Somerset is renowned for its Georgian properties and one of its most charming country house hotels is Ston Easton Park. With a great location less than 20 minutes from Bath and Bristol, it’s a short drive to the cathedral town of Wells. Stonehenge, Wookey Hole Caves and Cheddar Gorge are also easily reached.
FIRST IMPRESSIONS – STON EASTON PARK
The gravel drive up to the hotel sets the scene as you know it’s going to be special. Sure enough, this 18th century Georgian manor house is superbly proportioned and built in the Palladian style. Having been the home of the Hippisley family for hundreds of years, it’s now a country retreat that everyone can enjoy. It’s set in 36 acres of landscaped grounds, created by the renowned landscape designer, Humphrey Repton.
As soon as we set foot inside, we were warmly welcomed by several members of staff. You really feel like you are entering someone’s home, with quite a few photos dotted around including one of Oscar, the resident Cocker Spaniel. You can actually take him for a walk although he looked like he was settling in for a sleep at this point! The house first became a hotel in 1982 and is privately owned, with a sister property, Sharrow Bay, located on the shores of Ullswater in the Lake District.
There are 20 stylish bedrooms, each with a distinctive design. Our State Room on the first floor had the unusual name of South East – quite appropriate for us as we live in London. The four State Rooms are the largest in the house and overlook either the 18th century parkland to the rear or the croquet lawn to the front of the property. Ours had two large sash windows with views onto the croquet lawn, and was bright and airy.
The real highlight of the bedroom was the antique Chippendale four-poster-bed. I felt like a Jane Austen heroine sleeping in this!
I love the proportions of these Georgian properties – our room had high ceilings and was decorated with original antique furniture. Yet the quirky Toile de Jouy wallpaper gave the place a cool feel.
There were coffee and tea-making facilities, together with a flat screen TV. Due to the thickness of the walls, WiFi isn’t available on the first floor but it is in all the other bedrooms and all the public spaces. I liked the elegant free-standing mirror as well as the traditional vanity table. The good-sized marble bathroom was equipped with luxurious Noble Isle toiletries, towelling slippers and bathhrobes.
The hotel pride themselves on their cuisine and source around 60% of their produce from their Victorian kitchen garden. Head Chef Martin Baker has previously worked with Marco Pierre White and Gordon Ramsay. He and his team collaborate with local farms to ensure that they have the best ingredients for their seasonal menus. The house florist also has no shortage of blooms with which to decorate! The award-winning Sorrel dining room is a cosy yet classy space, with original Georgian wood-panelling and lovely garden views. Tables are nicely spaced apart so it’s a good place for a romantic dinner or business lunch. The plates are beautiful and really set off the dishes nicely. There’s also a range of private dining rooms including the historic Saloon, Print Room and Yellow Dining Room.
We started our five course tasting meal with a chilled glass of champagne. The cellars here are renowned for the extensive selection of vintage wine and New World wines.
Our appetizer was a beautifully presented tomato and olive arancini. The batter and filling was very light and the olive and tomato flavours shone through.
Normally I try to avoid carbs in the evening but this warm homemade bread was too good to ignore.
The starter was crispy pork belly, black pudding, pancetta and pea purée – another great combination. I ordered mine without the black pudding but Paul assured me that it was really tasty. The pancetta gave added texture to the dish and the pea purée complemented it nicely. It was served with a rich Pinot Noir 2013 Calusari from Romania. Our lovely waitress was also from Romania and she really enjoys working at Ston Easton.
Next we enjoyed a refreshing cucumber and melon sorbet palate cleanser, followed by salmon, asparagus, poached egg and sabayon. I’m a real brunch fan and this reminds me of one of my favourite brunch dishes, but executed to fine dining standards. The flavourful asparagus matched the crisp skin of the salmon and the oozing egg perfectly. We washed it down with a fragrant Chardonnay Rolleston Vale 2011 from Australia.
Dessert was possibly my favourite dish, a delicious pineapple Tarte Tatin with coconut and lime sorbet. The pastry was so crisp and pineapple made a nice change to the usual apple version. A glass of Zuccardi Reserva Torrontes 2015 dessert wine from Argentina was an ideal accompaniment.
The next evening, we sampled the a la carte menu, starting with a savoury Wiltshire ham hock with truffle, piccalili, pickled beetroot and quail’s egg for Paul and a tender goat’s cheese and basil panna cotta with pink grapefruit, pomegranate and parmesan crisp for me. We greatly enjoyed the Mendip Spring lamb shank and lamb rump with smashed potatoes, parsley cake and artichoke purée as well as the roast turbot, saffron, grape and chive sabayon with buttered tarragon tagliatelle and pak choi.
As for dessert, this rhubarb and custard tart with rhubarb ice cream and rhubarb purée was a delight…
Whilst Paul savoured five Somerset cheeses with biscuits, quince, grapes and chutney.
Feeling refreshed after a great night’s sleep in that bed, we headed to breakfast. As there are two adjoining rooms, they didn’t spot us at first but service was friendly. Our Full English (Paul) and smoked salmon with scrambled eggs (me) really set us up for the day.
TOUR OF THE GARDENS AND HOUSE
There’s so much to see in Somerset, and nearby Bristol too. Yet do make time for a walk around the grounds, with old beech and cedar trees providing shade in the Summer.
The picturesque River Knorr runs through the parkland and is borded by weeping willows.
Don’t you just love this adorable riverside cottage! Originally built in the 17th century for the gardener, today it’s a comfortable haven with three self-contained suites, a sitting room and kitchen.
Through the stone archway, you’ll find the 18th century Kitchen Garden…
I just had to hop on this tractor – I won’t tell Steve and Dale, the gardeners, if you won’t!
Returning inside the house, the Drawing Room may look grand but it’s a cosy place with open fires in Wintertime and direct access to the rear terrace.
The devil is in the details and the antique ceilings and cornices give Ston Easton Park a real Downton Abbey feel.
On the day that we were leaving, they were setting up a wedding here, it really is a lovely place for a celebration! I’ve also heard that afternoon tea is in high demand.
The Library is the perfect spot for reading and has a selection of interesting antique books.
Its original mahogany bookcases are stunning.
Our stay was coming to an end so it was time to say goodbye yet Oscar didn’t seem to want us to leave! I’d have happily moved in ;-). Have you ever stayed in a place with a resident pet?
Ston Easton Park, Nr. Bath, Somerset BA3 4DF
Our stay was complimentary for the purposes of this review