Country Manor 3-29-2005

Experience the elegant England of old

By: Candace Murphy

DEVON, Great Britain To truly experience the magic of Bovey Castle Britain’s new, most posh, grand hotel one must rise before the sun.

Moments later, the first rays of light will struggle to pierce the fog that shrouds the 18th fairway of the castle’s championship course. The sky will lighten and dark clumps that had been shapeless in the quiet night crystallize into Edwardian Gardens. Canaries chirp in the main foyer.

Smartly dressed wait staff step forth from diminishing shadows. And like a cold engine turning over, the murmur of conversation among guests, arriving early for breakfast in the Palm Court dining room, signals the beginning of the day.

Such is life at Bovey, a $50 million playground brought to life by entrepreneur Peter de Savary, the man who singularly transformed Andrew Carnegie’s Highland home of Skibo Castle into one of the planet’s most luxe retreats.

His attentions since turned to Bovey, a property located within the 368 square miles of Dartmoor National Park in Devon, de Savary has resurrected the drab, droopy environs of a building constructed in 1906 by the son of bookstore baron W.H. Smith.

After an easy, two-hour-plus train ride from London’s Paddington Station, and a “shuttle” ride in one of the castle’s plush Land Rovers, guests approach the estate through a royal archway and proceed on a gravel path that winds past the golf course’s 16th hole.

Designed in 1926 by J.F. Abercromby and restored in 2003 by Donald Steel and Tom Mackenzie, the Old Course at Bovey Castle is designed to rival its twins at Gleneagles and Turnberry.

Golf is not the only religion in this seemingly holy spot cocooned within Dartmoor. A falconry display marks the beginning of each day at the castle, and from there, guests can choose a wide range of activities. Flyfishing, horseback riding, tennis, speedboating, even skeet shooting and archery (with Hugh Grant and Tony Blair masks serving as comedic targets) are some of activities found here.

Children are not an afterthought, either. Designing a family destination, de Savary included a children’s indoor entertainment barn with a snooker table, video games and more.

There is also a craft barn and smokery (successful flyfishers can smoke their catch), as well as a cider press. And adjoining the castle is a miniature pony and animal farm. The interior of the castle has been painstakingly redone with art deco everywhere yet in places it feels stodgy. The piano bar feels like the study lounge of an Ivy League library, and with the aura of a gentleman’s club to its leather seating, it may feel a bit stuffy to some.

The Palm Court, the only dining room on the premises, is impressive, with hand-painted Chinoise silk covering its walls, but the space is far too large for the typical occupancy of the castle. That’s in large part because the castle lodging is pricey, with rooms starting at $325 a day plus VAT and topping out at $2,700. The $325 rooms on the castle’s top level seem a bit overpriced the rooms are small and are apparently renovated maid’s quarters. In contrast, only two floors below, a larger suite feels like a Gatsby-esque ballroom.

Still, for fans of Peter de Savary the Peter Pan of Posh in these parts a stay at Bovey is well worth the cost.