Did the summer of the staycation really happen in 2009? Plenty of traffic and a near enough a one-in-one-out policy in Lyme Regis suggests perhaps so when we motored down from London to Dorset in early August. We stopped there to have lunch in the sun – unfortunately just missing the cut off point for lunch at Mark Hixthanks to the traffic – but instead had a late lunch on the seafront accompanied by a tannoy announcing forthcoming revels, a parade, fireworks and a balloon race. Our waitress was surprised to hear we hadn’t come all the way from London to witness these momentous events, but instead were committed elsewhere, a forty minute drive away: Summer Lodge Country House Hotel. An hour or so later, enjoying a drink in the garden before dinner, it was a pleasure to savour the peace and quiet, with not a firework to be heard.
Summer Lodge is right in the heart of the pretty rolling hills of Hardy country, but also, fantastically, in the centre of hunting, shooting and fishing territory. The hotel is situated in the pretty village of Evershot, a village which is itself a fantastic throwback to Hardy times: one feels nothing has changed here in years. The lovely Georgian property was built as a dower house to Melbury House, home of the Earls of Ilchester and parts of it were designed by Thomas Hardy himself, including the gorgeous drawing room where afternoon tea is taken with relish by guests all year round.
The style throughout the hotel is totally in fitting with the building and its location. There is fabric wallpaper throughout, and wood panelling in the delightful small bar area is complimented by sporting art reproductions, and a riot of floral patterns in the dining room. No two bedrooms are alike but all are spacious and luxurious and bathrooms are also wonderful with Penhaligons smellies, and some with magnificent freestanding baths. The hotel has a questionnaire which you fill in before you arrive, which forewarns them of your preferences in everything from pillows to movies and magazines to ensure your room is already filled with your favourite things before you even arrive – just a tiny part of the immaculate service which characterises Summer Lodge.
The attention to detail continues into the dining room, where the food, which is beautifully put together, is also extremely satisfying. Delicious canapés and a pre starter got us in the mood to really settle into the menu. The signature lamb was outstanding while the internationally renowned sommelier Eric Zwiebel chose our wine with sensitivity to both our tastes and our wallets – his wine list has its own international reputation and has thrilled oenophiles for the past couple of years. The selection of puddings to share was fun and varied but unfortunately we just didn’t get a chance to attack the heaving cheese trolley: by then we were fit to burst and slept like logs. Summer Lodge has also recently been listed on the Condé Nast Traveller Gold List best three hotels in the UK for its food and drink.
Breakfast can be taken in bed but it was such a beautiful morning that we chose to have ours in outside in their perfect English country garden, which extends far beyond where the eye can see, and repays exploration. Later, as I toured the property, others took the opportunity of trying out a hammock placed judiciously between two apple trees with the Sunday papers. I was treated to a mini tour and found that all the rooms are completely different, in size, style and provision. There is a room with a vast double bed 11′ long; there are cottages beloved of honeymoon couples; there is even a room with a completely mirrored ceiling: ‘Whenever people request this room, they always try and describe its other features, rather than the mirrored ceiling – I can’t think why,’ remarks sales manager Kevin Reid.
August is, of course, a fabulous time to come to Summer Lodge as the garden is in its full bloom, the birds are singing their hearts out and the horse at the gate by the car park lazily swats flies from its ears. The hotel was booked up practically all month, while the restaurant is also a popular Sunday lunch choice: as the cars pull out of the drive after check out on Sunday, it immediately fills with lunch guests. However, as Mr Reid points out to me, Summer is not the only time they’re busy: ‘With some of the most well-regarded hunts in the area we like to get involved, and host the last Saturday of every year for the Cattistock here, but we also have the South Dorset and the Blackmore & Sparkford Vale hunts nearby. The shooting season is also a busy time for the hotel as there are lots of fabulous shooting opportunities in the area as well.
The hotel has also extended its foody credentials into foraging with a funghi hunt with renowned mushroom hunter John Wright last October which began with an open invitation to all guests to take part while the afternoon was devoted to studying the finds and talking recipes. That evening the menu at the hotel’s restaurant was mushroom-themed and they’re planning future similar events for foodies, like foraging on the beach for shellfish and seaweed.
Summer Lodge is a Country House hotel which has got everything right from the top to the bottom. Service is impeccable, food and wine is top notch and the property itself is pretty, characterful and fun to explore – it’s a perfect spot for a weekend away from it all in the countryside, where everything you could wish for is ready and waiting, and everything you didn’t think to wish for is already there anyway.
Find out more at www.summerlodgehotel.co.uk.
* Holly travelled to Dorset in a Insignia Sports Tourer Elite from Vauxhall, the fastest ever Vauxhall estate car.