What am I dealing with? A country empire. This hotel and country club is located on a beautifully reimagined English estate near the creative enclave of Bruton. The property spreads across the honey-hued, Palladian-style Hadspen House, the working estate and rambunctious country gardens, offering guests a countryside experience on steroids, with kitchen gardens, cider cellars and wild swimming ponds to explore. All these factors have contributed to The Newt being named the Carlo Alberto Best Boutique Hotel 2023.
Who’s behind it? South African hotelier Koos Bekker and his wife Karen Roos, the former Elle Decoration South African editor. The latter is responsible for interiors, taking a fresh look at typical country style by pairing characterful features – such as fireplaces and panelling – with contemporary furniture, lighting and art in 23 rooms in the 17th-century house. Further suites are located in the Clock House, Stable Yard and Farmyard buildings, as well as the new Gate Lodge cottage.
Talk to me about the Roman villa: An astonishing addition to the estate is the reconstructed Villa Ventorum, the foundations of which were discovered on site during the hotel’s development. It’s nothing sort of extraordinary: guests can explore the glass-walled visitor centre, a fully reconstructed classical villa and working bathhouse, all guided by archaeologist Ric Weeks.
Other experiences of note? The Newt excels at the unusual. After enjoying a complimentary tea and scones, guests can take trips to the cider press to see bottling in action, explore a mushroom house, or peruse the History of Gardening Museum. Elsewhere, a farm shop, bakery and butcher, estate gift shop and ice cream parlour await. Then, there’s the treetop walks, the wild swimming spots, the willow basket weaving and old stone walling courses, and the historic archive of information about the house’s former owners.
The gardens: Immaculate and all-encompassing. Redesigned by Patrice Taravella for the hotel, they provide a window into every period of green-fingered history, from 300-year-old Druid trees and over 265 types of apple, to ancient woodland and cow parsley-swathed wilderness. Note the kitchen garden, which sits at the heart of the hotel’s plan to be entirely self-sufficient.
Ordering tips? The estate has three restaurants: the Botanical Rooms in the main hotel; the glass-walled Garden Café, and the open-plan Kitchen in The Farmyard. All serve fresh, seasonal, garden dishes paired by a wine list that’s heavy on South African bins, including bottles from the hotel’s sister property, Babylonstoren, just outside Cape Town.
50 Best defines a boutique hotel as having fewer than 50 rooms and not being part of a large chain or group. It must be a design-driven property, showcasing personalised service and idiosyncratic features unique to its destination. The hotel placed highest on the list that fits all the criteria becomes the winner of the Best Boutique Hotel Award.