“In medieval Shaftesbury, a traditional town-centre coaching inn reinvented as a funky hotel, perfect for romantics and country lovers”
The rooms have an earthy look designed to reflect the architectural and geographical context of this market-town inn. Expect grey, green and stone accented by soft wools and solid-wood dressers, with velvet cushions in mustard or plum. You get neutral carpet underfoot, a Tassimo coffee machine, and an iPod dock; The Cranborne Suite also has towelling robes. Queen, kingsize or twin beds are dressed in Italian cotton; Orla Kiely toiletries wait in the bathrooms.
Standard Rooms (the smallest, but still a decent size) have showers only; Deluxe and Superior Rooms have a mix of bathroom types - some with baths and overhead showers, others with walk-in rain showers. Junior Suites have freestanding tubs and separate showers. Street-facing rooms can be subject to a bit of noise, so if that bothers you, request one overlooking the courtyard - though bear in mind that in summer, diners will be out here until 11pm.
For a bit of wow-factor, check into The Cranborne Suite - a lofty bedroom-sitting room with a working fireplace (remote-controlled gas flame), an airy bay window with views down into the courtyard, and one of the biggest bathrooms we’ve ever seen: freestanding tub, twin basins, wall-mounted TV and a show-stopping double shower.
The ground floor has been dramatically transformed with a cool combination of time-worn leather sofas, mounted antlers and sage green walls. But before you assume it’s 100% heritage chic, bear in mind that there are also framed vintage maps, folksy embroidered cushions and a brilliant statement horse that rather reminded me of the ancient Trojans. A light atrium-like entrance adds an airy sense of openness, and in summer guests spill out onto the cobbled courtyard.
The chic yet welcoming bar offers local ales, a growing whisky collection and a cocktail menu while, across the courtyard, an authentic pizza oven takes centre stage in the relaxed restaurant. The enticing, well thought-out menu spans pizzas (obviously), pasta, salads, small plates and more substantial meat and fish mains (so it works for both lunch and dinner). To start, we went for duck egg with organic broccoli and chanterelles, and smoked salmon with watercress, quails' eggs and caviar. Then it was on to herb gnocchi with Jerusalem artichokes, rocket and mustard sauce, and a sea bass fillet with white bean purée and bouillabaisse sauce. Excellent ingredients were beautifully presented throughout, if a little under-seasoned for our taste. As we’d hoped, pudding was a real treat (though we could only manage to share one): chocolate and caramel mousse with milk ice cream.
Breakfast, also taken in the restaurant, is a happy mix of continental staples - muesli, porridge, fruit, pastries - along with more tempting (for me, anyway) cooked options: the Full English, eggs Benedict, smoked salmon and eggs (any way you like), and grilled kippers from the local smoker.
If you want to eat out, the best bets are country gastro pubs, of which there are some excellent examples within driving distance. We recommend The Beckford Arms at Fonthill in south Wiltshire (16km), The King John Inn at Tollard Royal (11km), or The Forester Inn at Donhead St Andrew (8km).
Though not an obvious choice for young families, the hotel is child-friendly and the area is great for an outdoorsy getaway.
Babies (0-1 years)
All but the Cosy Doubles can hold an extra bed or baby cot; many rooms can be converted into twins suitable for older children.
Remember baby and child equipment may be limited or need pre-booking