This Regency fishing lodge in the Tamar Valley is like something out of a fairytale, says our Travel Editor Rosie Paterson, who spent a weekend exploring two new suites and getting lost in the Repton-designed gardens.
Hotel Endsleigh feels like a proper hotel of years gone by. Like Fawlty Towers — and I mean this in the best way possible because I would go back in a heartbeat — without any actual faults. Days pass like they do when you’re staying with friends: breakfast and the papers followed by a walk round the garden, a quick trip to the nearby town or National Trust house if you’re feeling particularly adventurous, and pre-dinner cocktails, made up in a little kitchenette hidden behind wooden-panelled walls and served in front of the fire.
It likely feels so homely because it was built with comfort in mind. In 1803, the 6th Duke of Bedford married his second wife, Georgiana, who’d grown up in Scotland. She yearned for the highland landscapes of her childhood and was instrumental in choosing where Endsleigh was built and its cottage orné style — inspired by two Scottish lodges belonging to her parents. And thanks to mother and daughter duo, Olga and Alexandra Polizzi, who bought Endsleigh in 2004, in its current guise, as a luxury hotel, it still feels like the wonderfully unpretentious and cosseting countryside escape that Georgiana fashioned out of her hankering for home.
Endsleigh’s pièce de résistance are its Grade I-listed, 108-acre gardens, designed by Humphry Repton (he also drew up plans for the main house, but these were abandoned in favour of ones by Sir Jeffry Wyatville). They were once described by this very magazine as the ‘finest hotel gardens in Britain’ and there’s an awe-inspiring amount to look at, including a 100-metre long herbaceous border — at one point in time, the longest in the country — rose walk, Shell House, alpine-style rockery and arboretum that’s home to close to 20 champion trees.
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And there’s water everywhere — tumbling down the steeper parts of the garden, pooling in pretty ponds and bordering a flower garden by the house that’s populated with 1,000 snapdragons (above), fed by ingenious leats that funnel water from the River Tamar somewhere high above the house.
One such leat runs underneath an ornamental, Georgian dairy (above; one of more than ten structures to uncover in the grounds) in order to cool a slab of marble that butter and the like would’ve been prepared on.
If you want to replicate a bit of the magic — and why wouldn’t you — at home, then steal a glance at Repton’s ‘Red Book’ which takes pride of place close to the dining room. The leading landscaper of his day famously created one of the linen-bound tombs for each of his clients — outlining his designs and the thought processes behind them. It’s an absorbing read.
Endsleigh’s big news is the arrival of two spanking brand new suites in the former stables — designed by the proprietress. They’re called The Lady Olga Suite (22) and Stable Suite 21. We stayed in the former and snuck into the latter just before leaving for a quick whip round.
The Lady Olga is like a miniature apartment on the first floor — there’s a bedroom, bathroom, bijou kitchen and living room, all under sloping ceilings — dressed in Colefax & Fowler’s Greenacre-print wallpaper, its distinctive fan-like green Ginkgo leaves a nod to the Ginkgo tree growing in the grounds (interestingly the Ginkgo is one of the oldest living tree species in the world and the sole survivor of the Ginkgoales order which predates the dinosaurs). There are views of the gardens through the leaded windows and replica cross cut-out shutters.
Stable Suite 21 is on the ground floor and feels a touch more modern. The space has been cleverly designed to include a double bedroom and bunk room, fitted out in impressive and bespoke carpentry.
Eating and drinking
The hotel’s restaurant is open for breakfast, lunch, dinner and a lip-smackingly good afternoon tea. The food is exactly what you’d hope to find here: well-sourced ingredients and honest portions, prettily-plated without ever tipping over into fussy territory.
How they’ll keep you busy
You’d be a fool not to go on a garden tour with head gardener Ben Ruscombe-King — a modest walking encyclopaedia of Endsleigh knowledge. Ask him to show you the Duke’s old carriage drive and gargantuan gunnera leaves that explode from one of the many bodies of water.
Afterwards, enjoy a walk along the River Tamar which divides Devon and Cornwall or game of giant Jenga on the lawn.
What else to do while you’re there
The hotel shares its name with a popular plant nursery that’s situated at the mouth of the driveway. Lydford Gorge — site of my own childhood adventures — is a 20 minute drive away; Cotehele house is about 24 minutes. Alternatively, plot a day’s hiking route and make for Dartmoor.
Who is it for?
Children — and dogs; there was a particularly exuberant spaniel flinging himself into a very muddy water feature when we stayed — will love the long stretch of lawn, but it’s green-fingered adults who will ‘get’ Ensleigh.
What gives it the ‘wow’ factor?
Without any shadow of a doubt, it’s the gardens — though the two new suites come in a close second. The best bit is that they’ll look different every time you visit — Mr Ruscombe-King jokes that the gaudy riot come summer borders on ‘offensive’.
The one thing we’d change
A couple of unnecessary corners have been cut which feel at odds with everything else.
At breakfast, the yoghurt was served with preserved apricots, despite the fact that we were staying at the peak of the UK’s apricot season. And the rooms would benefit from bigger and thicker towels and bath mats.
The Lady Olga Suite at Hotel Endsleigh is available from £495 a night, including breakfast; Suite 21 is available from £410 a night — visit www.thepolizzicollection.com for more information and to book