Summer Lodge Country House Hotel, Restaurant and Spa in the quintessentially-English county of Dorset, is a textbook example of how even a possibly-dowdy luxury hotel can be brought to 2021-style WOW. After a decade away, I do admit I was amazed. Jack Mackenzie, the South African who runs the 25-room property with his wife Alex, a History of Art graduate and local fashionista sporting green shoes, today, came bounding over perfectly manicured lawns in greeting.
It was, I hasten to add, not only omnipresent mega smiles, that made an impression. Take wines. Strasbourg-born Sommelier Eric Zwiebel, UK’s representative for Best Sommelier of Europe 2021, has over 1,600 wines in his cellar, and his lists are impressively stocked with Madeira, Marsala and Port, all available by the 75ml glass, and still wines, in 175ml or 250ml or full-bottle. Thanks to Coravin extraction, you can even try 1999 Ch de Fargues Sauternes.
Oh and there are over 300 whiskies, and dozens of gins. Instead of sipping an icy G&T, you could always try Conker Dorset Gin as marinade for Cornish monkfish ceviche. To continue with chef Stephen Titman’s local dishes, go on to Jurassic Coast brill with sweetest-ever Isle of Wight tomatoes, and finish with elderflower espuma.
Summer Lodge, the house, can be traced back to 1789 and at some point architect-writer Thomas Hardy added an extension that included a ground-level window large enough for the then-owner’s donkey to wander in and out. In 2003 South African entrepreneurs Stanley and Bea Tollman, owners, inter alia, of Red Carnation hotels, bought the house, grounds, and, it seems, much of the encompassing Evershot village. Today the 25-room gorgeous boutique hotel is, in effect, their English country base: beeline for the 83 sq m Garden Suite, with a private garden, and an original Matisse.
Actually there is art throughout the main building. Even the starched white-covered restaurant tables become displays, for bird-decorated show plates hand-painted by Dorset-based Slade graduate Richard Bramble. Each table also holds a 10 cm-tall sterling silver pheasant sculpture, by Harare’s wildlife master, Patrick Mavros. Yes, Summer Lodge broadens the mind.
I coincided with a day-course on dahlias. I admitted an extensive vegetable garden on enroute to the spa (for an Elemis Garden of England Rose Restore, or any treatment, book at least a month ahead, though gym or 10-metre conservatory pool are always available. Perfect croquet and tennis. Ask-a-specialist to differentiate between a couple of dozen gigantic koi. Be amazed at a living sundial, fully eight metres across: the hours, and central marker, are all formed of exactly-cut box bushes, and time changes, twice-yearly.
And when the sun is not shining, curl up inside, by one of the dozens of real-log fires throughout the building, and wallow in history, art, and hardback books ranging from Corot to, say, Okavango Delta’s Xigera Safari Lodge, the newest beauty in the Red Carnation portfolio. Jack and Alex might well be on hand, too, to share the finer points of some of the ingredients in tonight’s dinner menu, or a few details of Thomas Hardy and Dorset art.