Almost three years ago my wife and I escaped to The Amalfi coast on our honeymoon. We stayed at the most amazing hotel overlooking the rugged Italian coastline and its azure blue seas, and we swore that we’d never tell anyone about it because it was just so good. Since then we’ve broken that promise, but only to a very few select friends.
Recently we escaped to another gem of a hotel, not in Italy this time, but on the edge of Exmoor. It pains me a little to let the hotel’s name slip because it was just so fantastic. However, unlike our secret on the Amalfi Coast, this hotel can be shared because we can take short breaks there, it has 28 rooms (unlike the six of our Amalfi escape), and it’s easy to get to – no flights required.
The name? …The Luttrell Arms Hotel in Dunster.
Why so special? Where to start!
First, I don’t think I’ve ever stayed in a bedroom that’s quite so large, quite so grand and quite such good value. I’m not going to say which room it was as I want to keep that a secret, nor am I going to spill the beans on the price in case my wife ever reads this. However, whatever figure you think of, it feels it should be a lot more – don’t tell the hotel.
Why was the room so special? Well, quite simply it brought back wonderful honeymoon memories. The four-poster bed was gorgeous, the period features were fantastic - including a hidden coat of arms - and the furnishings were beautifully finished (so my wife says, and she knows). A carved stone doorway leads through to a separate reading room with exquisite views of the Yarn Market and the quite splendid Dunster Castle. It had a generous seating area for drinks – champagne of course. It also had a lovely bathroom, which I’m told is going to have a complete make-over in time. There’s nothing particularly wrong with it, but once done we’re certainly going back.
Enough of the room.
What was particularly special for us was the care and attention given to us by the staff - so friendly, so lovely, and so helpful. No, really…nothing was too much trouble. You don’t get this sort of service from a chain of hotels. Yes, it’s privately owned, and yes, they really do care.
For me, being a bit of a country boy, I loved the quiet. I also really appreciated the fact that the mobile phone signal was virtually non-existent. Like many I’m a very busy person, so the thought of being in the UK but uncontactable was rather special.
Before anyone expires frothing at the mouth at the thought that you’re cut off from Twitter and Facebook and email, it does have WiFi and landlines too. So, if you must log on you can, and if you want to let the important few know where you’re staying, you can be called.
For us, for one night and a day, we rather liked the feeling of total escapism. Somehow all the stress of modern life just slipped away. It felt like stepping back in time to a quieter more sedate world with charm, character and time on our hands. What a treat, and that meant we could concentrate on us, and us alone – bliss.
The Hotel itself is really lovely. It’s medieval – goes back to the 13th century apparently and rather unbelievably once had the sea lapping at its doors. Today the sea’s over a mile away. Sceptic that I am I thought this must be one of the tales for the tourists, but it was called the Ship Inn and there are paintings in Dunster Castle showing the sea beneath, so I guess it’s true. Amazing what a few hundred years can do to a place.
So what’s so nice about the main hotel? Wow…Hmm. Ah yes, the bars; great beer. I like my ales and this is chocca-full of locally brewed beers, such as Exmoor Gold and serious ciders. It has open fires, pewter tankards hanging from beams, Stags antlers, intricately moulded ceilings, medieval carvings, a minstrel’s gallery surrounding a sun-trap courtyard and a very grand entrance.
Sure, it may not be to everyone’s taste; it’s not cutting edge, it’s not got glass everywhere or mezzanine levels, but it has been there for hundreds of years, and no matter how hard you look you’ll always find something new and fascinating to discover.
While we were there a local lad played the piano. I like that. The melodies wafted through the air creating a lovely atmosphere as we walked out to the secret garden. Yes, you read right, it has a secret garden. I know!
We sat out and had a glass of very good gin and tonic. We could have eaten al fresco, but it was a little chilly the night we were there, so we had our meal in the very lovely and stylish Psalter’s Restaurant. Try the fish – we had line-caught seabass - sublime. We also had a melody of smoked fish to start with - yum! The puddings were very good too, and the cheese board.
We wife’s a vege and I love game, so I guess we both got a little of what we wanted (the gamefish was smoked Loch Duart Salmon and smoked trout – locally sourced). It also brought back memories of Amalfi, so well-known for its seafood dishes. That said next time, I’m going for the venison.
Ah yes, Dunster and its shops. If you’ve ever heard of Burnham Market you’ll know what my wife’s talking about. The shops are really lovely. You can buy designer clothes, leatherwork, stylish garden ornaments, swish clocks (not Swiss), original paintings by local artists, fudge (yes fudge!), wedding dresses (I know!), chic furniture and, and well heaps more… It’s certainly enough to keep even the most fervent shopaholic busy. But what’s really nice is the fact that all the shops are housed within medieval buildings – they are welcoming, they are run by people who care, and they are willing to let you browse unpressured. Did I mention the Dolls museum?
Final thing and that’s Dunster Castle and its gardens; seriously lovely. But you can read about that from the National Trust, and frankly, I think I’m done.
So, if you want somewhere really romantic to visit, this is your place. You can even get married here - they have a license and everything...
- Official Description (provided by the hotel):
- The Luttrell Arms is a 3 star, 28 room hotel. Set in the medieval village of Dunster with its many interesting buildings, under the shadow of the Castle and within the Exmoor National Park. The privately owned 14th century Luttrell Arms is surrounded by beautiful countryside making it the ideal destination for that weekend break or midweek getaway. Stroll around the village, walk the moor, or just sit by a log fire in a building where hospitality has been a way of life for hundreds of years. Heritage "If you could bottle the air in the bar at the Luttrell Arms and sell it you'd clean up" so wrote a local journalist. The smell of logs burning on the fire, a hint of hops from the pints of ale, add to this the smell of something aromatic being cooked in the kitchen, and the most essential element - the smell of history, it oozes out of the walls which have stood for 800 years. There are many outstanding architectural features, the medieval hall with its hammer beam roof (room 17) and twelve light window. History seeps out of the blackened frames, which had their glass rattled loose as Cromwell’s gunners laid siege to Dunster Castle from a defended strong point at the end of the garden. Cromwell’s Commander, Col. Robert Blake walked the corridors of the hotel, it was then called the Ship Inn and was used as his headquarters throughout the siege of the castle. Also of note is some very fine plasterwork on the ceiling of the lounge downstairs, and the plaster over mantle in room 12, showing Actaeon being devoured by hounds. The Arms of Luttrell that we use today carry us back to a Gentleman of 1261, the crest takes us only back to 1621, but the supporters are directly derived from one of the Barons who coerced King John into sealing Magna Carta. A more modern visitor is Hercule Poirot. In "The Cornish Mystery" he confronts the murderer in one of the hotel’s bedrooms. ... more less
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- Also Known As:
- The Luttrell Arms Hotel Dunster
- Luttrell Arms Hotel Dunster
- Luttrell Arms Dunster
- The Luttrell Arms Dunster, Somerset