“An elegant country retreat set in 108 acres of fairy-tale parkland overlooking the winding River Tamar, on the Devon-Cornwall border”
This early 19th-century cottage orné was never intended to be a hotel, so the rooms and suites come in all shapes and sizes, some tucked under the eaves, others with glorious valley views (worth the extra cost); two Suites with Garden View in the main house occupy their own wing at the end of a welly-lined corridor. We particularly loved the ground floor option, whose French windows open directly onto a sheltered suntrap.
We stayed in one of the equally spacious Bedford Rooms which had a deliciously comfy bed with a chaise-longue at its foot and a deep old fashioned bathtub in the ensuite; both feature gorgeous hand-painted Chinese wallpaper. One of the Repton Double or Twins with Garden View was the Duke of Bedford's room when he owned the property, and the bathroom is down steep steps as it was originally his prayer room.
The Classic Rooms look out to the clock tower and stable block, or over the erstwhile salmon larders (now flower storage). All of them have 1 or 2 gorgeous antique pieces - a marble-topped dressing table with folding lid, an oval studded mirror - to lend a touch of elegance.
Since our visit, an additional Suite and Family Suite have been added in the courtyard outbuildings.
But the loveliest thing about these rooms is their restfulness. There's none of the electronic gadgetry that obsessed boutique hoteliers for most of the noughties: mobile signal is unreliable and there are no iPod docks, no Jacuzzis, no mood lighting and no irksomely hidden switches (though they have added flatscreen TVs since our visit). Instead you get a stack of dark-red-leather hardbacks on your bedside table (classic novels, angling guides), sensuous Farrow and Ball hues, or intricate hand-stencilled wallpaper. And the greatest luxury of all: silence.
For those who want to get even further away from it all, a small thatched Gatekeeper's Lodge Suite a mile up the avenue would suit a couple, with or without child, who don't mind the extra walk (or drive) to dinner. You enter into a sitting room with wood burner and kitchen corner (sufficient for breakfast), then comes a double (or twin) bedroom with French windows to a small lawn, finally a walk-through single room (or study) completes the circuit.
The feeling of being at a wealthy friend's country pad continues at mealtimes, with a generous cream tea laid out every afternoon in one of the panelled drawing rooms (tuck in, but be aware that it will appear on your bill!); and an honesty bar where guests help themselves to pre-prandial G&Ts while comparing notes on the day's walk, ride or catch.
Dinner itself, taken in the panelled dining room or outside under parasols and gas heaters, is an elegantly presented 3-course affair with wines and service to match the setting. Ingredients are largely seasonal and local - Tavistock has some outstanding cheese shops and delis - with the odd exotic cameo (fennel confit, chanterelle veloute) to test the young chefs. After an amuse-bouche of oyster mushroom soup with truffle oil (wonderfully smooth), we tucked into a trio of tender scallops on a bed of pesto with a crisp parma ham roof (beautifully constructed, and nicely balanced in taste). Our mains were hit and near miss: the former a suitably autumnal tenderloin of pork on a bed of braised red cabbage with carrots and turnips, the latter a fillet of brill with mussels, kohlrabi noodles and very firm green beans (nice, but no more than the sum of its parts). Any lingering doubts were swept away by the chocolate fondant with vanilla ice cream and poppy seed biscuits, and a glass of sweet Monbazillac which sealed an excellent wine list.
Breakfast is in the very best English tradition, with everything from grilled kippers and eggs benedict to green streaky bacon and Drambuie-laced porridge; plus there's a healthy looking buffet of mueslis and yoghurts and the like, for those who prefer a more continental approach (if that's you, my wife can thoroughly recommend her DIY mix of granola, plump apricots and dates, and sheep's yoghurt stained with red- and blackcurrant coulis).
Lunches are available too, of course, but if you're out and about, they can rustle you up a picnic or advise on the best gastro pubs and gourmet sandwich shops for miles around.
This is a family-friendly hotel, and the larger rooms can accommodate an extra bed (small charge) or cot (free) - some can take 2.
The property is dog-friendly too, perfect for a full family adventure. Note that there isn't full mobile phone signal everywhere in the property.
Toddlers (1-4 years), Children (4-12 years)
The Suites can fit an extra single bed and a baby cot on request, too. In one of the converted outbuildings, the Family Suite 18 had a handy bunk-bedded twin room for kids. There is also the separate Gatekeeper's Lodge (1km from the hotel), which can sleep 3-4 in 1 double/twin room, 1 single room and on 1 extra bed. The Bedford Double or Twin with Garden View can sleep 2 children on rollaway beds.
Can be arranged at an hourly rate (as always, it rises after midnight). Prior notice only
The in-room telephones double up as a listening device, though the hotel describes it as "intermittent" - so if you're nervous about it, ask ahead. Baby monitors can be hampered by the thick walls
Remember baby and child equipment may be limited or need pre-booking
There is a kids' menu, or the chef can rustle up most dishes to order - though they do ask that younger children finish their dinner by 7pm
The local shop in Milton Abbot sells limited supplies; for nappies, baby food and other gear you'll need to go to Tavistock (7 miles). There are a couple of open water hazards, including the trout lake and river