IT earned a Michelin star within six months of opening so you’d expect Lympstone Manor to offer exceptional cuisine but, perched on the edge of Devon’s Exe estuary, it also serves up views to die for.
The Georgian manor house set in beautiful south-west countryside is as milky and square as a lump of nougat, with alabaster gravel pathways fringed with lavender.
Its lawn slopes down to a bracken-covered ridge, where the trees are silhouetted against the smooth, shifting water of the Exe – and then there’s just sky.
A huge wide-open wedge of it, seemingly doubled by its reflection in the estuary, where the odd boat bobs restlessly, and the tide slips and slides on the sand.
Every aspect of the hotel, a former private house built in the late 1700s (and lived in by the Baring banking family – whose descendants included Diana, Princess of Wales), is geared towards that vaulted view, from the wraparound terrace to the crest of the driveway.
Here, a string of free-to-use burgundy bikes sit waiting to be whisked off down to the water’s edge, or cycled the two-and-a-half miles to Exmouth, which is so close you can hear the buzz of the funfair fizzing across the water.
Sunsets are spectacular.
Like a scoop of orange sorbet, the sun bleeds and melts into the Exe, before plunging into creamy golden clouds the exact colour of the Brixham scallops we’re served at dinner.
This swish country house is the baby of acclaimed chef Michael Caines. His solo venture only opened a few months ago, but has already earned the sort of glowing reviews most hotel owners can only dream of.
Early in his career Michael, 48, was championed by Raymond Blanc and became head chef at Gidleigh Park, Devon, where he went on to hold two Michelin stars for 18 consecutive years, before leaving at the beginning of last year to renovate Lympstone.
When designing the layout of his new hotel, he envisioned a luxurious, contemporary New England vibe, ensuring there’s no stuffiness, despite the plushness.
Instead of dynastic portraits on the wall, there are delicate murals of estuary birds in flight, and each of the 21 bedrooms and suites comes with its own set of GHD hair straighteners.
The bedrooms are also themed around birds, and decorated to mimic their plumage – our Gannet suite is all iridescent blues and greys, and even has a decadent outdoor bath, so you can really, ahem, get back to nature.
However, dinner is the main event.
The signature tasting menu (£140), eaten in the Berry Head dining room – named after the headland you can see from the bay window, and whose tables spiral around a black and white art deco marble floor centrepiece you can’t help but want to dance on – starts with those scallops, delicately frosted with truffle and doused in cumin-scented foam.
Despite being eight courses, portions aren’t skimpy.
You get a whole bread basket of mini-baguettes and warm split buns, served with ridiculously delicious butter.
The fillet of beef from nearby Darts Farm is sticky in the dark red wine sauce, and livened by sweet-sharp shallots and beads of velveteen celeriac puree.
Pudding is a staggeringly good white chocolate candle you blow out (wish-making, optional) – and it seems everything is full of detail and fun.
Come April, a swathe of rubbly, grassy earth out front will be planted with vines.
Producing champagne within five years is the aim.
For now, visitors must be content with a mixture of global and locally sourced plonk, from the likes of Devon’s Lily Farm and Lyme Bay Winery, a Williams Elegant gin and Fever Tree tonic on arrival (because there’s no better way to start the afternoon), and head sommelier Marko – the smiliest man alive.
During dinner he bounds up to explain each glass in the wine flight as though letting us in on a secret he has only just stumbled upon himself and needs someone else to confirm it in equal rapture.
Fortunately, he’s not in the least bit put off as we smile back, increasingly wildly, with each glass.
Rooms at Lympstone Manor (lympstonemanor.co.uk) are available from £305 per night (two sharing) on a bed and breakfast basis.
Call 01395 202 040. For information about the area go to visitdevon.co.uk
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