On those days when the storms come swirling in like Storm Eunice did in late February, it turns out there’s only one place you really need to be, and in my opinion, that’s cossetted in a secluded spa hotel in the countryside
Sitting inland in north Devon, you’ll find the 18th-century country house, Northcote Manor, boasting a sophisticated spa, an award-winning restaurant, 16 rooms and suites full of original character for guests to retire to, and service with a smile.
The Georgian manor sits among 20 acres of the typical rolling green hilled landscape that can be seen all over north Devon, and the road that leads up to the hotel winds through woodland, giving you an indication of just how remote your stay is. During my stay, the storm took the power out from one afternoon to the next morning. You could argue that the remoteness didn’t work in its favour on this occasion, but then guests had no option but to dine by candlelight, which was rather romantic, while the kitchen staff did a stellar job of preparing a delicious meal, despite the difficulties they faced.
The site of the manor is brimming with history dating to Tudor times and, as a mural in the lounge hints to, the hotel started life as a monastery – a sanctuary for Benedictine monks and friars – around 1000AD. Following the dissolution of the monasteries and numerous changings of hands, including Henry VIII, a new manor was built in 1716, with plenty of the original Georgian character remaining today, in addition to parts of the building which are Victorian. Following many notable names residing here, the manor became a hotel in 1972, where it remain as a refuge for those seeking an escape in the verdant north Devon countryside.
Among the 16 rooms and suites spread across the main house and annex, my guest and I were staying in Wisteria with its spacious and inviting nature. Two wide windows offer you the opportunity to gaze out onto the rolling hills from the comfort of the large bed, sofa or armchair. Antique furniture is in abundance, and I especially liked the decorative bedside tables and pretty chandelier, while a desk came in handy for when work called.
Expect the typical extras such as bathrobes, slippers, iron and ironing board as well as a bathroom with a walk-in shower and large mirror in addition to plenty of space to store belongings throughout the suite. To quench your thirst, you’ll find a kettle with tea, coffee and milk, but you can just as easily pop to the lounge or bar and recline with a warm or cold drink, as it’s all very relaxed and inviting.
Dinner begins in the lounge with an aperitif and some lovely canapes while diners peruse the menus and make their choices for the evening ahead in the two AA Rosette-awarded restaurant. Using top quality ingredients from Devon’s larder – local meats, vegetables, dairy, wines and other drinks, with seafood from the Cornish coast – the dinner menus showcase the best in the area. There’s a three-course menu for £54.50 pp, a three-course vegetarian menu for the same price, and a gourmet dinner menu for £70 for six courses plus £35 for the wine pairing.
On both evenings, I opted for the three-course menu after sipping on a gin and tonic and devoruing the canapes while deciding what to have. A personal highlight included the marinated venison saddle with pomme dauphinoise, honey glazed parsnips, parsnip puree, caramelised shallots, baked fig and madeira gravy – melt in the mouth meat with tasty accompaniments, and a great bottle of pinot noir to complement. I also enjoyed a starter of pressing of ham hock with chive and vintage balsamic dressing with red onion marmalade, madeira jelly and brioche toast – a sizeable starter portion with very fulfilling elements. A dessert of blood orange and Grand Marnier souffle with vanilla ice cream, orange custard and tuile biscuit was surprisingly mild in flavour, but delicious, nonetheless.
A purpose-built spa with pool, Jacuzzi, steam room, sauna, gym, courtyard area, treatments rooms and café/lounge area opened in 2019, but due to the pandemic hasn’t seen footfall very much, therefore it feels much newer when you visit.
The modern spa is a big attraction for the hotel and keeps guests entertained and indulged during their peaceful stays here. The views of the surrounding countryside are sublime, and I would love to return on a warmer day to recline on one of the loungers on the deck outside just to take it all in.
It would be remiss of any guest to visit Northcote Manor and leave out a sojourn to the sleek spa. Treatments are available to book and therapists use the Mediterranean-inspired Temple Spa products. I urge any visitor who stops for a light bite or drink in the spa café to check out the product stands for the Temple Spa products – there are plenty of products to convince yourself that you must take away with you.
The café offers a casual atmosphere whether you’re waiting to be called for your treatment, stopping by for a smoothie or enjoying a post-swim lunch as I was. Whether it’s sandwiches on thick-cut bread, cream teas with gorgeous scones and hefty dollops of clotted cream and jam or a crab salad with a hot or cold drink, it definitely transports you to a calmer place.
In a nutshell
Classically styled in keeping with its history, a peaceful location and with a new spa that makes this a very welcoming hotel, Northcote Manor does well to keep its guests in comfort and seclusion, perfect for when you require a calming countryside break with a friendly face handing you a gin or filling food.
Price for rooms currently start at £140 per room based on one person occupying and £200 per room based on two people sharing.
All imagery provided by Northcote Manor Country House Hotel