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
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.