Having spent our first holiday together on Dartmoor, it seemed obvious to return to this lovely part of the UK for our honeymoon. In search of something a little more luxurious than the two-man tent we had stayed in years before, we stumbled across five-star Bovey Castle and fell in love.
Tucked away in a beautiful corner of Dartmoor’s north-eastern edge, this sprawling country house offered countryside charm, elegance and understated luxury. Combined with miles of walks through Dartmoor’s stunning countryside right from the door, this was exactly what we were looking for.
Bovey Castle is set at the end of a long driveway, lined on either side by a well-maintained golf-course. Arriving has a real sense of occasion with the pretty views across the estate visible before reaching the sprawling house. Hotel staff are waiting to greet you at the impressively grand front door and are ready to whisk away your luggage, escort you inside and park your car.
The downstairs interior is immediately impressive. A grand staircase, high ceilings, wooden panelling and beautiful furniture all give a sense of the luxurious rural retreat whilst the many snugs, sofas and the faint smell of wood smoke from the large open fire place lend a feeling of intimacy and warmth. Decked out for Christmas on our first visit, Bovey Castle felt both grand and homely and suitably festive, right down to the towering Christmas tree with its innumerable shining baubles.
The staff at the reception desk are faultlessly friendly and efficient, making check-in a seamless process. A tour of the hotel facilities is offered and guests are promptly shown up to their room. Immediate impressions are of understated luxury, excellent customer service and efficiency.
During our two visits to Bovey Castle we had the opportunity to stay in three different rooms of varying size and grandness. Our first room (we had booked a superior castle room but perhaps on reflection we had been upgraded without realising) was located on the first floor, with lovely views out across the estate and was reasonably spacious, with attractive furnishings and a large comfortable bed. The bathroom was a little smaller than expected but not compact and the room on the whole had the feeling of a lovingly thought-out and individual guest bedroom in someone’s private residence rather than a generic hotel room.
The room also had a TV (more on this later), a tea caddy with full assortment of good quality hot beverages to choose from with fresh milk in the fridge. Delicious fresh fudge and cookies were brought daily.
The overall feel and style of the room was carried over into the other two rooms we stayed in. Our most recent visit included a night in a top level room which had much lower ceilings, a more restricted view of the estate but was still a fairly spacious with a large bathroom and separate dressing room.
The best room beyond doubt was the one we stayed in after being upgraded during our original honeymoon stay. With a large floor area, an equally impressive bathroom, separate seating area and extensive views across the Bovey Castle estate, it finally had the feeling of indulgence and luxury that we had been led to expect from the grand entrance downstairs. Other little indulgences such as an iPod/iPhone compatible Bose dock and better quality robes for the spa enhanced our experience.
The one thing that did let the rooms down at Bovey Castle was their overall maintenance. Initially impressive to the eye, closer inspection showed up easily remedied but niggling flaws, leaving a feeling less of shabby chic and more of a hotel down on its luck. Damp marks around the windowsills that had stained the wallpaper, cracks in the windowsill paint, a door lock that was so stiff it took us ten minutes to work out the trick to closing it with the key – even the otherwise faultless upgraded room had missed a dusting inside the lampshade. Little things that in a less expensive hotel can be overlooked without a direct impact on the overall enjoyment of the stay but nonetheless annoying when you have been led to expect a 5-star experience.
Eating at Bovey Castle is generally a great experience. During our various stays we ate at the sumptuous Edwardian Grill, the informal Bistro, took room service and enjoyed an indulgent afternoon tea in high backed armchairs by a roaring fire. My husband treated me to Champagne and delicious handmade chocolates for the room on our first night and we hugely enjoyed sipping on expertly mixed cocktails in the relaxed bar (think contemporary Sherlock Holmes style high-backed chairs, panelled walls and comfy sofas).
With the exception of our room service, the food was all fantastic and at risk of insulting my talented mother’s baking, the scones that came with our afternoon tea are the best by far I have ever tasted! As you would expect, prices are high and service of 12.5% is automatically added to the bill but despite this, the formal dining experience at the Edwardian Grill in particular was exceptional.
The Bistro offers a more relaxed, family friendly environment to eat in, with options such as burgers (we’re talking steak here not the flat variety of dubious composition) and pizzas on the menu. We found the service a little slow at times but the food was of a good standard (although could have benefited from more veggies or salad). The ice-cream is thoroughly recommended although my rhubarb cheesecake was not as creamy as it should have been for the price and did have a hint of ‘out-the-packet’ about it.
Breakfast at Bovey is taken in the Edwardian Grill and includes a buffet of continental options, cereal and yoghurt with a menu of alternative and more indulgent starts to the day such as smoked salmon or Eggs Benedict. There is of course also the option for a full English breakfast. During our latest stay (during the Easter school holidays), some hot dishes were also available as part of the buffet although the options on this are not as extensive and I’m convinced the quality of the sausages was not as good as before (maybe intended for hoardes of hungry children). My advice would be to stick to ordering from the menu if you fancy something hot!
Bovey Castle shines when it comes to finding things to do. Not that you need to when the Sunday papers are laid out so enticingly next to those comfy sofas, open fires and gorgeous sweeping views… This is a country house with a large estate and all manner of outdoor recreational activities are possible from the doorstep and the welly-boots provided. From a round of golf, falconry displays, cocktail lesson and archery to miles of glorious hiking, sloe gin making lessons or a revitalising afternoon in the spa, there is more to do with your time here than you will find possible to squeeze in.
Whilst on the subject of relaxation, the Sundari flagship Spa at Bovey Castle it is definitely worth booking ahead for a treatment. The setting is inviting and soothing, with large, atmospheric treatment rooms at just the right temperature. I indulged in a hot stones massage (my all-time favourite) and after over an hour of blissful relaxation emerged utterly restored from the stresses and excitement of the previous week’s last minute wedding preparations. It was definitely the best treatment of this kind I am yet to try and my husband (generally a little sceptical of anything too fancy) agreed.
The pool, located downstairs from the spa, is attractive and has a lovely solarium at its far end with loungers to lollop on whilst enjoying 180 degree views across the estate. During our mid-December visit we largely had the place to ourselves but it was a different story during our Easter holiday visit. Whilst families will love being able to access the pool with younger children any time between 0930 and 1730, I would warn honeymooners or couples seeking relaxation at Bovey Castle to time their visits outside school holidays (or time your spa treatments to finish after 1730!) as the swimming pool can become very busy with splashing tots at times.
It wouldn’t be the perfect holiday for us without some element of walking involved. Bovey Castle have published a book of six walks of varying length from the door of the house and so we set off on a winter wander up to Easdon Tor. For those in search of something further afield, the hotel is perched on the edge of Dartmoor with miles of fantastic walking to be found in all directions. We also visited National Trust property Castle Drogo, just ten minutes drive away, which is also the starting point for one of Dartmoor’s classic walks and a great option for older families.
Families / Couples
Whilst we didn’t bring our daughter with us during either of our stays, we did make sure to check out suitability for children. Bovey Castle definitely has plenty to offer families with heaps of activities to keep little ones busy without having to leave the hotel. The grounds offer free-roaming aplenty and include a stream, trampoline, tennis courts and a children’s play area.
For parents looking for a little adult-only time, baby-monitoring services are available allowing you to dine in the restaurant at night, there is an outdoor club for 7-14 year-olds during the holidays and a well-kitted out playroom/nursery is available (again, mainly only available for childcare in school holidays). Annoyingly, whilst we thought the nursery sessions at £20 were reasonable, we were told that they are not available for under three year-olds due to staff number requirements – something you’d hope a hotel of this standing would have been able to arrange given some advanced notice.
Family groups or parties travelling together may also like to stay in one of the many lodges which are within the grounds of Bovey Castle but separate from the main house and offer a little more self-contained space and seclusion.
For couples, the hotel is still large enough that you can lose yourselves and find a quiet space but for those looking for a romantic retreat I would definitely advise against a visit during school holiday periods.
On the whole, customer service is excellent at Bovey Castle. There are plenty of staff on-hand to help with even the smallest of queries and we found them to be consistently friendly, approachable and well-presented. The impeccably dressed hotel manager, Federico Aresti, is commendably hands-on with both staff and guests and becomes a familiar friendly face during your stay. When things are running smoothly there is previous little to complain about.
Unfortunately, when things do go wrong, we found that some staff at Bovey Castle are less proactive in applying their 5-star training than others. On the first night of our honeymoon, we opted for a romantic night in, ordered room service from the extensive menu and went to load a film. When it wouldn’t load and the TV signal was also looking sketchy, we called maintenance who were very quick to respond. We raised our eyebrows when our assistant’s prolonged attempts to fix it failed and she suggested we spend our evening watching a film in the TV room downstairs instead. Met with our disbelief (we were already in robes and nightwear at the time and did not feel like parading downstairs in our PJs) she subsequently attempted to escape the room as fast as possible. We could only laugh when we later found the charge for the unwatched film had not been removed from our bill.
When the hotel manager arrived and it was explained that the problem with the films was hotel wide and probably due to the poor weather, we couldn’t help wondering why on earth we hand’t been told this an hour ago. After more to-ing and fro-ing, we were offered a room upgrade and our lovely new room made up to a some extent for the lack of film and our interrupted evening.
Unfortunately, despite having postponed it, our room service turned up just as we were moving rooms. We were told fresh food would be brought up in half an hour but when it did arrive the bread was rock solid and the steak inedible, suggesting a microwave had been involved somewhere. We had by this point lost both the majority of our first honeymoon evening together and the will to complain.
The saga continued with a further powercut the next day, putting pay to any idea of watching that elusive film! It did however make our romantic candelit dinner that little more atmospheric! Bovey Castle ‘s hotel manager was suitably apologetic throughout – it was just a shame that he failed to contact us as promptly as he had promised us on our departure.
It’s fair to say we were to some extent unlucky and we were eventually offered a complimentary stay at Bovey Castle to make up for our lost evening. When we took up this offer in April 2013, we encountered no power-cuts and had a very enjoyable stay. The staff were all as courteous and welcoming as previously and the hotel manager was attentive. I’m afraid the TV was still as painfully slow as before. We didn’t brave a film.
Overall Experience and Value for Money
Bovey Castle is a wonderfully indulgent country retreat for both couples and families. There is a huge amount to do, the grounds and house interiors are impressive and you are guaranteed to leave feeling relaxed and as though you have spent months there, not days. For outdoor-lovers this is a wonderful home-from-home and dog owners will be happy to know that there are options to bring your pet with you.
Luxury comes at a price and it is no surprise that rooms at Bovey Castle start from £229 for a double, with prices extending over £400 a night for a room I would class as truly luxurious. For larger budgets, there are options to spend well beyond this. This does seem expensive when the rooms are not always blemish free although it’s worth joining the hotel mailing list for details of frequent special deals. Even at £200 a night you would not expect there to be damp marks on the wallpaper or the stair carpet leading to your room to be threadbare in places! Dare I mention upgrading the outdated TV system?!
Overall, this is a place that we would like to return to but would hope that in future the expectations that come with a hotel of this kind and presented by initial impressions are met 100% throughout the maintenance of accommodation and customer service. However the lovely bar, the outstanding food in the restaurant, the fantastic spa and the glorious luxurious yet homely feel to Bovey Castle makes it ultimately hard to resist, albeit with a price tag reserved for short stays and special occasions.
For more information or to book accommodation at Bovey Castle, please visit their website.