Travel specialist Tessa recently spent the day at The Newt, a luxury hotel in Somerset that shares the same owners as Babylonstoren, the incredible Cape Dutch wine farm in South Africa. She shares her experience and why, if you’ve booked to visit to Babylonstoren, The Newt is the perfect appetiser before you go…
I had the privilege of recently spending the day at The Newt, a country estate in Somerset, and was incredibly impressed. Visitors have the option of either visiting for the day or staying in Hadspen House, which has become a 23-bedroom luxury hotel and spa dating back to Georgian times, with its distinct sandstone buildings laced with stunning features throughout. The Newt (the name is inspired by the number of newts that live within the grounds) is owned by husband and wife, Koos Bekker and Karen Roos, who are the creators of Cape Dutch farm Babylonstoren in South Africa, which has been a huge success. The focus has been to encompass the land, environment, animals, insects and birdlife, as well as a huge focus on agriculture and horticulture. There’s even an app you can join, called Candide (visit https://candidegardening.com/GB/ for more information), specially designed for gardeners to discover and share knowledge, and follow the latest news and upcoming events at The Newt. The attention to detail throughout is so impressive and, as a result, the concept and idea works incredibly well. Every member of staff was so knowledgeable and attentive. The recruiting process includes psychometric testing, so staff members are allocated the best roles which suit them. It’s a process which works so well!
A day visit can be spent enjoying a 45-minute guided garden tour, where the expertise of the gardeners is excellent. Our guide Arthur was fantastic and fun as he walked and talked us through the parabola, a maze of apple trees from all over the country; the fowl house, home to the resident ducks and chickens; the kitchen garden, where you can sample foods grown and used in the onsite garden café; the bathing pond; the Victorian fragrance garden; the cascade, home to their resident newts and giant toad sculpture; and, lastly, my favourite, the colour garden. Time can also be spent wandering through and exploring the surrounding woodland and orchards and spotting the resident red, fallow and roe deer. In addition to the garden tours, The Newt offers a guided tour of the cyder press and cellar, with a tasting of their delicious cyders at the end. Or, if cyder isn’t your thing, weekend day visitors can enjoy the apple-pressing demonstration, with a tasting at the conclusion.
We enjoyed a delicious lunch at The Garden Café, which overlooks the beautiful gardens, where all the food served to you is grown. The food was beautifully presented and full of fresh flavours. The head chef works with local produce and experiments with fermented foods, too, so homegrown food can be enjoyed all year round, even if they’re out of season. Visitors can also enjoy freshly baked goods at The Cyder Bar, together with cyders, tea, coffee, fresh juices and local beers. The Gardener’s Cottage offers a lovely variety of ice creams, made from their own milk.
Hadspen House, where The Newt’s hotel is, is beautiful! The decor is fresh and contemporary, but they’ve kept the classic Georgian design and style, too. You can choose to stay in Hadspen House (which has 13 rooms), or in The Stable Yard, which consists of various stable rooms, clock house rooms, Hayloft & Woolsack rooms and The Granary. Guests will have access to the grounds, the cyder tour and much more. The spa is incredibly impressive, with the option to enjoy a traditional hammam ritual or time in the rasul mud chamber. Next to the spa is a huge indoor pool, which connects to a few different outdoor pools. Other activities include croquet on the lawn, badminton, gym, cycling, afternoon tea, or you can just take in the beautiful surroundings. Dining at the hotel takes place in The Botanical Rooms, where meals are inspired by the surroundings and prepared and cooked in a modernised Georgian kitchen. The hotel bar is impressive, too, and again combines historic Georgina touches with the contemporary.
Lastly, The Newt offers a day trip from London called ‘The Great Garden Escape’. This includes a first-class return train journey from London to Castle Cary, before being take to The Newt, where you’ll have time to explore its gardens and grounds, taste the cyder, enjoy delicious food at The Garden Café and have a chance to embrace a really beautiful part of the UK.
If you’re based in the UK but planning a trip to South Africa with a stay at Babylonstoren included, this day trip would be amazing pre-trip to whet your appetite, or after you’ve returned, to soothe your post-holiday blues.