reviewed on: June 15, 2006

Summer Lodge Country House Hotel, Restaurant and Spa, Dorset by Tessa Reading

If you happen to be in Dorset, you really should not leave without visiting Evershot. It is the epitome of an English village, unencumbered by a road sign or traffic light, with a genuine feeling that little has changed in 100 years. Just off the main street is a white-painted Georgian house, surrounded by magnolia trees, that was built as a dower house to Melbury House, home of the Earls of Ilchester. Today, Summer Lodge as it is enticingly called is a hotel, and the new owners have undertaken a complete refurbishment, inside and out. This meant re-invigorating the garden, and completely re-designing the interior.

Out came creaking fire doors and swirly patterned carpets, and in came Penhaligon’s products and flat-screen televisions. It has been done sympathetically, and the overall effect is of a clever pastiche of the British country-house style: there are Stubbs reproductions and sporting prints on the walls, wood panelling and tartan in the bar and a riot of chintz used in the dining room.

There was a tranquil atmosphere in the drawing room and not much conversation, as we tucked into tiny scones with jam and cream (staying at Summer Lodge and not having a cream tea would be churlish). A young couple, who could have modelled for the Boden catalogue, sat nearby reading copies of Country Life. Later on at dinner, our table in the corner of the restaurant afforded an excellent view of the other diners: a couple of glossy-haired Italian brothers and an array of metropolitan types in their late thirties. The food was similarly good looking and tasted delicious, with dishes such as carpaccio of Anjou squab pigeon, and Scottish salmon and butter-poached lobster, accompanied by a dry German white wine (the young sommelier, Eric Zwiebel, has won awards for his efforts).

As we ate, the waiters and waitresses moved attentively between the tables. Things run seamlessly at Summer Lodge and all of the staff are delightful.

In the morning, there is a choice of things to do. A compendium in each room invites guests to walk in neighbouring Melbury Park, and there are suggested routes for runs and places to visit. The recent addition of a spa and an indoor pool means that you can also simply stay put. Those with a fondness for Hardy will be pleased to learn that Summer Lodge was extended according to plans that he drew up in 1893. Before you leave, wander through Evershot and imagine yourself back in those days.

Summer Lodge Country House Hotel, Restaurant and Spa (01935 482000) Prices from £92.50, based on double occupancy per person, per night. For online bookings, visit www.summerlodgehotel.co.uk