Al­though set­tled in to Ir­ish coun­try life, our writer re­turned to the English hol­i­day mem­o­ries of her youth and found a foodie heaven – and a vine­yard in mo­tion


Hav­ing lived in Lon­don for 15 years, once I made the move to the west of Ire­land, I had no de­sire to re­visit the bustling me­trop­o­lis. Sure I some­times missed the va­ri­ety of bars, restau­rants, shops and the­atres, but since set­ting up home in the coun­try­side, I have come to love the peace, tran­quil­lity and green­ery of the area.

So apart from oc­ca­sional vis­its to friends and fam­ily, I rarely re­turn to Bri­tain at all. I re­alised what a shame this was the mo­ment I set foot in Devon.

Dubbed the English Riviera, this beau­ti­ful part of the coun­try was where we of­ten hol­i­dayed and I have won­der­ful mem­o­ries of glo­ri­ous scenery, quaint towns and friendly peo­ple.

That, cou­pled with the rep­u­ta­tion of old world el­e­gance and sump­tu­ous food cre­ated by the Miche­lin-starred chef Michael Caines, brought me to Lymp­stone Manor.

Lo­cated less than half an hour’s drive from Ex­eter air­port, the 21-bed­room bou­tique ho­tel is set in lush rolling grounds over­look­ing the Exe River and es­tu­ary – a fac­tor which has in­flu­enced both the dé­cor of the in­te­rior and the names of the rooms, which are all called af­ter lo­cal birds of the es­tu­ary.

It has only been open for just over a year but within the first six months, owner Caines had al­ready been awarded his first Miche­lin star. The Flybe flight is only 55 min­utes long and no sooner had we taken off and been served with re­fresh­ments, than the cap­tain was in­struct­ing us to fas­ten our seat­belts and pre­pare for land­ing.

Re­galed with stories for the 10km jour­ney to the ho­tel, our chauf­feur was a font of knowl­edge and his sup­port for both the ho­tel and its celebrity chef was ap­par­ent – he in­formed us we ‘were in for a lovely treat’. He wasn’t wrong. I of­ten find that there is a fine line be­tween high-end, five-star ser­vice and re­laxed friend­li­ness and there aren’t many es­tab­lish­ments which can man­age to of­fer both su­perb ser­vice and make vis­i­tors feel to­tally at ease as if they were vis­it­ing friends or fam­ily – al­beit ones who live in the height of lux­ury.

But from the mo­ment we stepped out of the car, we were greeted with such warmth by the front of house man­ager that I mo­men­tar­ily for­got that we didn’t know each other.

Our room wasn’t ready on ar­rival, but we were plied with tea and home-made bis­cuits in the plush lounge while we waited for the clouds to clear so we could ex­plore the grounds. Once the sun be­gan peep out, we were of­fered a pair of Hunter wellies and a brolly. Feel­ing like an ex­tra from Last of the Sum­mer Wine in my neat floral frock with pur­ple boots cho­sen to match, it added to the easy re­laxed feel of the place as we waved good­bye and took a walk along the coastal path into Ex­mouth.

The lit­tle town is only about 2km from the ho­tel and as we am­bled along, the weather warmed up con­sid­er­ably. Af­ter a bit of ex­plo­ration, we were soon ready to check out our room, so headed back to the manor.

Our room was ready – and well worth the wait. We were guided out­side the build­ing and along a gravel path to a se­ries of gar­den suites, one of which would be our home for the next 24 hours. It had a lit­tle gate lead­ing on to a ter­race, which came com­plete with an out­door tub and ta­ble-top fire pit. Inside was even more fancy with a huge king-sized bed, state of the art light­ing and dé­cor, and a sump­tu­ous bath­room com­plete with the big­gest shower head I think I have ever seen – bliss. And be­cause ‘Michael be­lieves ev­ery­one should re­lax with a G&T af­ter trav­el­ling’, we were wel­comed with two mini bot­tles and all the ac­com­pa­ni­ments, in­clud­ing ice and a slice.

As our bags had al­ready been de­posited in the room, there was noth­ing for it but to re­lax, un­wind and en­joy the fa­cil­i­ties, while sip­ping an af­ter­noon tip­ple over­look­ing the beau­ti­fully man­i­cured gar­dens and newly-planted vine­yard.

Lux­ury aside, the main rea­son any­one vis­its a ho­tel run by Michael Caines is, of course, the food. We had a ta­ble booked for 8pm and couldn’t wait to sam­ple his leg­endary cook­ing.

So coiffed and made up in our gladrags, we

made the short jour­ney across to the bar at the ap­pointed hour and were greeted with an aper­i­tif – cham­pagne, of course – and canapes on the ter­race while we pe­rused the even­ing menu.

We both opted for the sig­na­ture menu with wine pair­ing as we wanted to sam­ple as many dif­fer­ent dishes as pos­si­ble.

We were not dis­ap­pointed. Al­though small, there were no less than eight cour­ses to get through and these in­cluded de­lights such as Ex­mouth crab ravi­oli, Loch Duart salmon, Cor­nish duck­ling, lo­cal rack of lamb and then a se­lec­tion of English cheese fol­lowed by not one but two desserts, then cof­fee and petit fours on the ve­randa.

Each dish was ac­com­pa­nied by half glasses of dif­fer­ent wines and the whole meal was served at a won­der­fully leisurely pace. Four hours af­ter we left our room, we were only good for a short moon­light stroll be­fore head­ing back to our pala­tial quar­ters for a well-earned rest.

We had asked to be given a tour of the vine­yard in the morn­ing, so were awak­ened by a phone call to tell us that a tea tray was on the way and af­ter a quick shower we had tea on the ter­race be­fore head­ing to the break­fast room for yet more food.

De­spite hav­ing a won­der­ful din­ner menu, many ho­tels are let down by an un­re­mark­able break­fast of­fer­ing, but this was not the case at Lymp­stone – fresh fruit, a va­ri­ety of juices, smooth­ies and yo­ghurts as well as ce­real, gra­nolas, cheeses and a se­lec­tion of breads and lo­cal pre­serves were laid out for guests to help them­selves, while the break­fast menu of­fered all man­ner of de­li­cious cooked op­tions.

Still full from the even­ing be­fore, we ate a modest, yet still sub­stan­tial, break­fast be­fore head­ing out to meet James Matyear, the man in charge of the vine­yard. Only planted last year, it is hoped that the first of Caines’s sparkling wines will be avail­able in three years.

Lis­ten­ing to James it was hard not to be af­fected by his en­thu­si­asm and knowl­edge when imag­in­ing how the grounds will look once the vines have grown to ma­tu­rity. As the lo­ca­tion pro­vides ex­cel­lent con­di­tions for the grow­ing grapes, the re­sult­ing wine should be some­thing to look for­ward to.

The grounds around the ho­tel are per­fect for any­one who wants to get away from it all – se­cluded, peace­ful and lush, there are lots of lovely walks, bi­cy­cles to ride and lawns on which to play cro­quet.

We also de­cided to do a lit­tle fur­ther ex­plo­ration out­side the ho­tel in or­der to sam­ple some of the lo­cal hos­pi­tal­ity, so head­ing the op­po­site di­rec­tion to where we went the day be­fore, we set off to Lymp­stone, a tiny vil­lage about half an hour away on foot.

There were lots of lit­tle nooks and cran­nies to in­ves­ti­gate as well as a lit­tle har­bour and lovely beach walk.

As no visit to an English vil­lage would be com­plete with­out head­ing to the lo­cal pub, we soon found our­selves sit­ting un­der an um­brella in a lovely gar­den ter­race with a cou­ple of glasses of lo­cally brewed ale. It was heav­enly.

The rest of our short stay in Devon was spent en­joy­ing (more) food at a late lunch and gen­er­ally loung­ing about, soak­ing up the sun, the sounds, the tran­quil­lity and the won­der­ful at­mos­phere.

Be­fore my trip last month, it had prob­a­bly been nearly two decades since I was in Devon and I can­not think of a bet­ter way to reac­quaint my­self with this beau­ti­ful cor­ner of Eng­land. I def­i­nitely won’t be leav­ing it so long to make a re­turn visit.

Lymp­stone Manor in Devon and, in­set right, Ar­lene with Michael Caines

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