The Old Rectory

Martinhoe, Devon, United Kingdom Book from £205

Tucked above stunning Devon coastline, this intimate country-house hotel has glorious gardens and delicious dinners
This is English country living at its very best. In the tiny village of Martinhoe, amid sea breezes and Exmoor fields, you crunch down a gravelled drive between the old stone rectory and its adjacent coach house. The church steeple pokes up one side; on the other lie 3 acres of glorious gardens, with rolling lawns, colourful beds of wild flowers, a lily-strewn pond, and decked sitting areas which cry out for afternoon tea (served on the house, of course).

Huw and Sam, corporate escapees who dared to give up careers in Bristol to become self-taught hoteliers-cum-general-fix-its in remotest north Devon, are natural hosts. Friendly but never falsely so, capably advising on coastal walks and hidden coves, they serve G&Ts in the orangery at sunset before re-appearing as waiter and chef extraordinaire. Huw's asparagus & parmesan soup, the local beef fillet and Sam's lemon posset will stay with us for a long time. 11 comfy, understated rooms have superb mattresses, power showers (or designer tubs) and glimpses of sea or garden. A perfect weekend escape for a couple treating themselves to something special, or for a summer's week of hiking, riding and a large dose of lazing.

Highs

  • Huw, Sam and their small team (including gardener and smiling chambermaids) run a tight ship; but the ambiance remains very friendly and intimate
  • They can arrange guided 4WD off-road tours, boat trips to Lundy island, or (with notice) small-scale wedding receptions in their grounds
  • Our dinners were outstanding (almost all home-grown or locally reared), as were the breakfasts (think eggs florentine, fruit compote and the Sunday papers)
  • This is one of our favourite corners of Devon: perched between Exmoor's wide open uplands and its rugged coast, with a breathtaking stretch of coastal path on your doorstep

Lows

  • In bad weather, I suppose it could feel a bit cut-off, but there are 2 sitting rooms and a light-filled orangery to laze in
  • They don't serve lunch, though Hunters Inn (2km) does passable pub grub; and be aware that dinner is at a set time
  • We didn't like the coach house rooms quite as much as the main house (but all are comfy and well equipped)
  • No children under 14
  • You'll need a car

Best time to go

Come in spring for bluebell woods and brisk walks; in summer for lazy days on the beach and the moor; in autumn for stunning hues and fire-lit evenings in the sitting rooms. The hotel is closed in winter. If you’re a festival fan, the key ones here are the Two Moors Festival in October and the North Devon Festival in June. Lynton also holds a jazz-blues-rock festival in June.

Our top tips

  • We probably don't need to spell this out, but it's amply worth booking half-board.
  • For a change of scene on the way home (i.e. heading towards the M5 at Tiverton), take the B3358 / B3223 via Simonsbath and Dulverton: rolling Exmoor roads which are hardly any slower than the A361, especially if that has heavy traffic.
  • Great for...

    Eco
    Foodie
    Great Outdoors
    Honeymoon
    Wedding
    • = Recommended
    • = Best in region
    • = World favourite
    • Boutique Hotel
    • 11
    • Restaurant and bar (open daily for dinner)
    • Over 14s welcome
    • Closed: 1 Nov 2015 - 23 Mar 2016
    • Pool
    • Spa Treatments
    • WiFi
    • Pet Friendly
    • Disabled Access
    • Beach Nearby
    • Off-street Parking
    • Restaurants Nearby
    • Air Conditioning
    • Guest Lounge
    • Terrace
    • Garden
    • Gym
    • Concierge Service
    Room:

    Rooms

    The 11 rooms are split between the main house and the adjacent coach house, and divided into 3 price categories according, principally, to size. We actually liked some of the smaller ones best: Jasmine (a Classic in the main house) has lovely garden views and tasteful coppery colours, while Hollowbrook (a Superior on the floor above) gets a bit more space and a windowful of bright greens, with pink dots of foxglove in summer or yellow daffs in spring. We also thought Paddock Suite looked gorgeous, with white walls, bright red accents and plenty of space to mooch.

    The coach house rooms are higher spec and more contemporary, with recessed ceiling lights, power showers and cool chrome taps. The 2 suites (Arlington and Watersmeet) are huge, with Colefax & Fowler wallpapers, and sleek double-ended bathtubs sitting on black resin cradles. But despite the size, we found them less charming than the main house - partly because they face the gravelled parking area on one side.

    Wherever you stay, you'll sleep well. Beds are kingsize or super-kingsize doubles (some can be set up as twins), with tempur mattresses, stacks of pillows and not a sound until morning birdsong. You'll find flatscreen TVs positioned for in-bed viewing, DAB radios and Molton Brown toiletries in the bathroom. Don't expect avant-garde design, just classic English-country-house style with contemporary touches.

    Features include:

    • Central heating
    • Coffee tea making
    • Extra beds
    • Hairdryer
    • Ipod dock
    • Iron (on request)
    • Radio
    • Satellite tv
    • Terrace
    • Toiletries
    • WiFi
    • Wifi internet

    Eating

    Dinners are a highlight. Guests gather at 7ish for drinks and canapés - there's not much flexibility on time, it's a 2-man operation - and chat about their day's adventures, while perusing the short but mouthwatering menu and impressive, well-priced wine list. You get a choice of 3 starters, mains and desserts, plus a soup course, all chosen and cooked by Huw with help from Sam.

    Our butternut squash and sage tortelloni were exquisite, matched by a rich Chilean carmenère; while the velvety asparagus & parmesan soup which followed was just divine (recipes were duly swapped the next morning). Flouting our normal 'no-doubling-up' rule, my wife and I both succumbed to the fillet of ruby beef in chateaubriand sauce: succulent, flavoursome and truly local (from nearby Arlington Court). For dessert, Sam's superb lemon posset is now modestly famous, while their Eton mess explodes with fresh fruit (including strawberries from the garden).

    In fact, almost everything comes from within 30 miles. Seafood is sourced from sustainable species (Ilfracombe crab, Lundy turbot); herbs and salads are picked from their kitchen gardens. Fish and vegetarian options are always available, and Huw prides himself on his gluten-free options (a regular coeliac guest provides comprehensive feedback and tips). They take food seriously here.

    We loved the breakfast, too: eggs florentine and fruit compote with Greek yoghurt were standouts from the menu, but there's Exmoor cooked breakfast or scrambled eggs with smoked salmon if you're hungry. Or grapefruit and smoothies if you're dieting.

    It's probably just as well they don't offer lunch, otherwise you'd never leave. As it is, you can roll down the hill to the Hunters Inn (decent pub grub), drive to Lynton or Ilfracombe, or pick up a picnic from the various farmers' shops.

    Features include:

    • Bar
    • Breakfast
    • Coffee tea making
    • Dinner by arrangement
    • Organic produce
    • Vegetarian menu
    • Walk to pub (2km)
    Eating:
    Activity:

    Activities

    • You're half a mile from one of the loveliest stretches of coastal walk in Devon: follow the threading path through tangled woods and above sea-cliffs to a dramatic rocky outcrop above Haddon's Mouth, then back along a higher route for a fantastic, cobweb-clearing 2-hour circuit
    • This stretch of coast also conceals some beautiful beaches: we loved the hidden cove known as Golden Beach, down a 100-stepped path between Combe Martin and Watermouth Valley... but Huw and Sam have their own favourites, too
    • Go riding: you're 10 mins from Outovercott Stables, which offers wonderful road-free routes on Exmoor, scenic coastal rides and instruction for beginners (book ahead)
    • There's fly-fishing in brown-trout streams, with tuition and guiding services from the widely recommended Nick Hart
    • Huw also recommends the Land Rover Discovery tours run by Experience Exmoor: they have access to 'closed' coastal tracks and remote rolling uplands
    • The popular sand and surf beaches of Woolacombe, Croyde and Saunton are 40 minutes by car
    • You've 3 golf courses within 45 minutes' drive, plus more adventurous sports like coasteering, kayaking, mountain-biking, rock climbing, kitesurfing and RIB boat trips to Lundy islands (Huw's clever pre-arrival concierge service will provide details)
    • And for rainy days, there's Exmoor Zoo, Arlington Court house and gardens, Lynton & Barnstaple railway (a 1-mile stretch, with occasional steam trains), and, further afield, Dunster Castle and the atmospheric village of Clovelly

    Activities on site or nearby include:

    • Birdwatching
    • Boat trips
    • Fishing
    • Golf
    • Hiking
    • Historical sites
    • Horse-riding
    • Kayaking
    • Kitesurfing
    • Mountain biking
    • Off-road Exmoor safaris
    • Private guided tours
    • Rock climbing
    • Wildlife

    Kids

    Because of the pond, and the generally tranquil ambiance, children under 14 are regrettably not allowed.

    Family friendly accommodation:

    A rollaway bed can be added to the Suites (extra cost).

    Kid Friendly:

    Our guests' ratings...

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

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