THE WILD WEST SOM­ER­SET

Per­haps best known for its world fa­mous Glas­ton­bury mu­sic fes­ti­val in June, there are many rea­sons to visit Som­er­set at all times of year. Jes­sica Way checks in to The Mount Som­er­set Ho­tel a glo­ri­ous Re­gency ho­tel, lo­cated in Taun­ton, an area steeped in c

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Per­haps best known for its world fa­mous Glas­ton­bury mu­sic fes­ti­val in June, there are many rea­sons to visit Som­er­set at all times of year.

SOM­ER­SET IS THE UK'S sev­enth big­gest county, lo­cated in south-west Eng­land, bor­der­ing Glouces­ter­shire and Bris­tol to the north, Wilt­shire to the east, Dorset to the south-east and Devon to the south-west. In the north-east is Som­er­set's most fa­mous city, Bath (also Som­er­set’s largest city), and the beau­ti­ful val­ley of the River Avon. Pop­u­lar with tourists for its an­cient Ro­man baths, Ther­mae Bath Spa - the first nat­u­ral ther­mal spa in Bri­tain - and a wealth of cul­tural ac­tiv­i­ties on of­fer in the city, in­clud­ing the an­nual Jane Austen fes­ti­val. The city alone is a great rea­son to visit Som­er­set. In the heart of the county, Glas­ton­bury is ar­guably the most fa­mous town in Som­er­set's Mendip dis­trict and is steeped in Chris­tian and Pa­gan leg­ends due to its prox­im­ity to the Glas­ton­bury Tor, a prom­i­nent hill and land­mark fea­ture of the lo­cal land­scape. The town is a mix­ture of old and new, with im­pres­sive Abbey ru­ins, re­put­edly the birth­place of Chris­tian­ity in Eng­land, and as­so­ci­ated with the leg­ends of King Arthur. With names like ‘The God­dess and The Green Man', ‘Stone Age' and ‘Man, Myth & Magik', the town's unique shops sell ev­ery­thing from crys­tal amulets and god­dess sculp­tures to ayurvedic oils. Ex­plore the al­leys and back­yards set back from the high street.

A short drive north and you step into one of Bri­tain's most dra­matic Ar­eas of Out­stand­ing Nat­u­ral Beauty in Som­er­set's Mendip Hills. Here you can ex­plore Bri­tain's big­gest gorge, Ched­dar Gorge, from its dra­matic cliffs ris­ing 450ft/137me­tres to stun­ning sta­lac­tite cav­erns. This world-fa­mous site re­veals many fas­ci­nat­ing sto­ries of our pre­his­toric an­ces­tors, and is an in­ter­na­tional cen­tre for cav­ing and rock climb­ing. It's a great day out for fam­i­lies, na­ture lovers, out­door ad­ven­tur­ers and his­tory buffs. Also in the Mendip Hills are the Wookey Hole Caves, a se­ries of lime­stone cav­erns with the River Axe flow­ing through them. Home to over 50,000 years of hu­man his­tory and oc­cu­pied by early cave­men, these days the caves and sur­round­ing area are a great fam­ily at­trac­tion, with plenty to keep younger vis­i­tors en­ter­tained. In an area with so much cul­ture and his­tory you re­ally don't need to look far for places to visit, Glas­ton­bury and Wells Cathe­dral, Hester­combe Gar­dens, Bar­ring­ton Court, the West Som­er­set Steam Rail­way and Dun­ster Cas­tle for ex­am­ple - there are many at­trac­tions on of­fer (go to vis­it­som­er­set.co.uk for fur­ther in­spi­ra­tion). There are so many pretty towns and vil­lages, such as the his­toric mar­ket town of Frome and the beau­ti­ful coastal town of Por­tishead.

THE MOUNT SOM­ER­SET HO­TEL & SPA

The Mount Som­er­set Ho­tel & Spa is a per­fect choice as a gate­way to this area of Som­er­set, with all the char­ac­ter­is­tics of a quin­tes­sen­tial English Re­gency man­sion. The ho­tel’s im­mac­u­lately pre­sented 4-acre gar­dens and grounds, with im­pres­sive views look­ing out over the rolling hills and green fields of the Quan­tocks, Black­down Hills and Som­er­set Lev­els below, are an ab­so­lute plea­sure to the eye and to your sense of well­be­ing (and that's be­fore even set­ting foot in the spa!). The first im­pres­sion from the ex­te­rior of the im­pos­ing, cream-coloured man­sion is car­ried through in the ho­tel it­self, where the grand oc­tag­o­nal hall ac­com­mo­dates the wel­com­ing re­cep­tion area. Above the hall rises a sweep­ing stone stair­case, with ma­hogany handrails. A warm, friendly smile at the desk on our ar­rival made us feel in­stantly re­as­sured and at home - ready to re­lax and re­ju­ve­nate. It’s not dif­fi­cult, from the home-from-home feel, to believe that just 32 years ago this stylish, and beau­ti­fully el­e­gant, ho­tel was owned, and lived in, as a fam­ily dwelling. It was in the 1990s when the orig­i­nal name was changed to The Mount Som­er­set Ho­tel, and guests were of­fered the op­por­tu­nity to stay at the prop­erty. Our front fac­ing four-poster bed­room (we stayed in the Pre­mier Suite) was sim­ply beau­ti­ful, but also ut­terly lux­u­ri­ous, far ex­ceed­ing ex­pec­ta­tions and more on a par with a 5 star ho­tel. Look out for an up­grade on the 4 AA Red Stars cur­rently awarded. The op­u­lent dé­cor, high ceil­ings, long sash win­dows, and beau­ti­fully or­nate four-poster bed, with sump­tu­ous bed­ding and stylish fur­nish­ings, of­fered a feel­ing of gen­tle el­e­gance. Fluffy dress­ing gowns and ESPA bath­room essen­tials added a touch of lux­ury, while the freshly pre­pared fruit, short­bread, and jar of sweets, of­fered fur­ther warmth. There are 19 gue­strooms, spread over both the orig­i­nal build­ing and a sym­pa­thetic ex­ten­sion. The bath­rooms are ar­tis­ti­cally de­signed, with mo­saic til­ing and beau­ti­ful basins. While the Bar­ring­ton Suite of­fers an im­pres­sively spa­cious twin shower and lux­u­ri­ous roll top bath, ours had a de­light­ful Vic­to­rian-style free-stand­ing bath and shower. The two Gar­den Deluxe rooms even have hot tubs on their pa­tios. The Eden Ho­tel Col­lec­tion recog­nised the unique charm of The Mount Som­er­set Ho­tel back in 2011, when they wel­comed it into their ex­clu­sive lux­ury col­lec­tion of eight award-win­ning ho­tels. Each is cho­sen for its beau­ti­ful ar­chi­tec­ture, out­stand­ing food and peace­ful sur­round­ings. What makes Eden's prop­er­ties unique is that they of­fer guests a sense of to­tal es­cape and re­lax­ation - very much the way you feel at The Mount Som­er­set. Closer to The Mount Som­er­set it­self, there are plen­ti­ful walks and if you are into your sport, the Som­er­set County Cricket Ground and Taun­ton Race­course are just a short drive away. We opted for ex­plor­ing the won­der­ful un­spoilt scenery sur­round­ing the ho­tel, which is one of Eng­land's 33 recog­nised and pro­tected Ar­eas of Out­stand­ing Nat­u­ral Beauty. Leave time to en­joy the fa­cil­i­ties on of­fer within the ho­tel. We spent a few hours un­wind­ing within the ho­tel’s cosy but well-equipped Elan Spa. There are three treat­ment rooms, a gym, re­lax­ation room and wet room area with a bub­bling Hy­drother­apy pool, sauna, steam room and foot spas. The in­ti­mate spa is avail­able to use free of charge to overnight

guests. The in­te­ri­ors are un­com­pli­cated, with pol­ished plas­ter walls and a tiled mo­saic floor, de­signed to echo a tra­di­tional Ham­mam bath house. Be brave enough to take the plunge and pull the cord on the ‘kubel dusche’, an el­e­vated bucket of ice-cold wa­ter, or maybe opt for a trop­i­cal shower-spritz! There is a also a pretty out­door ter­race area for warmer-weather days where, wrapped in our dress­ing gowns, we en­joyed mac­chi­ato and bis­cuits. When hunger hits, there’s plenty of choice at The Mount Som­er­set, a des­ti­na­tion where many of the lo­cals come for lunch and din­ner dates. As al­ter­na­tives to din­ing in the ho­tel's 3 AA Rosette res­tau­rant, there's a rea­son­ably priced in-room menu, with room ser­vices op­tions at other times of day. Af­ter­noon tea is served un­til late af­ter­noon and a good se­lec­tion of 'light­bites' are avail­able in the lounge and bar area. It was lovely to see how well the var­ied rooms, each with a dif­fer­ent am­bi­ence, ac­com­mo­dated the guests. For ex­am­ple, there was a party of ladies cel­e­brat­ing a spe­cial birth­day with an af­ter­noon tea out on the ter­race, while some oth­ers opted for the light and spa­cious Gar­den Room. Guests could be seen re­lax­ing by the open fire­places in the sit­ting room en­joy­ing cock­tails and canapés, while a more re­fined din­ing ex­pe­ri­ence awaited in the ex­quis­ite din­ing room. We took pre-din­ner drinks sit­ting out on the pretty ter­race while soak­ing up the views - as

“There are three treat­ment rooms, a gym, re­lax­ation room and wet room area with a bub­bling Hy­drother­apy pool, sauna, steam room and foot spas.”

“There is a gen­uine con­nec­tion be­tween the team, who come across as very pas­sion­ate and proud, and noth­ing is too much trou­ble.”

we watched the sun start­ing to disappear over the hori­zon. Some de­li­cious rata­touille tart­let canapés tick­led our ap­petites as we pro­ceeded to the res­tau­rant for our evening meal. The Som­er­set Din­ing Room is beau­ti­fully pre­sented, an el­e­gant, re­fined space with muted tones and clas­sic fin­ishes, crisp white linen, square and round ta­bles, per­fectly dressed for fine-din­ing. With head chef, Mark Potts, at the helm, the award­win­ning kitchen team's menus are full of flavour, in­no­va­tion and imag­i­na­tion, us­ing fresh sea­sonal pro­duce from lo­cal sup­pli­ers - in­tro­duc­ing guests to some of the finest ar­ti­san pro­duc­ers in Som­er­set. The cour­te­ous, friendly and ef­fi­cient staff are an ab­so­lute credit to the ho­tel. There is a gen­uine con­nec­tion be­tween the team, who come across as very pas­sion­ate and proud, and noth­ing is too much trou­ble. You can see the at­ten­tion to de­tail that had gone into each beau­ti­fully pre­sented dish, we or­dered off the à la carte menu, although the menu du jour is a great op­tion too. I chose grilled lo­cal as­para­gus to start, Cor­nish hake (which came with fab­u­lous but­ter­nut squash) and Manuka honey pan­na­cotta to fol­low - de­li­cious! Break­fast was ex­cel­lent, with a tempt­ing buf­fet that in­cluded a good se­lec­tion of healthy ce­re­als, lots of ap­petis­ing fresh fruit, home­made smooth­ies and pas­tries. Off the cooked items menu, my daugh­ters opted for ap­ple and cin­na­mon scotch pan­cakes, which they said were scrump­tious, while my hus­band went for the Full English, with flavour­some Som­er­set sausages. We had a truly re­lax­ing and en­joy­able stay, and I am cer­tain we will re­turn. With easy ac­cess from the M5, and with more to ex­plore from this idyl­lic coun­try­side set­ting, The Mount Som­er­set is an easy choice for a wel­com­ing short break, in a fas­ci­nat­ing des­ti­na­tion - with so much to be ex­plored.

Pic­tured above: Ched­dar Gorge in the Mendip Hills, near the vil­lage of Ched­dar. The lime­stone gorge is home to Ched­dar show caves, where Bri­tain's old­est com­plete hu­man skele­ton, Ched­dar Man, es­ti­mated to be over 9,000 years old, was found in 1903.

Clock­wise from top left: The Mount Som­er­set Ho­tel foun­tains and wa­ter lil­lies; pre­mier suite and bath­room; spa; din­ing room; re­cep­tion desk and af­ter­noon tea in the lounge.

Pic­tured on this page: The Mount Som­er­set Ho­tel gar­den steps and foun­tains.

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