“I am not running a hotel but a couple of households,” says Andrew Folkes, GM of The Newt in Somerset, a unique all-life experience outside Bruton.
The setting is 324 hectares of rolling English pasture, base for the Emily Estate farm built in the last decade of the 17th century and expanded over the years. South Africa’s most-philanthropic of all business couples, Napster and Tencent visionary Koos Bekker and his design-media wife Karin Roos – who had already created Babylonstoren farm-hotel outside Cape Town – saw a photo of Emily Estate. They bought, and once again did their magic.
A new name came from the myriad of barely visible newts found in some wall cracks. The house and its outbuildings were enlarged and updated, true to history but paired, thanks to Roos talent, with the best of 2021 taste. To say gardens were added is an understatement: a 24-hectare apple orchard bears 3,000 trees, 70 types planted eight metres apart, Baroque-style descending terraces hold a red garden here, a purple garden here, and so on. There is a busy productive cyder brewery, an educational bee centre, and two retail shops, in barns, offer best modern artisan goods on any international market. The onsite culinary team include a butcher, and a young cheesemaker using a hundred litres of buffalo milk every day.
And yes, there are bedrooms, 40 of them but they need ten times that number. A confirmed room reservation is hypothetically worth more than its supposed weight in gold – I, therefore, recommend a day-trip.
It’s 8.30am-6pm, London Paddington first-class rail to Castle Cary, ten minutes’ drive from The Newt. The everything’s included comes with onboard breakfast and afternoon tea, both using The Newt’s own produce, and in between tours, bee and cyder tutorials and tastings, a slap-up you-choose lunch, and shopping (perhaps the same championship in-season produce that The Newt supplies daily to London’s top restaurants). In the grounds, you join some of the 250 visitors who buy tickets every day to admire this-all, and learn. They know they must be gone by 6pm.
And when you can secure an overnight, know some prefer the 17 rooms in the Farmyard, once the estate dairy: you have a restaurant, an amazing bar-lounge and a 20-metre indoor pool. Others opt for the 23 rooms in, or around, the main building complex, Hadspen House – an understandable favourite there is #3, up 21 stone stairs from the Croquet Lounge (other upper rooms are reached by a remarkable panelled slimline elevator, by Otis for The Titanic). The Clockhouse is perfect for four-room buyouts, and the Granary, the only one tub-free, is for hideaway with raised platform bed above the admittedly-bijou bathroom.
Wherever you stay, you can eat or drink anywhere, and use the garden-surrounded Technogym, and another 20-metre pool, indoor extending outside with vitality stations. All fitness, and the seven-room spa, is reserved for overnighters, who also have more time to taste The Newt’s excellent cellars, which include English sparkling interspersed with South Africa’s best, from the Bekkers’ Babylonstoren estate.
As I left, to drive away, Andrew Folkes was about to start a dusk nature walk, for overnight guests and any of the 280 staff who wanted. “We concentrate on the customer experience at all times and the bottom line looks after itself,” he said with a big smile.
Lead image: Drawing Room, The Newt