Hotel Endsleigh is both a hidden gem and the jewel in the Polizzi crown. It is a secret hotel, a surreptitious hideway nestling in the depths of the English countryside. No one appears to be aware of its existence and I have been reluctant to write about it as actually I’d quite like it to stay that way. It is one of the best hotels I have ever been to and I don’t want it to become too popular.
The hotel is at the western edge of Dartmoor and is reached by a manicured lane which drops down from the road above. The hotel sits in a small valley overlooking the river Tamar, which forms the natural border between Devon and Cornwall, and it still looks very much like the fishing lodge it once was and not like a posh country hotel at all.
Endsleigh is Grade I listed and was built in the early nineteenth century for the Duke of Bedford in the style of the picturesque movement and is a perfect example of a ‘cottage orné’. And it does indeed resemble a rather grand version of a fairy tale cottage with its dormer windows and ornate gables.
The interior and gardens were designed by Humphry Repton (who designed the grounds at Kenwood House). To help clients visualise his designs, Repton produced ‘Red Books’ (so called for their binding) with explanatory text and watercolours with a system of overlays to show before and after views. Remarkably a facsimile of the red book for Endsleigh is on display in the hotel and it is utterly fascinating to have a look through and follow Repton’s thoughts and ideas. In adherence to the Picturesque movement he had a small woodsman’s cottage built on the other side of the Tamar in which a fire was lit everyday, for no other reason than to create a pleasingly bucolic view from the house.
The house fell into disrepair in the 20th century and became a hostel for anglers, something which seems as incongruous to us now as the St Pancras hotel being used as the headquarters for British Rail. Fortunately the anglers did not disturb the interior of the lodge and it was restored to its former state by Olga Polizzi when she took it over a few years ago.
I first visited Hotel Endsleigh on a snowy lunchtime in March of this year. We were honeymooning on the other side of Dartmoor and the hour’s drive was a good excuse to traverse the atmospheric, wintery Baskervillian moor without having to leave the comfort of our warm car. We had such a lovely time that we returned the next day for afternoon tea.
I am yet to stay at the hotel but I can say that the food is excellent. Really, really good. The afternoon tea served in silver teapots and the tables groaning under the weight of cakes is something to behold and not for the first time have I felt regretful that I find myself full up after eating only one scone.
On our first visit one of the staff members offered me a tour of the vacant rooms and I eagerly accepted. The rooms are traditional and timeless a little bit quirky. The absolute best thing about Endsleigh is that Polizzi didn’t mess with it – the renovations feel to be as minimal as they could be and it’s actually hard to tell what is original, what has been renovated and what is new.
Some of the rooms are still hung with incredibly beautiful hand painted Victorian wallpapers, a few small pieces of Perspex covering the most worn parts. The hotel has the feel of a National Trust house, but without the thistles and pine cones preventing you sitting on any of the chairs. Pewter tankards stuffed with foliage, old, worn sofas and century-old copies of punch add to the timeless feel.
The vibe in the hotel is relaxed and laid back. The staff are friendly but leave you to your own devices. The hotel is very quiet and makes you feel, as any good country hotel should, that you are staying not in a hotel but in the well loved country home of a well-to-do friend’s parents (not that I am fortunate enough to have any of those). It’s like one of those handsome houses where murderous shooting parties are located in novels of Agatha Christie. The Chinoiserie wallpapers, the eiderdowns and the rows of wellies and coats lined up for guests to use all add to the homely feel.
The hotel caters very well for families, but crucially it isn’t a family hotel. Some of the rooms have annexed children’s rooms which, with their white iron hospital style beds resemble the small dormitories found in the boarding schools of literature. There are board games everywhere and plenty of room to run amok outside.
Endsleigh sits in 108 acres of grounds and woodlands. The main house overlooks a lawn which sweeps down the Tamar and the thick woods over the other side in Cornwall. There is a long, perfectly manicured croquet lawn which in chilly March elicited squeaks of joy from us and a vow to return in more clement weather (which we did, in August). There are follies and a grotto made entirely from shells.
My photos are a mixture of my visits from both March and August and I can’t decide whether it was more beautiful in the garish, riotous colours of summer or the pale yellows of the primroses and the muted greens and browns of the winter landscape.
Whilst the hotel’s location may seem inconvenient, it is in fact perfectly placed for a stopover en route to Cornwall. Anyone who has done this journey knows that it is comprised of hours of motorway slog to reach the county, and then a couple of hours of pretty Cornish roads to meet one’s final destination. Hotel Endsleigh sits at the end of the dull motorway driving and so is a great place to stop for a break and properly begin your holiday.
But even if you are not en route to or from Cornwall, it’s just a lovely place to get away, to switch off and unwind. The trappings of modern life are absent and there is a gentle, old fashioned feel to the place. It is entirely free of pretention and conspicuous luxury, there is no spa and the free Wifi is maddingly yet pleasingly elusive. In my mind the hotel expertly combines modern comfort and style with timeless elegance and a respect for heritage and history. It is utterly faultless and I cannot say enough good things about it.