Gidleigh Park Hotel

How to make the most of your time at Gidleigh Park Hotel

In the first of a new series, starting with our recent trip to Gidleigh Park, we wanted to give people a deeper insight into how to make the most of their time when away. Often times people are so busy in their day-to-day lives they don’t actually manage to spend much time figuring out what they’ll do when they get away. And equally often hotels are rarely that great at helping you, not matter how high-end.

Gidleigh Park’s Tudor style frontage

The hotel in a nutshell

Gidleigh Park is a 24-room luxury Country House hotel, set within its own extensive grounds, and hidden in the picturesque Teign valley right on the edge of Dartmoor. The focus is very much on food and service, with the headline drawer being its 2-Michelin star restaurant, headed up by chef Michael Wignall. It’s very much a traditional English retreat perfect for a foodie country getaway or a traditional luxury Devon retreat..

The trip

Planet’s CEO, David Gooch, went for a long-weekend to celebrate a significant anniversary, where he wanted to combine some great food and pampering with some British countryside. He went in early May,

Day 1

Walking through Gidleigh’s Bluebell Wood

Having driven from London we didn’t particularly want to get back in the car so instead focussed on the local area having polished off a delicious full-English breakfast. We did the longer of the two walks suggested by the hotel, which was an approximately 4-mile loop that meanders past the hotels water garden and grounds then on up to Dartmoor itself, taking in some fantastic sweeping views of the park, as well as some sites of historic interest (including Bronze age stone circles and the hamlet of Gidleigh with its 13th/15th century church and castle). We took a light lunch with us (the hotel can provide this for you — including insulated backpack) and thoroughly enjoyed the walk and views, despite the blustery conditions.

Our attic room iron bath — bliss!

After a leisurely bath in the rooms spectacular iron tub, looking out over the grounds, we then prepared for dinner… and dinner is really what the hotel is all about. We opted for the 10-course tasting menu (sample here), with it’s 8 matching wines. The food itself is very contemporary and technically accomplished, with a strong focus on the quality of local ingredients, many sourced from the hotel’s own kitchen garden or otherworldly growing towers dotted around the interior. Each course had incredible attention to detail, and was universally delicious. The wines were wide ranging and generally very well matched, although they did stack up towards the end.

Day 2

Again fuelled by a substantial and delicious breakfast we decided to take out our road bikes to cycle to the local village of Chagford (voted best rural place to live in Britain in 2015) and the further to Fernworthy Reservoir. If you do decide to bring bikes, hybrid or mountain bikes may be a better option as the roads are narrow and at times very steep, potholed and strewn with debris. That said we encountered few cars, and cycling up onto the moor, past the wild ponies was pretty magical.

Cycling past Dartmoor’s wild ponies

We rewarded ourselves with a champagne afternoon tea, which was delicious, and pretty good value. After a massage in the room (organised by the hotel) we had a leisurely light supper in the drawing room, and took advantage of the hotels wide range of board games before turning in.

Day 3

On our last day, we wanted to use some of the hotel facilities, so we borrowed putters and pottered around the hotel immaculately kept, Peter Alliss designed, 18 hole putting green — itself a very pretty venue. We then walked through the Bluebell wood (we were there in early May which is perfect viewing time), took a leisurely coffee on the terrace with the Sunday papers, before making our way back home.

Other things to do on-site

Beyond relaxing in the hotel’s comfortable bar or drawing room, there are a number of activities and facilities located right on the doorstep. Not least of these are it’s extensive grounds which include kitchen and water gardens, croquet and crown bowls lawns, bluebell woods and tennis court.

The hotel can provide all the equipment you might need including lending out walking boots and wellies. They can also organise massages and beauty treatments in most rooms with advance notice.

Things to do in the area

If you do want to get in a car there is quite a bit to keep you interested within easy driving range. Within a few miles of the hotel are National trust owned Castle Drogo, the pretty village of Chagford (where there are a couple of great pubs if you want a break from Michelin starred gastronomy, notably the Three Crowns and Chagford Inn) and the Mythic Gardens at Stone Lane. Dartmoor also makes for an interesting drive.

Further afield there are a number of gardens including Bicton Park Botanical Gardens (30 miles) and Kilelrton House (50 miles). The coast is also easily reachable — for example head to pretty Ness Cove (25 miles), or the beaches of Slapton Sands (39 miles) and Bantham (41 miles). There is plenty of other walking in the area, notably around Postbridge (9 miles), Canonteign Falls (13 miles) and Lydford Gorge (23 miles). There are also some good castles including Powderham (27 miles) and Tintagel (50 miles). The famous Eden Project is also within striking distance (approx 60 miles away).

For shopping Chagford has a small range of shops. Historic Exeter town centre has a wider range as well as cafes and sights around 30 minutes away

Kids and families

We went for a romantic weekend, and whilst the hotel does welcome children, it didn’t particularly feel like a place you’d bring younger kids given the generally reverential atmosphere and large amount of easily damageable furniture.

That said there are a few things for kids to do in the local area including Castle Drogo (5 miles) North Bovey Miniature Pony Centre (5 miles), The River Dart Country Park with a wide range of playgrounds and activities (15 miles), The House of Marbles glass and games factory at Bovey Tracey (14 Miles), Pennywell Farm petting zoo (25 miles), Buckfast Butterflies and Otter Sanctuary (25 miles) and Becky Falls waterfall and estate (32 miles).

Our assessment

The good

Walking around the grounds and up onto the moor. The exquisite food. The flexibility of the hotel and staff to suit our needs and requirements (like setting us up for dinner in the lounge rather than the formal restaurant on the second night). The immaculate grounds and kitchen gardens, which has very ancient Lord of the Rings type feeling. The range of on-site activities and generally outdoorsy nature of the place.

Room for improvement

It’s a fair way from London by road, even with good traffic, which means there are a lot of alternatives nearer to London, many with better facilities for the same price. There is no spa or pool, except for a couple of the higher-end rooms that have hot tubs. The decor is quite traditional and staid, more suited to an older clientele. The staff were very attentive and friendly, but almost too much so and as such lost a bit of their genuineness. The food was a bit on the slow side. We were unlucky to have our high tea coincide with a (in fairness very posh) hen do, who rather dominated the room.

Our overall rating 7/10

Practicalities

Getting there

Gidleigh is in a remote rural location. It’s 30–40 minute drive from Exeter St David’s train station and about the same from Exeter International Airport (in both case you’ll need a taxi). There is plenty of car parking on-site, but if driving make sure you go via Chagford as satnavs will take you along very narrow or impassable roads. Dogs are welcome (although not inside), and can be housed in one of the hotels four heated kennels if pre-booked.

Rooms

Rooms are all ample sized with ensuite bathrooms, ranging from classic doubles at the back of the hotel to the standalone Pavilion located in its own private venue by the croquet lawns. Prices start from around £275 (Check here to get specific pricing). The ten-course tasting menu was £145, matching wines £95, with a la carte and vegetarian available. Afternoon tea was £37.50 (£50 with glass of champagne).

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