Tucked away in Maidenhead in south Devon, reached via winding lanes, is Orestone Manor. Lying between the coast and countryside, surrounded by tropical gardens and with Lyme Bay in clear view, it’s a real luxury hideaway. The wonderful boutique hotel was previously home to Sir John Calcott Horsley, the artist who was commissioned in 1843 to design the very first Christmas card. It was also here that Horsley painted a portrait of his brother-in-law, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, which now lies in the National Portrait Gallery.
Boasting a two-AA-rosette-awarded restaurant, fabulous coastal views and attentive service, it’s no wonder that they’ve scooped accolades from Condé Nast Johansens and double gold-wins in the renowned Taste of the West hotel and restaurant awards. With Christmas just around the corner, we went to see where the Christmas card was born, and stayed the night to get the full experience.
Once inside, stress melts away thanks to the welcoming staff and personal service that only a family-run hotel can offer. Original features blend with modern comforts in line with the hotel’s history. Oriental touches and elephant motifs are scattered throughout, while plush rugs and antique furniture create a cosy, inviting setting where a laid-back pace prevails.
Brunel Bar & Lounge
The youngest living descendant of Isambard Kingdom Brunel – 11-year-old Zebedee Noble – visited Orestone Manor to retrace his roots and open the Brunel Lounge. We were immediately taken by the eclectic charm of the decor. Sitting on a comfy sofa in front of the impressive fireplace amidst flickering candles, it was easy to imagine Christmases past. From the extensive wine list, we sipped local elderflower wine produced less than ten miles away while we deliberated the à la carte menu and tucked into amuse-bouches.
With a kitchen run by husband-and-wife chefs, food is at the heart of the Orestone experience. A glance at the British menu indicates that the chefs are advocates of local produce and suppliers, and inspiration is taken from the hotel’s surrounds.
These fresh ingredients were evident in our starters of hand-dived Torbay seared scallops paired with crispy bacon, caramelised pearl onions and pea cream, and the subtle charred mackerel, which was offset by earthy beetroot, horseradish yoghurt and peppery watercress. Tender Exmoor venison served with nutty celeriac, pomme fondant, parsnip crisps and sweet bramble berry jus came next and ticked all the right boxes for an autumnal dish. My deliciously creamy wild mushroom tagliatelle, recommended by the waitress, was enhanced by rich tarragon cream and spinach. Parmesan crisps and a sprinkling of toasted pine nuts gave the dish texture – it won my heart as a vegetarian main. Service was unobtrusive, efficient and natural, ensuring our evening flowed smoothly.
Full marks were given to the divine chocolate fondant dessert, which was paired with silky salted caramel ice cream and crunchy peanut brittle. The assiette of miniature desserts my partner chose proved the perfect way to sample all that was on offer and hit the spot. Soft and fruity wine from Sharpham Dart Valley Reserve completed our feast wonderfully.
Each of the 14 rooms, some with hot tubs and most with sea views, are unique. We stayed in the spacious Horsley Suite, where an effortlessly luxurious interior reflects the hotel’s illustrious past. After sleeping like a dream in the king-size four-poster bed and waking up to the sound of birds and views of the sea, we chose from a delectable breakfast menu featuring freshly squeezed orange juice, coffee, tea, fruit and cooked breakfasts. I opted for eggs Benedict while my partner sampled the full English. With a weather report, suggested walking routes and things to do in the area too, Orestone Manor comes up trumps when looking for a place to eat and stay.
South Devon’s hidden gem, Orestone Manor, is an independent family run classic country house hotel with spectacular sea views over Lyme Bay and beyond. Lovely rooms are available from £110. To find out more about their delicious food and luxury accommodation, please visit www.orestonemanor.com
Address: Orestone Manor, Rock House Lane, Maidencombe, Torquay, TQ1 4SX
t: 01803 897 511