The thoroughly British hotel that has everything covered for family holidays, baronial Bovey Castle near Dartmoor has waxed jackets and wellies at the ready for your moorland adventures en famille. The estate is vast, so there's plenty to do for little Smiths of all ages: the kids’ club is excellent, so you can cheerfully pack your Bovey Ranger off to build campfires while you linger over lunch, and the indoor pool is a first-class spot for splashing about come rain or shine.
Get this when you book through us:
Free extra beds in the room for children (excluding stays in the Classic Single and Classic Rooms), and a bottle of red wine for parents
60, plus 22 three-storey country lodges with kitchens.
11am, but flexible, subject to availability. Earliest check-in is 4pm, although you're welcome to arrive earlier and use the facilities, have lunch and make yourself at home before your room is available.
Double rooms from $350.37 (£252), including tax at 5 per cent. Please note the hotel charges an additional service charge of 5% per booking on check-out.
Room rates are usually room only. Breakfast costs from £25 for an adult (£15 a child). Children stay free in cots and under-14s stay in extra beds for £20 a night.
Within the main building, there are two accessible bedrooms, each with a level entry wet room for guests in wheelchairs or with limited mobility. There's a disabled toilet and an emergency alarm.
Due to Covid-19 precautions, you’ll need to pre-book certain facilities in advance. For spa treatments, call 01647 445021. The pool is open 8am to 7pm (with set times for kids) for limited numbers; booking slots are 40 minutes and can be secured a week in advance of your stay. The gym (open 8am to 7pm) also has a limited number of 40-minute slots. For Lodges a food-delivery service will be available for breakfast and dinner. Outdoor activities will be prioritised (tennis, golf, croquet and more) too. From 17 May, the Oak Bar will only be available for guests dining in, and the Great Western Grill will be open for breakfast (for guests only) and afternoon tea from Tuesday to Saturday. Evening meals will start again on 1 June from 7pm to 9pm. Smith’s Brasserie will be open for lunch and dinner every day and the Tasting Room’s seven-course menu will be served from Thursday to Monday (last orders 7.30pm). Pre-booking is essential for all dining experiences. The rule of six still applies and the following will be closed until lockdown is eased: daily housekeeping (now every third night), sauna and steam room, non-distanced activities, the children’s play barn and babysitting services, and transfers and valet parking.
At the hotel
Spa, indoor pool, restaurants, bar, crèche, school-holiday kids club, helipad, 275 acres, gardens, woods, falconry school, golf course, tennis courts, putting green, DVD library, free WiFi. In rooms: flatscreen TV, mini-fridge, kettle, free bottled water, safe, Espa bath products, slippers, bathrobes (plus baby robes and slippers). Lodges have fully equipped kitchens, a DVD player and utility rooms.
Our favourite rooms
All rooms from the Castle category up can take one extra bed or cot, but the suites are much roomier – with separate living spaces and dining tables – and they all have space for two extra beds. One of the Grand State rooms has a decked balcony directly overlooking the countryside. For bigger families, there are the 14 three-storey lodges dotted around the grounds; they each have three ensuite bedrooms and sleep a maximum of six including children. They also have utility rooms, outdoor areas and enviably kitted-out oak kitchens with microwaves and dishwashers.
There’s a heated indoor pool which features a Jacuzzi at one end; it’s adults-only from 7am–9.30am and again after 5.30pm, but firmly family-friendly for the rest of the day. Free swimming nappies are available – just grab a member of staff. The area contains a scattering of chic deckchairs and is utterly spotless.
The Elan Spa uses Espa products in its relaxing and rejuvenating spa treatments; choose from a range of classic massages, body wraps, age-defying facials, aromatherapy and reflexology treatments, pre- and post-natal massages, and Orly mani-pedis. The spa itself is quite basic – a reception leading to a few treatment rooms, but the service and attention to detail are excellent.
Children can choose from all kinds of brick-building sets, from Lego Duplo to techier kit for teenagers.
Up to two dogs (weighing no more than 45kg each) a room are welcome (£25 a night, for each dog) with advance notice; they’ll be allowed in your room, the Cathedral room, reception and the seating area under the main staircase. See more pet-friendly hotels in Devon.
During school holidays, the kids’ club is a life-saver and if it’s booked up when you get there, you might be devastated. Call ahead at all costs. Babysitters need to be booked at least two days in advance.
Anything you can possibly think of, Bovey Castle has thought of it first (if it’s raining, they’ve even got a jacket for you) – from a trampoline, crolf (croquet mixed with golf), falcons and ferrets within the castle’s confines, to the parkland that lurks beyond. Wear out your little ones, so you can unwind over an Armagnac, spend a few hours at the spa, or hit the world-class golf course.
Kids of all ages.
The Playroom opens daily and has supervised sessions during half-terms and school holidays; it contains craft materials, dressing-up chests, puzzles and games, and the brilliant staff will entertain children aged 3–8 with painting, clay-work, puppet-making and imaginative play for up to three hours. Supervised under-3s are also welcome. Prices are £20 per three-hour session or £10 an hour. You can choose to book in advance or sign up on the activities board on a daily basis.
If your 6–14-year-olds love to get stuck in, Bovey Rangers runs during school holidays and half terms; it’s excellent and gives adults a break from all the outdoorsy, adventurous stuff you might not fancy. A Bovey Ranger might spend their morning making a campfire, building a shelter, learning archery, building a raft or canoeing. It costs £35 a 60-minute session. Book your spot in advance if you can. For younger children, there's the Bovey Bears Den.
Children are welcome in both restaurants, and highchairs are available. There’s a small but thoughtful kids menu available in both restaurants, which features all the big hitters – half-pizzas, 'Heinz' tomato soup, pasta and sausages – meals cost £8.50 and come with cordial and ice-cream. On sunny days, staff are always happy to pack you off with a picnic.
Babysitters are available for £20 an hour (minimum three hours); book at least two days in advance. Different rates apply during the festive season (£30 an hour on Christmas day; £40 an hour on New Year's Eve).
Letterboxing combines orienteering and puzzle-solving and there’s a trail within the grounds of the castle. Ask staff for details, but the basic aim is to locate hidden weatherproof boxes using clues, keeping a log of each one you find. The trail gives purpose to your walking and stops little ones getting bored.
Bovey Castle draws all its water from the Bovey River, cleaning and purifying it before pumping it through the hotel.
If you’ve got a babysitter, go for one of the tables by the Great Western Restaurant’s big windows for romantic, wistful views. If you haven’t, you can get some privacy at the front of the dining room, behind tactfully positioned planters.
There are two restaurants: one formal, one less so. Inspired by the glamorous railway company that first opened the hotel, the Great Western restaurant is an elegant art deco space with chandeliers, chinoiserie, champagne – the whole shebang. The food is far from stuffy, though: expect game from the moors (we spied squab pigeon and rabbit-stuffed beignets), seafood fresh from Devon and Cornwall, a fine selection of artisanal cheeses, and delicate dessert confections (try the 9th Hole chocolate tree stump). Sunday lunch is everything it should be: cosy, traditional, delicious and locally sourced – it’ll leave you feeling quite lovely. A kids’ version is available from £15 for two courses. Smith's Brasserie is a more casual place to pull up a bucket chair for generously filled sandwiches, a burger or trad-Brit meat or fish dishes (our pick is the corned-beef hash or cheddar-crusted fish pie); desserts are equally satisfying. Another meal that’s never overlooked by Bovey is afternoon tea; linger over sandwiches scones and cakes by the crackling fire, or overlooking the delicious estate on the terrace. Children can do tea too; they can order whatever they like for half price. During school holidays, kids’ high tea and movie time is at 5.30pm. Please note, the Great Western restaurant will be closed until 2021; during this time Smith's Brasserie will be open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and afternoon tea will be served in the lounges and at outdoor tables.
From May to September, you can dine privately among the magnolia trees at the summerhouse, which is hemmed in by perfectly-formed hedges in a secret location on the estate. Book in for a private dinner or take the family down for a bijou afternoon tea. The waiters are light on their feet and super-discreet.
The Oak Bar practically oozes cognac from the cracks of its wood paneling. It’s a sultry spot with high ceilings, huge views of the grounds, tartan carpets, Chesterfield sofas and wine-red curtains. Behind the bar, there are 130 whiskeys, plenty of malts and Armagnacs, Dartmoor ales and a long wine list. Children are allowed at any time, but it’s quite an adult setting – jazz tinkling in the background, pianist on Fridays and Saturdays and serious grown-ups sipping serious drinks. During the day, cocktail-making lessons take place here.
Restaurant opening hours are seasonal and vary between weekends and weekdays, but the earliest they close is 9pm. The bar stays open until the last guest goes to bed.
You can also phone down if you need milk to be warmed. Regular room service runs from 7am to 10pm and includes simple stalwarts such as soup, fishcakes, a ploughman's and a burger. A limited selection of sandwiches and snacks is available overnight.
Bovey Castle sits within the boundaries of Dartmoor National Park in Devon. It’s in the northeast of the park, near the tiny town of Moretonhampstead, which is notable for having the longest one-word place name in England.
The nearest airport is Exeter International (www.exeter-airport.co.uk), a 45-minute drive away.
Exeter St Davids train station is a 40-minute drive away. You can reach Exeter St Davids in just over two hours from Paddington with First Great Western, or in three and a half hours from Paddington with South West trains.
The hotel is easy to get to from the M5 - it’s about a 30-minute drive once you exit the motorway. If you’ve got a SatNav, the postcode may throw you off-course, so enter ‘Bovey Castle Golf Course’ instead. Your room rate includes valet parking. If you want to hire a car from Exeter, Thrifty and Avis have offices near the train station and Europcar is at the airport.
There’s a helipad near the hotel, for which the coordinates are below. Call ahead to organise your arrival and the hotel will send a vehicle to meet you.
Latitude 50º North 38 47
Longitude 3º West 47 57
Worth getting out of bed for
If your 6–14-year-olds love to get stuck in, Bovey Rangers runs during school holidays and half terms; it’s excellent and gives adults a break from all the outdoorsy, adventurous stuff you might not fancy. A Bovey Ranger might spend their morning making a campfire, building a shelter, learning archery, building a raft or canoeing (from £30 a person). Book your spot in advance if you can. While the littles are being entertained by Rangers, adults can try their luck making cider, honing their archery skills, or exploring the estate by 4x4.
There’s no cosier place to be on a rainy English afternoon. If Lego isn't their thing (and we don't know many children who don't like Lego), take your afternoon tea by the fire and borrow a board game – there are three gorgeous communal rooms to while away the time in. Or, if you’re fond of the elements, borrow wellies and a wax jacket and do whatever you’d do if the sun was shining. Besides the golf and spa, there are lots of adult activities the hotel can help to arrange, such as sloe gin-making in the barn, art master classes and game shooting.
During school holidays, the hotel can organise tennis coaching for all ages and levels, as long as you ask in advance.
The Dartmoor setting is bliss, and Bovey Castle puts you in prime position to enjoy it, even if you’re not usually very outdoorsy. You don’t need to travel very far away for an epic family adventure, whether it’s history, wildlife, the seaside or ice-cream that floats your brood’s boat. Follow the estate’s keepers on a one-hour tour of Bovey Castle Deer Park; you may even get a chance to bottle-feed baby fawns. Dartmoor National Park is just outside, too. If you don’t want to go it alone, Bovey’s activities coordinators can plan a tour to suit you, whether you want to set foot on some lesser-trodden spots, or you like the idea of a War Horse Moor Walk, taking in some breathtaking filming locations. Speed to the good stuff (and spare a certain Little Smith’s feet) by turning your walk into a safari in Bovey’s Land Rover Defender. There are spectacular views from the top of Hound Tor, a jumbled granite outcrop overlooking the moor. Impress (or spook) the kids by telling them where the tor gets its name: according to local legend, it’s made of a pack of hounds, turned to stone. Feeling energetic? There are bikes to borrow for the whole family for a half day or a full day, complete with a helmet, bike repair kit and map.
For a family day out at the seaside,Bigbury on Sea is your best bet – the water is shallow, the sand is soft and the area is dotted with rock pools to keep your budding marine biologists entertained. There are bodyboards to hire and lifeguards on duty. Make an adventure of Burgh Island – accessible on foot at low tide, or by ‘sea tractor’ at high tide.
If you’re not spotting enough animals at Bovey, there’s loads to see at Pennywell Farm, a 30-minute drive away, plus farm-themed rides, theatres and quad bikes. Watch out for the miniature pigs, which steal the show every time. For young equestrians, there’s the Miniature Pony Centre in Dartmoor, where you’ll find a herd of pint-sized Shetland ponies, American miniature mares, mini Mediterranean donkeys, a handful of heavy horses and yes, even a unicorn.
Pubs like The Horse Innon George Street in Moretonhampstead are worth going on holiday for. The dining room of the ex-barn is beautiful, the food locally sourced – a bright, exciting menu might include 21-day-hung Dartmoor steak, butter-poached hake or a pizza topped with home-made meatballs. The whole clan can relax: pizzas have fresh toppings and there's a chest of toys and a roomy patio. At Lake Sourton, the thatched Bearslake Inn is run by the Cross family, who live and breathe Dartmoor. The building used to be part of a farm and the hallways are adorned with photos of those who have lived and worked there. The restaurant is crisp and smart but wholly unpretentious. There’s a children’s menu and the chef will happily scale down most meals on the main menu too.