Hotel Review: Down-time by Downton at The Bel and Dragon in Kingsclere, Hampshire
Autumn is certainly in the air. The mornings are fresh and misty and the leaves are turning from gold to red. The evenings are drawing in and instead of spritzers in the sun, the prospect of a glass of red in front of a log fire becomes more and more appealing. The return of the hugely popular Downton Abbey can only mean one thing, summer 2015 is over.
The phenomenal success of Downton Abbey in the last few years has certainly put a relatively unknown village on the Hampshire/ Berkshire border on the map. The film set is certainly a real place and a real home, but better known as Highclere Castle a few miles south of Newbury. It is open to visitors and tourists from around the world are choosing to stay in this rather beautiful undiscovered part of southern England.
The rather lovely Bel and Dragon is a boutique hotel and restaurant in the neighbouring village of Kingsclere a short drive from the A34 along a single track lane through woodland and arable farmland. Formerly “The Swan Hotel” it is nestled in the heart of this pretty village. Guests can enjoy long walks around the local area and the village is well equipped with just the right number of amenities to feel rural but not remote.
The hotel enjoys a classic but contemporary style. The bar is cosy with a feature fireplace at it’s heart. The atmosphere is relaxed both guests and locals sit at the bar or in the courtyard garden sharing stories over a pint of real ale or one of the fantastic cocktails. The bar staff are friendly, fun and keen to demonstrate their cocktail making abilities to new residents. The team run cocktail making classes throughout the year, so it seemed rude not to indulge in a mojito at check-in. Sat in the garden I’m brought some nibbles to enjoy with my drink, a mix of chilli nuts, juicy green olives and whitebait, it would be so easy to stay here all evening, but I have to check into my room and get ready for dinner.
There are just nine beautifully appointed character rooms at the Bel and Dragon. I’m staying in “Canon” which overlooks the village green and picturesque church beyond. Upstairs there is a communal games room for guests complete with tea/coffee, whiskey selection, well thumbed books, numerous board games and deep sofas that you can settle into for an afternoon. By contrast my room is light and bright, well equipped with television and iPod dock and a kingsize bed dressed in crisp white egyptian cotton. My bathroom is spacious with roll-top bath and rainforest head double shower, it is as most imagine a dream bathroom to be. In the bedroom there is sloe gin on the console table and hidden away an enormous check throw in shades of brown, green and pink, perfect for this changeable time of year when it is still summer in the sun, but winter in the shade.
Supper is booked for 8pm and already the restaurant is buzzing with families and friends sitting at the slate top tables. We enjoy a glass of champagne as we consider the menu and notice that there is also a pot with coloured chalks on a table for both adults and children to participate in some dining art! The menu is varied, however we are recommended to try some of the fresh fish dishes for both starter and main. The steaks looked sensational, but I took the advice of our waitress for both courses along with the paired wine selections. To start we had plump sweet scallops and tuna carpaccio with fiery wasabi, followed by the fish of the day and lobster with french fries. A very luxurious take on fish and chips. For pudding we shared gluten free chocolate brownies and sipped espresso martinis. It was quite simply food heaven. After dinner, full and happy I tipped out the coloured chalks and wrote in large cartoon letters “Wow and thank you”. The Bel and Dragon is certainly my new favourite place for a weekend stay, actually, I’d happily never leave.
Address: Swan St, Kingsclere, Newbury, Hampshire RG20 5PP