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For those who fantasize about living on an English estate (I’m one of them), the five-star Summer Lodge Country House Hotel, Restaurant and Spa in Evershot, Dorset, splendidly fits the bill. Clients can stay here and be cosseted a la “Downton Abbey” without all the drama.
This Georgian Grade II listed house built in 1798 and located on four acres is right in the middle of Thomas Hardy country. Hardy, an architect by profession as well as a writer, was involved in the house’s planning, and a country pub he designed, The Acorn Inn, is right across the street.
Summer Lodge has been a member of the Red Carnation Hotel Collection since 2003, so guests know that the architectural integrity of this building is intact, with the interiors echoing 18th-century splendor while having 21st-century conveniences. The result is an ideal blend of tradition and modernity. A member of Relais & Chateaux, a global collection of luxury hotels and restaurants, Summer Lodge was voted No. 1 hotel in the U.K. by “Conde Nast Traveler” readers in 2015.
The property has 20 guestrooms and four suites, each with a different decor. Rooms have fabric walls, which add to the coziness and also help in soundproofing. Belgian linens, antique furnishings, fresh fruit, views of the countryside and a welcome soft light in the bathroom are a few of the perks for those staying here. I had a fireplace, reading lights and glossy magazines to peruse in bed.
Although it was tempting to relax in our room after the long flight and the three-hour drive to get to Summer Lodge (passing Stonehenge on the way), I decided to explore the property. There are historic pictures on the walls to give a feel for the house’s past, including one of the cast of the 1995 film “Sense and Sensibility,” who stayed at the hotel while filming in the area.
Walking the grounds of an English country house on a beautiful day is one of the joys of a visit. The grounds have a water feature, produce garden, green lawns and little nooks for sitting. Tennis, croquet and a swim in the pool are other options if sitting is too boring.
After a brisk walk, visit the blue Drawing Room overlooking the garden and have tea or a cocktail. Afternoon tea is special here, featuring Dorset clotted cream. Some might prefer the Whisky Lounge, with its look of a gentlemen’s club with dog pictures and leather chairs.
Dinner in the formal dining room is under the direction of chef Steven Titman, who works with Bea Tollman, president and founder of Red Carnation, to use local ingredients in this three-rosette restaurant (an award to fine restaurants from the British Automobile Association). I enjoyed a Rhone wine with my foie gras and Dorset lamb while my friend had Cornish turbot. The vegetables in the salad were from the produce garden, and the cheese was local.
A British breakfast is served in the conservatory overlooking the gardens. Fresh fruit, egg dishes and porridge are among the choices. In this room and throughout the hotel, colorful fabrics coordinate with the paintings and antiques.
I ventured off the property several times using a local taxi company. Montacute House, a Renaissance stone manor built in 1588 that is about 14 miles from Summer Lodge, has seen few has changes in its 400-year history. I recognized the grounds and interiors, because they were used in BBC’s “Wolf Hall” television series, as well as in “Sense and Sensibility.” The top floor of Montacute is an arm of the National Portrait Gallery.
The town of Sherborne, with its castle, abbey, medieval and Georgian buildings, is 12 miles away. In the town center, there are independent businesses selling everything from handcrafted goods to high fashion.
On another day, I took a double-decker bus from Weymouth to Lyme Regis. During the summer, this is a hop-on, hop-off bus that runs every hour, so travelers can visit many little villages along the way. Unfortunately in the fall and winter, it only runs every two hours.
There’s no doubt I’ll be back to both Summer Lodge and Dorset to explore even more that both have to offer.
Summer Lodge Country House Hotel, Restaurant and Spawww.summerlodgehotel.co.uk