welcoming hotels mere minutes from the city centre.
Down Hall is one of them. Just 45 minutes on the train from Liverpool Street and a short 10 minute text from Bishop’s Stortford, this 14th century country house features contemporary bedrooms, a brand new spa and a AA Rosette awarded restaurant. If you need an idyllic country escape from London, you’ve found it.
With 99 bedrooms, each individually designed to reflect the elegance and character of the historic property, the hotel feels much smaller than it actually is. The main lounge, with its open fire and elegant sofas, is the perfect space to take afternoon tea, or just curl up with a book, while the cocktail bar, adjacent to The Grill Room restaurant, overlooks 110 acres of gardens and woodland the hotel is set in; calling out for a leisurely afternoon stroll in the sunshine.
If, however the idea of being sociable and active is too much, fear not, as the newly-opened Eden Spa offers a hydrotherapy pool, mood lit sauna with full height timber cladding and tiered seating and a state of the art steam room with starry night feature lighting. Is there anything more satisfying than a spa circuit? If it all gets a bit much, there’s also a relaxation room to chill in pre or post, though it could do with some blankets to up the cosiness.
It would be foolish not to indulge in a spa treatment while you’re there, especially as there are four brand new treatment rooms - including one double - and ESPA products. The hot stone massage comes highly recommended; I’d never tried one before but can confirm it was even more relaxing and satisfying than a classic aromatherapy or Swedish.
After floating back to one’s room on a cloud of massage-induced bliss, room service may tempting option, but you’ll want to drag yourself down to The Grill Room for supper. With two AA rosettes, the restaurant specialises in Anglo French cuisine from head chef Matthew Hill, who was recently appointed following experience at top London eateries, Tom Aikens Restaurant Chelsea and Bleeding Heart Farringdon. Using ingredients from the kitchen’s own vegetable patch or local suppliers, signature starters include braised pork cheeks, pulled ham hock, air dried ham and spiced apple purée; and leg of guinea fowl stuffed with walnuts and tarragon, marron purée and orange gel.
I can heartily recommend starting with the roast pigeon, with sweetcorn bacon and popcorn granola, which was incredibly succulent and full of flavour. The roast chicken breast and thigh, with baby aubergine, celeriac and black cabbage was a great choice for main - juicy, tender meat that melted in the mouth - and green olive gnocchi with artichokes salsify and pine nut dressing garnered some rather satisfied noises from the other side of the table.
Puddings include the likes of gluten free passion fruit parfait, mango cheesecake with coconut sorbet, lime and mint sauce and chocolate fondant with pistachio ice cream, but when faced with a pick and mix cheese board with Reblochon as an option, there’s not really any contest.
Retiring to chambers, one can expect a sterling night’s sleep, thanks to a sturdy mattress and pillow perfection - not too soft, not too high. Usually a terrible sleeper, I was out like a light; probably partially due to the aforementioned supper.
There are things to do in and around the local area, if you so desire it, but when faced with a country house hotel with stunning grounds, a stellar restaurant and spa, there’s not really any point in straying from the grounds. The prospect of being in the countryside there within an hour of finishing work on a Friday, indulging your palate and waking up far from the city hustle with a full English and a hydrotherapy pool stretched out before you is one I imagine will be tickling a lot of fancies right about now.
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