Hotel Endsleigh

Tamar Valley, Devon, United Kingdom Book from £170

An elegant country retreat set in 108 acres of fairy-tale parkland overlooking the winding River Tamar, on the Devon-Cornwall border
What a setting! From the oak panelled drawing room where we sit with Earl Grey tea and cream-laden scones, our gaze sweeps over a rainbow of flowering borders and neat croquet lawn, across the valley of the River Tamar, and loses itself in the dark conifer forests of the far bank: the start of Cornwall. There is not another building in sight. Immense copper beeches and Douglas firs stand sentinel over tumbling brooks, a Victorian shell grotto and an octagonal dairy house surely inhabited by pixies.

It's little wonder that the Duke of Bedford, who 2 centuries ago owned a third of Devon, chose this spot for his hunting- and fishing lodge. Now, Grade-I listed and converted into an enchanting hideaway by Olga Polizzi and her hotel-inspecting daughter Alex, it draws a discerning, romantic clientele, who savour the fine cuisine, the private fishing, the landscaped grounds, the crackle of newspapers and fireplaces at tea time, and the deep, bucolic silence outside. In summer, those who can afford it block book the place for lavish weekend weddings in the most idyllic of surrounds (married life, as my wife observed, could only go downhill after that). The classically English bedrooms and suites are a study in painted wallpapers, rolltop bathtubs, book-lined shelves and snugly quilted beds; there's also a separate gatekeeper's lodge ideal for a couple with a child.

Highs

  • You're only 4.5 hours from London, 2 from Bristol, but somewhere en route you slip through a phantom tollbooth into a fairytale
  • Set midway between Dartmoor and Bodmin Moor, you've also got superb hiking and riding on your doostep
  • There's not an ounce of stuffiness: staff are young and friendly, children treated with easy-going smiles, and guests mingle happily for pre-dinner drinks
  • When we visited, candles were lit throughout the house in the evening, creating a wonderfully romantic atmosphere. We think it makes an ideal place to propose!
  • The beds (many of them kingsize) are wonderfully comfy, and the widely spaced layout ensures total silence

Lows

  • You're as far from the sea as you can be in Devon or Cornwall (25 miles/45 minutes from Boscastle or Looe); but if you want seaside, try their sister hotel Tresanton
  • There's no on-site spa nor pool, which - if you're lucky enough to get a hot summer's day - you might expect at this price
  • Not for those seeking a vibrant party atmosphere
  • A few of the bedrooms are under the eaves or on the small side, but this is reflected in the prices

Best time to go

Any time of year. Summer is the most popular - not only are the gardens in full bloom but also the local beaches and rivers are enticingly cool... but be prepared for some crowds on the coast. We really enjoyed our late autumn visit (November), when the trees were shedding the last of the fiery red leaves and the Tamar was half hidden beneath wisps of mist. Midwinter would be great for a romantic break full of roaring fires, scones, books and quite possibly snowfall.

Our top tips

If you're going back to Bristol or London, start along the country lanes heading northeast and stop off at Brentor to climb the windswept hill, which is topped by the ancient church of St Michael de Rupe and offers lung-cleansing panoramas over an emerald patchwork of fields. If time allows, you could even slot in a visit to the deep, moss-lined gorge at Lydford (bring your National Trust cards) before joining the A366 and then the A30 at Sourton Down.

Great for...

Family
Great Outdoors
Honeymoon
Wedding
  • = Recommended
  • = Best in region
  • = World favourite
  • Country House Hotel
  • 18
  • Restaurant (open daily)
  • All ages welcome
  • Open all year
  • Pool
  • Spa Treatments
  • WiFi
  • Pet Friendly
  • Disabled Access
  • Beach Nearby
  • Off-street Parking
  • Restaurants Nearby
  • Air Conditioning
  • Guest Lounge
  • Terrace
  • Garden
  • Gym
  • Badminton
  • Boules / Bowls
Room: Bedford Room 8

Rooms

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.

Features include:

  • Bathrobes
  • CD player (on request)
  • Central heating
  • Cots Available
  • Dvd player
  • Extra beds
  • Hairdryer
  • Phone
  • Safe box
  • Terrace
  • Toiletries
  • Tv
  • WiFi

Eating

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.

Features include:

  • Bar
  • Children meals
  • Organic produce
  • Restaurant
  • Vegetarian menu
Eating:
Activity:

Activities

  • Start by exploring the magnificent grounds - 108 acres of them - landscaped in the early 19th century by Humphry Repton, pupil and successor of Capability Brown. You'll find an immaculate parterre garden of colourful blooms radiating around a fountain; a rose-covered walk alongside the croquet lawn which brings you to an endearing pre-Victorian shell-lined grotto; a magical, octagonal dairy house (ask reception for the key) hidden on the far bank of a tumbling dell, amid fiery Japanese maples and giant Douglas firs and weeping beech (Repton planted half a million trees!); and no shortage of blissful riverside walks under shady oaks with just the occasional cattle, kingfishers and trout anglers for company
  • A little further afield are Dartmoor and Bodmin Moor, perfect stomping ground for windswept hikes and rides (the hotel can fix you up with horses and tack)
  • You can borrow one of their fishing rods and try your luck on the river: 8 miles of the best salmon and sea trout fishing in the UK; a Ghillie is on hand to help (for an additional charge)
  • Game- and clay pigeon shooting, and falconry days can be arranged
  • It's only 25 miles or so (45 minutes' drive) to the stunning north coast beaches of Bude and fjord-like Boscastle; and a similar distance to the south coast around Plymouth (we loved the sea-filled vistas around Noss Mayo headland, especially when followed by lunch at The Ship Inn
  • The Endsleigh is a beguiling spot to stay put with a good book (there's no shortage of those lining the shelves) in a shady bower, or ensconced in a chaise longue in one of the bay windows while a fire crackles in the hearth (there's no shortage of those either!)

Activities on site or nearby include:

  • Birdwatching
  • Clay-pigeon shooting
  • Croquet
  • Fishing
  • Hiking
  • Horse-riding
  • Plantlife / flora
  • Private guided tours

Kids

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.

Best for:

Toddlers (1-4 years), Children (4-12 years)

Family friendly accommodation:

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.

Babysitting:

Can be arranged at an hourly rate (as always, it rises after midnight). Prior notice only

Baby listening:

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

Baby equipment:

  • High chairs
  • 5 cots
  • Bottle warming
  • Baby listening

      Remember  baby and child equipment may be limited or need pre-booking

      Children's meals:

      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

      Kids Activities on site:

      • Games cupboard
      • Table tennis
      • Lots of toys and books

      Kids Activities nearby:

      • Trethorne Leisure Park (20 mins)
      • Climbing Barn (10 mins)
      • Adrenaline Quarry (45 mins)

      Families Should Know:

      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

    Distances:

    • Airport: 40 minutes
    • Hospital: 15 minutes
    Kid Friendly:

    Our guests' ratings...

    9/
    Rooms
    10/
    Food
    10/
    Service
    9/
    Value
    9/
    Overall

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