Our journey to discovering The Newt began a couple of years ago when our local wine shop suggested we try Babylonstoren Chardonnay. We were immediately hooked on this creamy, dry wine with its hand numbered bottles. When we visited Franschhoek in South Africa last year, the Babylonstoren vineyards and kitchen gardens were firmly on the agenda (and did not disappoint). We heard that the owners Koos and Karen had spent six years renovating Hapsden House, a small Jane Austen-esque Palladian estate in Somerset which would be opening in August 2019 as a hotel and working garden, producing Somerset cyders and apple juice. We’re regular visitors to Babington House and Hauser & Wirth in Bruton, so this was music to our ears…
The Newt has just 23 bedrooms – 13 in the main house and 10 in the stable blocks, the most beautiful indoor/ outdoor pool set in a barn, a spa, extensive kitchen gardens, cyder press, mushroom house, farm shop, treetop walk and a museum dedicated to the history of gardening. It is to Somerset what Bablyonstoren is to Franschhoek – a farm to fork project focused on local produce, tradition and craftsmanship.
The interiors at The Newt certainly nod to the aesthetic and style that we experienced at Bablyonstoren, but they draw mainly on the history of Hapsden House, with elegant panelling adorned by portraits of the family who owned the estate for over 200 years, blended with modern design pieces.
We loved the pale green walls, navy velvet seating and pops of colour throughout the hotel.
The bright Croquet room with its colourful African and Italian furniture has a retro record player with a selection of vinyl to choose from.
Our room was spacious and I loved how the restrained interiors combined period elegance, with honest craftsmanship and modern design.
Natural floorboards, beautiful fabrics, oil paintings and a touch of Tom Dixon. There are all the modern comforts too with Dyson hairdryers, GHD straighteners, in room music pods, Nespresso machines and smart TVs. Could this place get any better?
Well yes! There was so much to love about The Newt, but I think possibly the jewel in the crown is the indoor/outdoor pool, set in an old cow barn with an outdoor fireplace.
Anticipating how good the food would be, we headed to the state of the art gym for a quick work out (with huge glass windows overlooking part of the kitchen gardens), followed by a swim, sauna and steam. The outdoor pool area is absolutely divine and the best we’ve ever experienced.
After that we were ready to sample cocktails – the Red Tailed Bumble was a particular favourite, made with Somerset Apple Brandy and orange marmalade. Dinner in The Botanical Rooms was just as we expected – a menu full of seasonal and local specialities. I opted for Crown Prince Squash with goats curd, barley and a selection of fresh herbs. Delicious and healthy, accompanied by a 2015 vintage of our favourite Chardonnay.
The following day we explored the extensive gardens of the estate (after a delicious breakfast – home made bread, conserves and coffee were all we could manage after the feast the night before). The gardens are open to the public and I can see why – its like the Secret Garden on steroids! Comprising a Kitchen garden, Fragrance garden, Greenhouse, Colour gardens, orchards, cascades, ancient woodlands, ponds and lakes, deer park and a walled Parabola with an apple tree maze.
You can enjoy homemade stews, followed by cake and coffee in the custom made greenhouse (blankets provided for cooler days), which is heated by an old Victoria underfloor boiler system.
Or pop into the farm shop and stock up on the brightly coloured vegetables, local cheese and meats, not to mention selection of chocolate, teas and coffees…. there’s also a fantastic homewares shop selling linens, gardening fare, recipe books, ceramics and other gorgeous bits.
We explored the various kitchen gardens, learning about local apples and old Somerset traditions:
Wassail is a beverage of hot mulled cider, drunk traditionally as an integral part of wassailing, a Medieval Christmastide English drinking ritual intended to ensure a good cider apple harvest the following year
Lunch was at the The Garden Cafe – a platter of local cheeses, fruits and homemade crackers accompanied by the estate’s apple juice.
And then we headed off to explore the woodland areas and deer park…
We knew there was some kind of learning centre hidden in the woods, but we hadn’t quite expected a treetop walk!
This beautiful pathway, named ‘The Viper’, weaves its way through the trees, giving literally a birds eye view of the local fauna and flora. It arrives at ‘The Story of Gardening’ a custom built centre dedicated to the history and practice of gardening. Interactive exhibits and garden rooms explore horticultural history, from Roman, Arabic, Japanese and modern gardens through to virtual reality visits to the gardens of Bablyonstoren or Monet’s lilypads at Giverny. And of course there’s a little cafe serving delicious plant based nibbles.
I’m sorry this is such a long post but there is so much to tell you about The Newt. Its so much more than just a hotel. Theres a spirit to it which is just wonderful – I love the focus on sustainability, tradition and authenticity. The estate has been renovated so sympathetically, observing its history and surrounding environment, whilst creating a self supporting community through its gardens and produce.
Every member of staff we encountered – from the welcoming committee in the Shepherd’s Hut by the car park, to the gardeners going about their daily duties, from the hotel, restaurant and spa teams, to the lady giving out headphones at the Gardening exhibit – ALL were wonderful, helpful, down to earth and clearly loving what they do. Thats no mean feat and says a lot for the management of this place.
Despite a two night stay, there were quite a few things we didn’t manage to get round to – tours of the gardens and Cyder presses, bike rides on the gorgeous cream bikes, croquet on the lawn (it rained too much), complimentary cream tea in the lounge every day at 3pm, badminton on the grass court, the hammam and rasul chambers in the spa. Lucky we’ve got a visit planned again in August. I can’t wait to see the gardens in their full summer bloom.
PS. The name – The Newt was chosen when it was discovered 2,000 protected species of newts inhabited part of the estate grounds.