What is Chrissy’s Collection?
With her lengthy travel background, Chrissy has years of experience assessing accommodation with quality and customer satisfaction firmly in mind. She was also a hands-on Director of an upmarket Kensington apartment-hotel for five years.
As our own Silver Travel Advisor we are delighted that Chrissy brings her experience and eye for stylish detail when she reviews Inns and Hotels. Chrissy’s Collection are her personal recommendations of places with something extra that makes them stand out from the rest because of their quirkiness, location and style. There is a huge range of fabulous places to stay, particularly in the UK and Europe, that refreshingly do not tick all the boxes for a standard hotel rating where small really is beautiful. Typically, they are older, historic buildings that offer individual accommodation as well as friendly service and great food. In short, special places punching well above their weight and offering value for money.
Is there a better place on earth than the English countryside on a glorious summer’s evening?
Driving along the edge of Salisbury Plain, Stonehenge magnificently staged against a backdrop of blue skies and rolling Wiltshire countryside, we turned off the A303 to Fonthill Gifford. Through a majestic stone arch leading to the Fonthill Bishop estate – more of which later – this is quintessential England at its best: village cricket ground, sheep grazing lazily and cattle chewing the cud. The drive through the Fonthill Bishop estate promised much and we were not disappointed as we arrived at the ivy-clad Beckford Arms. An 18th century local hostelry built in mellow yellow Bath stone, updated but retaining oodles of subtle style and character.
Of course we wondered into the bar first – where else? And were so taken with the laid-back Ambience (with a capital A) and, it has to be said he was impressed with the range of beers, we happily sat at the bar and imbibed for a while before we even ventured to mention we had booked supper and a room for the night. The Beckford is the kind of local everyone should have. Friendly, cosy in its stylish simplicity, incredibly relaxed. Less than 2 hours from central London, a haven of tranquility and friendliness. It also has eight individually styled bedrooms, a couple of dining areas and lounge with an open fireplace, eclectic mix of furnishings, muted décor and interesting art. Refreshingly, the Beckford is an individual, quirky, country house inn not easily pigeonholed into a standard category.
Once we’d dragged ourselves away from the bar we were shown to our room. Room 8. Lots of stairs and in the apex of the roof, the sloping ceilings would not suit Amazonian types. However, with the benefit of two small bedrooms and a comfortable sitting area with views over the garden, it was well worth the climb and suited us perfectly, as he’d already had a few beers and I felt the second bedroom would be a blessing later on!
The room itself, though long and narrow, was pleasing on the eye with soft hues, a very comfy sofa and, in addition to all the mod cons you would expect, lots of personal touches: hot water bottles with hand knitted covers, a discreet fabric linen bag of toiletries hanging on the bathroom door – complete with earplugs – books and artwork. There was also a selection of Bramley bath and body products in the bathroom, a natural range of products developed by the owner’s wife, Chloe Luxton and made locally in the West Country.
On such a lovely evening most people were eating in the conservatory dining room or the terrace in the one acre garden which, due to its slight slope and abundance of trees had lots of nooks and hideaways perfect for children to safely disappear and not be heard – a happy situation for everyone. A couple of friendly black Labradors lazily wandered around adding to the atmosphere. The garden also has a Petanque piste, hammocks under shady trees, a games area to entertain the children and even a dog bath to hose off after a long muddy walk.
The dinner menu was an interesting mix of flavours sensibly limited to a choice of 6 starters and 7 mains, as well as 6 dishes if you were eating in the pub. I say sensibly, as not only is it easier to choose but, most importantly, you can be sure the food is freshly cooked. To start we both had the Wye Valley asparagus and Westcombe cheddar tartlet that melted in the mouth; for mains he had the grilled pork loin which he declared to be better than excellent and I had a delicious crayfish and prawn salad with fennel, grapefruit, orange and coriander oil. No room for pudding.
As he retired for a nightcap in the bar I returned to our room and after a soak in the deep bath sank into the extremely comfortable bed. In fact, I didn’t remember a thing until waking fully refreshed next morning to complete silence and stillness, my other-half tucked up in the other bedroom within our room. A small jug of fresh milk had been left outside our bedroom together with a newspaper so we sipped our tea overlooking the completely tranquil garden – a perfect start to the day.
Breakfast in the conservatory was very relaxed with a good selection of cereals, homemade jams etc., and the usual cooked-to-order breakfasts with the addition of some interesting breakfast sandwiches and, another quirky little touch, a bottle of vodka amongst the fruit juices for those looking to start the day with a real kick or hair-of-the-dog.
After breakfast we wondered across the road to a footpath that cut a swath through a cornfield onto the Fonthill estate. The birds were singing, the sun shining and we happily ambled along the path for about a mile down to a lake and weir. Just one of many walks you can take from the Beckford without getting into your car, though there are many places worth a visit within a short drive in this beautiful corner of England: Shaftesbury, Stourhead gardens, Wardour Castle and the nearby villages of Tisbury and Hindon.
The Inn is named after William Beckford, owner of the Fonthill Estate and richest man in England in the 1700’s who led a chequered but interesting life. He was extravagant in the extreme and commissioned one of England’s foremost architect of the day to build him a medieval abbey that he filled with treasures including paintings by the great masters, of which twenty now hang in the National Gallery. In 1823 the estate was sold and by his death in 1844 Beckford had lost most of the money he had earned and inherited.
The owners, Charlie Luxton and Dan Brod, know more than a thing or two about hospitality having been involved in running Babington House and the Soho House group and have done a great job in creating an instantly relaxing environment that attracts a wide ranging clientele and, I would imagine, many repeat customers.
Sadly we only had one night at the Beckford but will definitely return. If you are looking for a small, characterful property with a nod to contemporary country-house style, relaxed service with a genuine friendly smile and good food you will love the Beckford.
Go for lunch. Go for supper. Stay the night. Whatever time of year you choose to visit I’m sure you will love it just as we did.