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THE LAV­ISH, NEO-EL­IZ­A­BETHAN HOME of the WH Smith fam­ily first be­came a ho­tel in 1930, un­der the Great Western Rail­way, the whole 275 acre es­tate, in­clud­ing the manor house and 18-hole golf course, bought at auc­tion for just £15,000. Af­ter chang­ing own­er­ship on a num­ber of oc­ca­sions, be­com­ing ‘Bovey Cas­tle’ in 2003 and achiev­ing 5* sta­tus the fol­low­ing year, this grand es­tab­lish­ment was taken into the Eden Ho­tel Col­lec­tion. Since join­ing this elite group­ing of eight fab­u­lous English coun­try ho­tels, in 2014, it has been trans­formed. £10 mil­lion has been in­vested in the prop­erty and, if you are a guest, re­turn­ing af­ter a few years’ ab­sence, pre­pare to be ‘blown away’ by the im­prove­ments achieved, with­out, in any way, los­ing its essen­tial beauty. As a re­sult, those five stars have now been up­graded by the AA to ‘Red’, the high­est pos­si­ble. The cham­pi­onship golf course, rel­a­tively short at 6,303 yards but still ‘chal­leng­ing’, is to a 1926 ’Aber­cromby’ de­sign, a sis­ter to those at Gle­nea­gles and Turn­berry. The first half is dom­i­nated by the wind­ing waters of the rivers Bovey and Bow­den, both eager to at­tract way­ward, or over-am­bi­tious, shots, while the sec­ond ‘nine’ is through the lush park­land above, and be­hind, the ho­tel. The range of leisure pur­suits avail­able to guests has be­come out­stand­ing, with on­site op­por­tu­nites rang­ing from any num­ber of walk­ing and cy­cling trails, ten­nis, archery and ri­fle-shoot­ing to petanque and cro­quet. Ex­hausted? No ex­cuse is re­ally needed for a trip to the per­fectly-pre­sented fa­cil­i­ties of the Elan Spa, with an Art De­coin­spired pool, over­look­ing the sun ter­race and the Bovey, gym­na­sium, steam room, Jacuzzi and ‘his and hers’ treat­ment rooms and ther­a­pies. The tired and out­dated look of the pub­lic ar­eas is a dis­tant mem­ory, the gloomy ‘gen­tle­men’s club’ feel lifted by the ju­di­ciously dif­fer­ent, but wholly ap­pro­pri­ate, colour schemes and soft fur­nish­ings. The restau­rants, too, are no longer hushed and slightly for­bid­ding but light, re­laxed and wel­com­ing. The 3 Aa-rosette ‘Great Western’ is the fine-din­ing op­tion, ex­pertly led by the tal­ented Head Chef, Mark Budd, a na­tive of Devon whose pas­sion for imag­i­na­tion and qual­ity is given full free­dom, fa­mil­iar flavours be­ing mixed and matched to per­fec­tion. In the slightly less for­mal sur­round­ings of ‘Smith’s Brasserie’, both restau­rants hav­ing been re-named with a nod to pre­vi­ous own­ers, din­ers can en­joy a re­laxed en­vi­ron­ment, with a the­atre kitchen, open to view, a bistro-bar and a dis­creet air of deca­dence. All this would be point­less if the 60 en-suite rooms (and, in the grounds, 22 self-con­tained, dog-friendly lodges) had not, also, been the ben­e­fi­cia­ries of the metic­u­lous Eden treat­ment. For the first-time vis­i­tor, Bovey Cas­tle is bound to im­press. For a re­turn­ing guest, the trans­for­ma­tion is breath­tak­ing, the re­birth of this epit­ome of coun­try-house hos­pi­tal­ity. Dart­moor Na­tional Park, North Bovey, Devon, 01647 445000, bov­ey­cas­

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