The reception of any hotel is its big statement, a chance to say exactly what sort of establishment it is the moment you walk through the door. (Case in point Caesars Palace and the Three Graces baring themselves in the lobby). At Gidleigh Park the clues are there before you’ve even entered.
Lined up in the porch, behind a heavy wooden door, are a mix-match of wellington boots – there for any guest to borrow should they feel inclined to explore the 107 acres of the hotel estate, or head out on to the wilds of Dartmoor beyond.
Once inside, the first thing you notice is what’s missing: a front desk. It’s as if you’ve walked straight into the lord of the manor’s parlour. A cosy wooden-panelled room, with a roaring fire in the winter months, all that’s wanting is a ruddy-faced aristocrat pushing a glass of port into your frozen hands.
Luxury hotel meets sophisticated country home, is what Gidleigh Park does best. A fine balance of old English charm and just-modern-enough cons that has put this hotel on the map (ten miles south of Okehampton to be exact) for 62 years. That and regularly being awarded a Michelin star or two.
The GJ are here today to put the new menu from a new head chef through its paces, but first a rundown on this celebrated Devonshire institution.
The skinny on the hotel
The welcome book includes the usual, arriving by car or train, but the inclusion of a helicopter (“please ring ahead so the croquet lawn can be cleared”) is telling. Gidleigh is a destination for those wanting luxury and who are willing to pay for it, that and people will go to great length to avoid the traffic on the A303.
The house is the star of the show, with a story dating back to the 16th century, but strong supporting roles go to the gardens and the North Teign River, bubbling over giant ancient moorland stones, that cuts right through the estate.
It makes for a dramatic setting, which contrasts with the atmosphere inside: quiet and peaceful, just a ticking grandfather clock and the quiet clink of an Old Fashioned being stirred in the bar. You can’t help but talk in hushed tones.
Staff are helpful and charming, and, if prompted, able to break that initial stiff upper British lip, or lèvre supérieure raide in the case of the sommelier.
This is Hounds Of The Baskerville country, the nearby granite strewn hill of Hound Tor said to have inspired the 1902 novel, and fans of Conan Doyle will delight in the old worldly feel in every room and corridor. You can imagine Holmes approving too, sitting in the drawing room puffing on his pipe, before booking in for one of the in-room spa treatments.
Slightly more contemporary in feel than the rest of Gidleigh Park, the 24 bedrooms are decorated individually in a classic English country house style.
Most enjoy views of the estate and the moor beyond, with the pleasant sound of the rushing stream below providing a relaxing soundtrack for a spot room service or a glass of brandy if you’re that way inclined (which we know you are).
Top pick of the mid-priced room is Manaton complete with a rooftop hot tub. For those wanting to splash out (literally and metaphorically) Dartmeet boasts an in-room sauna, steam room and two-metre marble bath in front of French windows. Best go heavy on the bubbles.
The lowdown on the food
Gidleigh Park has long been a pilgrimage for gastronomers, making their way down the winding and very narrow roads, to sample chef Michael Caines’ Michelin star-awarded food.
Caines though departed in 2015 after 21 years and, after a brief stint by Michael Wignall – and a questionable foray in Asian-inspired experimental cooking – Chris Simpson has arrived with a more traditional fayre.
The former head chef at Nathan Outlaw’s acclaimed restaurant in Port Isaac has brought Cornish and Devonshire seasonal ingredients to the menu; classic dishes with just enough of a twist for the surroundings.
You wouldn’t want a fish eyeball cocktail with nitrogen, would you? If you do it would suggest Gidleigh Park is not for you.
A fish-heavy, and GJ approved, menu includes Cornish turbot with leeks, purple sprouting broccoli and caviar hollandaise; monkfish with Jerusalem artichoke, chicken dressing and seaweed; and for dessert a guilt-inducing chocolate tart. There’s an extensive wine list with a thoroughly knowledgeable sommelier on hand; essential when there’s some 9000 bottles to choose from.
The portions are good, the staff friendly, and the vibe pleasantly old-fashioned. To cap it off, you just need Holmes to walk in and announce there’s been a heinous crime committed that very night. We’ll call it now: Professor Plum in the dining room with the candlestick.
Double rooms start from £275.00 per night on a bed and breakfast basis. For more information or to book, visit gidleigh.co.uk or call 01647 432 367.