In order for me to recommend a hotel, I consider two things to be vital: the sense of being at home, and the wow factor. Whether the latter comes from the food, the spa or the decor, getting excited about the stay is integral to the whole experience feeling like a treat.
Banish any idea that accommodation in a country inn cannot do the above – the Bel & Dragon in bumpy Churt blew me away on both fronts (and the price of a night’s stay is pretty amazing in itself). One of five Bel & Dragons, this newly opened branch is situated between historic Farnham and the breathtakingly beautiful Devil’s Punch Bowl.
The warmth of the restored inn (dating back to 1862) is quite literally evident on arrival – as I parked, the light generated by the fireplaces streamed out the windows inviting me in. Equally as warming was my welcome from the team.
On the way to my room (Dashwood – the names of the 14 rooms are all eponyms for Austen characters) the coffee and whiskey room open at all hours to all guests free of charge was pointed out. Nice touch.
Onto the room: designed by Nicola Harding, it is a homely affair, though still luxurious. Think huge bed draped with White Company sheets and blankets with books, armchairs and wooden furniture as decorative touches. There’s an eye to detail that surprised me – the thought put into making the room comfortable was evident everywhere and, you guessed it, there’s even a little bottle of damson vodka left out for a postprandial tipple, should you be so inclined.
The downstairs restaurant was equally as agreeable. The open kitchen, presided over by Gordon Ramsey at Claridge’s alumnus Ronnie Kimbugwe, provided mouthwatering dishes – the Pumpkin Soup & Shaved Truffle, Wild Mushroom Macaroni Cheese and Beetroot & Creamy Burrata were particularly high points.
My evening could only have been improved by a cocktail and, thankfully, the resident cocktail maestro Sunny Rutherford was on hand to whip some Espresso Martinis up while talking through the process (Sunny – there will be many a cocktail night happening over here now – my friends thank you in advance).
After all that I slept so well that I missed breakfast. Bereft at the idea of missing a meal in the restaurant, I cooled my heels until lunch, ate a hearty meal and headed on my way to what I now consider to be a slightly less homely home. Oh the legacy of good hotels…