Wednesday, 5 January 2011

The best hotel in England?

In even the most beautiful, PR-slick of hotels, when you’re paying for nada and the drinks are free, it’s usually easy to find fault. Because, it would seem, most hoteliers don’t actually stay in their properties and, consequently, they forget to check that everything actually works. I’ve stayed in £300-a-night hotels where the socket for the kettle is in a place it’s impossible to access, where the bath takes (literally) an hour to fill, and where the TV doesn’t even have channel five, let alone digital.

Well, at Bovey Castle, the fault was obvious: the shelf in the shower was a full eighth of an inch too slanted so that the bottles of shower gel and shampoo slid…I can’t even keep up the pretence. My room (number 18) here is so obviously perfect that I literally can’t find a thing to complain about – which is, I hate to admit, a rare thing. Ummmmm… the maid who came to do the turndown service didn’t seem happy… it hardly seems important.

The room I’ve been given is amazing. Honestly. King bed, vast terrace with expansive views of Dartmoor, underfloor heating in the bathroom, double sinks, free-standing bath, a TV large enough for a cinema screening, a shower for two which could actually hold a barn dance, enough cupboard space to satisfy Cheryl Cole – there’s even a window seat for heaven’s sake. The toiletries are Elemis and the cups are Villeroy and Bosch. There’s a real fireplace and the décor is a pleasing shade of natural green, accentuated by oak furnishings. The swimming pool downstairs has kid-free hours, the spa offers signature rituals which involve hot stones and the restaurant has a plum soufflé to bring even the fussiest of guests begging back for more.

During the day, visitors can play 18 holes of immaculate golf on the octogenarian parkland course, practise their swing into the cricket nets, play tennis on the all-weather courts, take a guided walk on Dartmoor or learn the art of falconry with the wonderfully nonchalant Martin Whitley who brings out bird after bird of terrifying proportion and yet makes guests feel strangely at ease with these glorious yet deadly creatures.

I travel a lot and like to think I’ve seen it all, yet I can scarcely find words to convey how much I think of Bovey Castle. It’s British in the very best of ways, bringing patriotism out in the most traitorous of Englishmen. The Edwardian restaurant has a piano player outside to welcome you with tinkling ivories but maintains an informal, friendly atmosphere – it’s got a no denim policy but when I visit there are children in combats. There are formal-seeming lounges with puffed up sofas without the attitude to match for morning coffee and afternoon tea and the bistro serves up casual lunches to all and sundry with impeccable service but no airs and graces. There’s valet parking and porter service without the slavering, tip-expectant drool and a restaurant which pours the wine without the obsequious side order.

It’s wonderful – the kind of place you discuss bringing your partner back to and actually mean it, the sort of hotel you wish you’d chosen for your honeymoon. I can honestly say I’ve stayed at nowhere better and, believe me, that’s saying something.

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