A great garden escape to The Newt in Somerset
Take a first-class train to the West Country and enjoy a supremely decadent day out
The Newt in Somerset is the sort of country house hotel that makes even hardened travel writers lose their collective minds.
Created by South African couple Koos Bekker and Karen Roos, it’s exactly the sort of place you imagine a telecoms billionaire and the former editor of Elle Decoration would create: the best and most beautiful of everything, nestled into 300 magnificent acres of Somerset farm and forestland. Remarkably, as with Babylonstoren, their other (jaw-dropping) hotel / estate / vineyard in South Africa, Bekker and Roos cheerfully let the world share their vision(s) rather than lock them away behind state-of-the-art security fences. It’s not often a £500-a-night stay feels something like an act of generosity, so that’s quite a feat.
When operating at full capacity, it’s frequently hard to get a room at The Newt. Happily, visitors can still enjoy some of The Newt’s hospitality, as the gardens – the vast, cultivated, breathtakingly beautiful gardens – are open to the public (at a price, sure, but hey), ditto the forest, the deer park, the treewalk, the gelateria, the shops, the cyder bar, “The Story of Gardening” interactive experience, the restaurant and the shops, one for house and garden wares, the other for produce, much of which has been grown, butchered or made on site.
At the end of the day, much of The Newt is a working farm and orchard, producing a very high percentage of what is sold and served across the site. In fact, that target, the quest for sustainability, is the main reason it took around six years of work before The Newt opened to the public. This really isn’t your standard country house hotel…
There is another way of enjoying The Newt’s grounds and hospitality through the summer, via its “Great Garden Escape”, a supremely decadent day out by just about anybody’s standards.
The day begins at London’s Paddington Station, with a meet and greet at the first class lounge, from which you’re escorted to your first class seat, where you’ll be served breakfast, provided – but of course – by The Newt: a fine croissant, cuppa from Westcombe, and homemade granola, buffalo yoghurt and fruit compote for a DIY parfait, plus coffee and freshly squeezed orange juice.
After a remarkably short journey to Castle Cary station – Somerset is, apparently, only an hour-and-a-bit outside of London with the right transport – there’s a brief coach transfer to The Newt, where you’re escorted (via private entrance to bypass the masses) into the courtyard. To your right, the cider press – or “cyder press” as The Newt bill it – to your left, the aforementioned House & Garden Store. Over there, the other shop and, in front of you, and spanning in all directions, those 300 acres of varied grounds.
It’s the gardens that feature most in this particular escape – the clue’s in the name, after all – beginning with a guided tour that meanders through the manmade and the wild, ending at the interactive Story of Gardening exhibition, one of those notions that sounds a little “dry” but ends up being utterly fascinating, taking in everything from the historical to the challenges of aquaponic systems and urban gardening. From there it’s a short stroll to the Garden Café and a lunch of local produce – the roasted spice cauliflower is a particular stand-out – and wines from the sister estate in South Africa.
From there, you roll into an hour or so of free time, to explore the gardens more or, more likely – well, if you’re me – to pick up some fine local cheese and charcuterie, and investigate the gelateria. After all, there aren’t many occasions in life when you get to enjoy a mint gelato, sitting in the garden where the mint was grown, and looking out to the farmlands that provided the milk.
Just before leaving, there’s time for a thorough – and informative – tour of the cyder making facilities, a tasting of the Newt’s own range and a quick return to the shop to buy a couple of bottles for future consumption. And from there, it’s back to the coach, back to the station and back to first class… where The Newt serves a fine afternoon tea of open sandwiches, scones, jam, cream and a steady flow of tea, wine or cyder.
They say that a change is as good as a rest. This small-but-beautifully-formed excursion would appear to prove that the mysterious “they” are absolutely right.
The Great Garden Escape to The Newt in Somerset is priced at £295 per person. Families are welcome, with no additional charge for children under the age of five sharing a seat. Children aged 5-15 will be charged at a reduced rate. To book see thenewtinsomerset.com. For group and exclusive-use bookings email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 01963 577777.