‘Keep heart you are still on route’, a sign reads on a winding road at 10pm on a Friday night. Thank God! We have been driving for six hours (never go out with a boy who works in a school and can only leave when everyone else wants to escape London). But now we are definitely in the country, in the middle of nowhere, where not even the trusty SatNav can guide us. Instead, we must rely on these warming signs to lead us to Gidleigh Park hotel.
It is all rather exciting, and the last half hour of the drive reminds me that I am a Londoner with no country nous. Our last almost-trip to Devon was a couple of years ago, when my boyfriend wanted to camp in Dartmoor. I cried and booked two tickets to Ibiza. To be able to come to Gidleigh Park is a welcomed upgrade.
We fall into Gidleigh, the cosiest of country manors, leaving the sound of the Dartmoor spring water stream outside. Oil paintings and old maps line the walls, and 1920s-style furniture with tapestried cushions is everywhere for us to dive into. And there’s the smell of a wood fire burning. It’s classy, welcoming and so calm.
As we head up the beautiful oak staircase to our room, Cranbrook, Norah Jones seems to have joined us – via an iPod dock. The lyrics of Come Away With Me drift over us, soundtracking our gasps and giggles at the sight of two baths side by side, the sauna in our room, a remote-controlled glass fireplace and decanted madeira. I feel like we’re in a Richard Curtis film.
It’s late, but the kitchen is still happy to make us up a cheeseboard and we play backgammon in the drawing room with a delicious bottle of Carménère. Gidleigh is known for its wine cellar and its Michelin-star-decorated chefs, so I’m ready to pretend I’m Masterchef’s Greg Wallace for the weekend.
The next day, we ask where to go for a walk. Gidleigh Park provides tailored rambles in the grounds, walking boots and waterproofs; they will even pick us up if we have too many ales at the Three Crowns in the nearby sweet little village, Chagford. Gidleigh has thought about everything so you don’t have to: as soon as you lay foot on their grounds, you are theirs to look after. Umbrella, fine leather walking attire and cameras at the ready (and a massage booked for when we return) I explain to my boyfriend that this is how we shall do the countryside from now on. We opt for the two-hour walk (it took us three hours) and it was heavenly. Through the lush forest along the stream and up the hills to the open moors, it’s romantic and strenuous enough to make you feel like you deserve a cream tea.
Although I'm not usually keen on having massages in my hotel room, it totally works at Gidleigh Park. This hotel is meant to be a home. There is no gym and no reception area, so all the sterility of a corporate beast is banished. After my La Stone Therapy and our side-by-side bubble baths with the remaining Carménère, I feel like Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman; we are overexcited, a bit drunk and both thinking we could get used to this.
Seeing as we managed to slip in an afternoon tea (worth having just for the carrot cake) about three hours before the weekend’s finale – a meal in the five-star restaurant – we take a tour of the grounds to exercise off the cream and work up an appetite. Three hours later (and a sauna to sweat out the remaining darjeeling and egg mayo), the moment we had been waiting for arrived: dinner. We even meet the celebrated chef, who is kind and charming. I fire questions at him about where he is from, how long he has been at Gidleigh and who makes the best Sunday roast. He happily answers everything and recommends the Dartmoor Inn in Lydford – having already reserved a table there, I feel pretty pleased with myself. So giddy with excitement that he will be on the pass tonight, without a second thought we choose the signature eight-course tasting menu and wine pairing.
Quail’s egg and bacon, aubergine mousse and butternut squash canapés are followed by lobster with cardamom curried mayonnaise, foie gras with madeira jelly and truffle salad, and then coffee and petit fours. We chink our Riesling and celebrate every morsel. It is the most beautiful and the best-tasting food I have eaten. Our night of culinary awakening concludes as we high five over the last mouthful of chocolate mousse and orange sorbet. I wish I could award Michelin stars on the spot.
Gidleigh Park is a magical place. It has a history that every member of staff is proud to be a part of. We were indulged and taken care of, and simply seeing how much everyone loves working at this luxury country retreat made us love the place even more. The warmth, hospitality and pride of the staff made our weekend. Next time we’re taking the rooftop room with a hot tub outside.