Hotel of the Week: Charlton House, Somerset

Where is it?: On a good day, Charlton is two-and-a-half hours from central London. But only on a good day. Do some research before you decide whether the M4 or the M3/A303 is a better bet. It's situated on the A361 from Frome just outside Shepton Mallet. There's a helipad in the grounds, but you'll need to ask first. Address: Charlton House, Shepton Mallet, Somerset BA4 4PR (tel: 01749 342008; fax: 01749 346362).

What's it like?Charlton's original Norman manor house is not discernible in the tree-fringed building that stands back from the main road just outside Shepton Mallet. Indeed, the handsome Elizabethan structure it later became now has a number of Victorian features, too. The grounds and separate ornamental garden are elegant and peaceful, and the surrounding countryside is shaped by a gentle river valley coursing round the southern rim of the Mendip Hills.

AmbienceMulberry, Mulberry and more Mulberry. In fact, Charlton House is effectively a Mulberry showhouse, being clad from eaves to cellar in the most baronial fabrics and furnishings that the brand has to offer. But don't worry - the corporate vibe isn't overwhelming. In fact the hotel is surprisingly relaxed and the prevailing air is of restrained but comfy sumptuosity. And if they do overdo the curios-in-cabinets a bit, that's compensated for by the unsniffiness of the atmosphere.

ServiceAmiable, respectful, not sycophantic.

RoomsThey vary, but they have everything you'd need. If you can rise to it, go for the cosily vaulted "Chapel" or, better still, the "Adam and Eve", with its handsome four-poster (starring the Original Sinners in knobbly relief), nicely run-in furniture and a huge window you can sit in. Double-occupancy prices range from £135-£340 (for a suite) and include tea on arrival and continental breakfast.

FoodThe chef at Charlton has a Michelin star, and dinner is a delight - a modern classical French affair of real refinement, featuring, among other delicious things, Quantock duck, mullet and trout; and definitely not featuring boiling hot escalope of something-or-other drenched in cheese. The price is not unreasonable by hotel standards, at £35 for three courses, £43 for four. And you'll enjoy sitting in the little faux-medieval hooded dining chairs, too. They concentrate the mind on what's in front of it.

Things to doYou won't find swings and roundabouts in the grounds, but there is a tennis court, a sauna and roofed plunge-pool, and you can fish for trout. But the real virtue of being at Charlton House is that it's a terrific jumping-off point for the luminous beauties of the Somerset Levels (starring Glastonbury and the cathedral city of Wells); for the mysteries of Salisbury Plain; for more National Trust tackle than you can shake a shooting-stick at; and for Bath and Bristol. Alternatively, you could sit all day in an impossibly comfortable wing-back in your room, read a good book and get vibed up for dinner.

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