The green fields and rolling hills of Somerset stretched out before us as we turned into a short gravel drive leading to Charlton House.
The green fields and rolling hills of Somerset stretched out before us as we turned into a short gravel drive leading to Charlton House. This handsome Georgian-fronted manor house dates back to the 17th century. Stone steps led up into the large entrance hall, a welcoming space with polished wood floors, scattered rugs and battered riding boots by a leather umbrella stand. Instead of a formal reception, there's just a small desk with an old-fashioned bell to ring for attention. This summoned a cheerful greeting and we were whisked upstairs to our suite, past walls lined with an eclectic mix of family portraits, old prints and framed shots from Mulberry advertising campaigns - a clue to the identity of the owners.
Roger and Monty Saul, founders of the Mulberry label, bought the house in 1996 and restored it using a wide range of furnishings and fabrics from the Mulberry Home collection. It has been skilfully done, however, for in no way does this luxurious house resemble a contrived design showpiece.
The hotel has 17 rooms, each different in style and scattered with antiques. But by mid-November, eight extra bedrooms will have been added and Monty's spa expanded to include an indoor/outdoor hydrotherapy pool, steam room, sauna, aroma room and fitness studio.
But back to our suite, where I perused the extensive list of treatments and opted for a thermal therapy massage. I was soon floating on a bed of warm water while being massaged with aromatherapy oils. Gentle heat from the hydrotherm mattress soothed my muscles and joints, stiff from the long drive. It was the best massage I have ever had.
I thought that this would be hard to top, but we were yet to have dinner in the hotel's Michelin-starred Mulberry restaurant. An elegant conservatory filled with plants and romantic candles, it was busy even on a Sunday evening. Tables were draped in deep red velvet and covered by crisp white linen. Friendly relaxed service and three delicious courses later, we retired contentedly to the cosy lounge, sinking into deep wide sofas to admire the ornate mirrors and paintings on the walls.
Charlton House, Shepton Mallet, near Bath, Somerset BA4 4PR (01749 342008; www.charltonhouse.com)
Time to international airport: Bristol airport is a 30-minute taxi ride away (expect to pay around £30). The train from London Paddington to Castle Cary takes one-and-a-half hours; from here the 10-minute taxi ride to the hotel costs £12. There's also a helicopter landing pad in the grounds.
Our vast hand-carved bed was dressed in pure Egyptian cotton sheets with vibrant velvet and brocade covers adding to the touch-sensation. A floor-to-ceiling arched window offered glorious views across the gardens, past a pretty orchard and on to the hotel's croquet lawn. Beside the working fireplace, a leather-trimmed basket was filled with chopped logs.
In the bathroom, an old-fashioned cast-iron bath took centre stage, contrasting with the sleek modern power shower placed discreetly in the corner. As a profligate towel-waster, I was relieved to note an abundance of white towelling in the bathroom.
The little note left on our turned-down bed giving us the following day's weather forecast was a thoughtful touch.
For those who are sensitive to sound, request a room at the back of the hotel, as the nearby road into Shepton Mallet is just audible from the front.
Freebies: Molton Brown bathroom products, mineral water and a large bowl of fresh fruit.
Keeping in touch: Rooms appear happily low-tech yet have telephones, televisions and all the right connections for those with business to attend to. The hotel also has a boardroom equipped with ISDN lines.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Doubles cost from £165 (single occupancy £130) and a two-bedroom suite is £525. The recent price rise is due to the upgrading of the rooms, with state-of-the-art flat screen TVs and DVD players. Guests are also entitled to full use of the new spa facilities. All rates include full English breakfast and newspaper.
I'm not paying that: The nearby Thatched Cottage (01749 342058; www.thatchedcottageinn.co.uk) is a 300-year-old listed inn with eight spacious and stylish bedrooms. It is also a locally renowned gastro pub. Rooms cost from £95 including full English breakfast.Reuse content