The Newt in Somerset
England's swankiest new country house hotel and spa are only for guests but the splendid estate, gardens – and cafe – in Bruton are open to all. Shall we...?
A couple of miles south west of Bruton, lying between the A359 into Bruton and the A371 from Wincanton (you can see some of the estate from the road). This is the former Hadspen House, famed for Penelope Hobhouse’s gardens, and after some six year’s work, now in its fabulous new incarnation as The Newt in Somerset. England’s newest swanky country house hotel and spa is only for guests but the estate and gardens are open to all. Shall we…?
With minute attention to detail and no expense spared, South African billionaire Koos Bekker has created an homage to Somerset, the land and its heritage, so expect lots of apples. It’s also a working farm – growing crops, making cider – albeit in a five star sort of way.
Follow the boardwalk. Straight away you feel you’re entering a special place.
Whilst not an art gallery, there’s arty stuff about.
The gentle up and down movements of the installation ‘Amplitude’ by Studio Drift in the Threshing Barn, said to symbolise the pulse of living nature, is mesmerising.
An eclectic selection of quotes – song lyrics, from poetry and literature and often related to apples – dotted around the entire estate add another layer of interest.
On a bright winter’s day, the gardens are spectacular. Pick up a map in the Threshing Barn and go for a wander and wonder at the multitudinous (250) varieties of apples in the Parabola maze. Where’s a drone when you need it?
The names of the counties where each apple originate are carved into edging stones around the maze.
There are tropical fruit trees, succulents, ferns and orchids in the Greenhouse.
And cacti next door. Ouch!
There are lots of cultivated gardens and outdoor spaces to discover, including the Cottage Garden inspired by Gertrude Jeykyll and with an original gardener’s cottage still in situ, three Colour Gardens (though mostly green at the mo), a Long Walk, a Bathing Pond and the potagers of the Kitchen Garden – each garden reflecting different historical periods. Here’s the pond on the edge of the Victorian Fragrance garden.
A cascade runs down through a series of ponds criss-crossed with wooden branch bridges for the eponymous newts.
Toads await you at the bottom.
It’s immaculately maintained. I mean, take a look at The Lower Egg, a lawn with a curved herbaceous hedge and geometric espaliered apple trees against the wall.
Take a peep at the luxurious hotel and spa, tantalisingly out of reach beyond the gate, and vow to save up and book a stay sometime soon.
There are miles more walks through the estate’s meadows, orchards and woods but me, I’m ready for lunch.
SCOFF & QUAFF
You can grab a blanket and a glass of their own pressed apple juice or cider and a hot snack and find a space in on a bench in the outdoor Cyder Press Bar.
There’s a bit of a French park vibe going on here.
Or head over to the long, low glass-fronted Garden Café perched high up on a bank planted with rosemary and thyme on the edge of the woods. Note the free range ducks.
A seat on the balcony?
Or inside in the warm? With floor to ceiling glass overlooking the gardens and the tree growing up through the floor you feel like you’re outside anyway. It’s very laid back, with couples, families, solo diners and people hanging out with their laptops.
It’s farm to fork here. The menu – beautifully decorated with annotated sketches of veg – uses produce from the estate or sourced locally and is highly seasonal. At this time of year, think celeriac, beetroot, winter squash, cauliflower and pumpkins along with slow cooked meats, charcuterie and cheeses with fermented veg. Dishes are named after vegetables, but read the menu carefully, for example, ‘Parsnip’ includes pork belly. There’s a whole page devoted to sweet and savory crumpets and another to country style cakes and scones.
Bread – apple fermented sourdough and a seeded rye – arrives in a little bag, with pats of buffalo milk and mushroom and tarragon butters; unusual, rich and flavoursome.
Here are the Jerusalem artichokes, with shallots, damson, red leaves (Swiss chard?), Tickleman’s hard goat cheese, thyme and roasted hazelnuts – earthy and hearty – which I scoffed with a huge side order of roasted beetroot dressed with sweet and tangy blackcurrant vinegar and oranges.
When the beetroot was too big to finish, they offered to wrap it in foil to take home. So not too posh for doggy bags.
Desserts are comforting with unusual twists, like a sweet parsnip dish with honey, bay leaf, bottled plum and a brown butter biscuit.
They serve up their own apple juices, ciders and other artisan ales and juices, teas, coffees and a wine list which includes bottles from Babylonstoren, the owner’s South African Cape Dutch estate.
Kids will love the wandering wildlife but beware, there are lots of ponds, streams and fountains for young ‘uns to fall into. There’s nothing so crass as a play area but I hear they’re planning a tree top walk which should be fun. Super stylish high chairs in the café and a children’s menu.
Did I mention the shops? Buy ethically reared meat, artisan cheeses and fruit, veg and herbs from the estate, biscuits, preserves and more in the Farm Shop.
Little vapour jets keep the fruit and veg super fresh.
Everything is totally tasteful in the House & Garden shop. Not a singing Santa in sight.
Good for: A lazy lunch or tea and crumpets with a wander, returning with the changing seasons. Special lunches for groups of 12+. Tours around the gardens at 10.30 (just turn up) and Cyder Cellar at 11am and 2pm (you must book). Assorted workshops throughout the year – bee safari anyone? Great Garden Escape days from London, travelling First Class from Paddington. A garden museum and Roman villa are rumoured to be on the horizon.
Not for: Dinner: the eateries as well as the gardens, are day time only. Only guide dogs allowed.
The damage: Entrance £30 for adults/ children 7–15 years £7. Seems a bit steep but you can turn into an annual pass for the rest of the year if you sign and keep your entrance receipt and download the Candide garden app. Lunch starters £6.50 – £7.50 ; mains £11 – £16.50; charcuterie/cheese platter £10 – £20; desserts £; crumpets £3.50 –£6.50; Puds £6 – £6.75. Children’s menu £4 – £6 and smaller portions of adult dishes.
Opening hours: October to March 10am – 4.30 pm (last entrance 3.30pm); April to September 10am – 6pm (last entrance 5pm).
The Newt in Somerset, Bruton, Somerset BA7 7NG. Tel 01963 577777. thenewtinsomerset.com