What a night for a drive down to Devon! With rain pelting down on the windscreen and leaves blowing across the road, any thoughts we had of stopping at a country pub on the way were abandoned in the hope of just arriving safely at the Moorland Garden Hotel.
We’ve arrived at the Moorland Garden Hotel!
Just north of Plymouth we turned off the main road and down a secluded drive to reach the gates of the hotel, a long two-storey building with all the bedrooms overlooking the lawned gardens. Parking the car and running inside to escape the downpour, we were soothed by the warm welcome at reception and the sounds of music and celebration coming from the room at the other end of the corridor. This being rural Devon, the Young Farmers’ annual dinner dance was in full swing with lads in DJs and lasses in full-on evening glamour and tottering heels, wandering in and out of the bar, not a wellie or barbour jacket to be seen.
I hope you enjoy my video below of the Moorland Garden Hotel
Harking back to the hotel’s glamourous heyday
The hotel was built in the 1930s, originally named the Moorland Links Hotel because of the nearby golf club and enjoyed a glamourous reputation in its heyday, attracting celebrities such as David Niven and Rex Harrison. With a large ballroom complete with sprung dance floor and resident orchestra, guests flocked to attend tea dances and balls, while in the 1940s the hotel was popular with army and naval officers stationed at nearby Plymouth. In 2011 the hotel was bought by the current owners Brian and Sonia Meaden who have gradually put the hotel through a complete refurbishment of the 44 bedrooms and public areas. While the swimming pool and tennis courts of the 1930s are no longer there, the hotel has taken on a new character as a welcoming place for guests wanting to combine the wild walks of Dartmoor with the Waterfront attractions of the Ocean City of Plymouth. To celebrate its 80th anniversary this year, the hotel has been drawing on its heritage, with a 1940s themed tea dance, Agatha Christie inspired afternoon teas and summer picnics in the wildflower meadow that adjoins the gardens.
Relaxing the Dartmoor Bar and Lounge
Having left the cases in our bedroom (more about that later) we settled into the comfortable Dartmoor lounge for a warming bowl of haddock and sweetcorn chowder and chilli Exe river mussels from the bar menu. The decor was cosy and traditional with some modern touches and looked as if it had benefited from the recent refurbishment with an inviting air of fresh paint and new carpets. We settled into the oversized patchwork armchairs by the fireplace, which would be a favourite spot in winter when the fire is lit, admiring the striped tapestry, brocade and velvet fabrics with gilt mirrors and glowing red glass lamps. The walls were covered with artistic photos of Dartmoor, reminding us of the wild landscapes, granite tors and mossy covered river boulders that we had explored on previous visits to Devon. In one corner was a desk covered with useful information leaflets of local attractions and on the shelves were games and jigsaws to while away an autumn evening.
The adjoining Dartmoor bar had been similarly refurbished with plenty of comfortable seating areas, leather sofas and velvet banquettes by the wall. The wild landscapes of nearby Dartmoor were referenced in the black and white photos of moorland miniature ponies and twisted oaks, with metal stag heads on the wall and stag motifs on the cushions. Guy was keen to try a pint of the Dartmoor Best ale although we discovered from the barman that it actually comes from St Austell in Cornwall.
Settling into the Lily of the Valley Suite
After recovering from our windswept Friday night drive, we were able to enjoy our spacious Lily of the Valley Suite on the first floor, where home-made biscuits had been laid out for us. All the rooms in the hotel have been individually redecorated with the help of West Country designer Nadine Judd, drawing on a garden theme to bring the natural beauty of the moor into the hotel. Like all the bedrooms, ours overlooked the garden and so when we awoke we had delightful views over the lawns and down to the Tamar valley beyond.
I had a peep in a few of the other bedrooms and found the decorative style was colourful and modern, often using patterned feature walls, bright floral prints and striking pieces of furniture. Our Lily of the Valley suite took up the fresh floral theme, with leaf green walls, pretty cream linen curtains with a delicate floral sprig and a feature wall covered with hand-printed lily of the valley paper on a dark background. We sat eating our warm biscuits on the green crushed velvet sofa with pastel floral cushions and flicked through the books and magazines that had been thoughtfully left under the glass of the coffee table. The overall effect was very pleasing although there was the odd item that seemed more high street than high end – a metal garden chair at the desk and a strange IKEA style metal shelf on the wall beside the bed. The en suite bathroom was clean and fresh with pale grey tiles and a shower above the bath although I suspect that this was one of the few remaining bathrooms in the hotel that was due for refurbishment, since I saw other rooms with more modern bathrooms.
Elegant Dining in the Wildflower Restaurant
On Saturday night we planned to eat in the Wildflower restaurant, having heard great things about the restaurant which won a Gold in the 2013 West Country Taste of the West awards and was named Best Restaurant in the South West. The Head Chef, Bruce Cole has been at the hotel for 18 months now and has created new menus that feature locally sourced and seasonal produce from nearby farms and food producers. After dinner we had a chance to chat with Bruce and he told us “When I arrived much of the food came from the freezer and the menu changed twice a year. Now everything is freshly made including the bread and pastries, we use the best local produce and we change the menu every 4 to 6 weeks with the seasons”
The Wildflower restaurant has large French windows that overlook the gardens which open in summer leading out onto the terrace. There is an elegant silver and turquoise theme with patterned turquoise velvet chairs, silver leaf wall decorations and a striking private dining area with silver and turquoise floral wallpaper and silver mirrors. I’d love to visit the restaurant in summer to enjoy a cream tea overlooking the gardens or to be there in September when the hotel hosts the Delicious Drake’s trail that ends on those lawns.
We had invited a friend who lives in Plymouth to join us for dinner and we were all wow’ed by the dishes which were beautifully presented and above all delicious. I started with a crab mille feille, a soft crab pate piled into a tower with crispy biscuits and a piquant mango garnish. To follow I ordered the sliced breast of duck which was well cooked with a ring of crispy fat, served with vegetables and a prune puree that gave a fruity piquancy. My desert was a perfectly creamy crème brullee with a crisp caramel topping and ball of lemon sorbet in a brandy snap basket. Guy tried a board of delicious West Country cheeses and our friend had the Langage Farm lemon and lime sorbet on a creamy jelly with pretty edible pansies. I thought that the three course dinner which included coffee was incredible value at £28.95 considering the elegant surroundings, friendly and attentive service and of course the delicious food.
The next morning we were back at our window table for breakfast to enjoy the garden views in daylight and of course I had to have the English cooked breakfast while Guy ordered a kipper from the breakfast menu. There was the usual range of hot toast with jam and marmalade, croissants, fruit and yoghurts, a choice of packet cereals, although the selection was fairly limited and I thought the breakfast didn’t quite live up to the magnificence of the dinner the previous evening.
You can get married here too!
After the Young Farmers’ party on Friday night I noticed that the ballroom was being laid out for a wedding on Saturday and went to have a nose around while the staff were setting out the tables. The large Crystal room at the far end of the hotel is on two levels, the first of which was being set out with chairs for the marriage ceremony while the ballroom area was arranged with tables for the dinner-dance that followed. The room lived up to its name, with sparkling chandeliers and mirrors, and would be the perfect setting for a summer wedding when guests can walk out onto the lawn. In the gardens I spotted the wrought iron rose arbour which was designed and made by local blacksmith Matt Dingle and is popular for wedding photos or even for the wedding ceremony itself. Although the wedding reception was in full swing on the Saturday night when we were dining in the Wildflower restaurant, I was impressed that the staff managed to keep everything running very smoothly, accommodating both groups of guests, although I probably wouldn’t want to be sleeping in the bedrooms immediately above the ballroom when a major event like this is being held in the hotel.
The morning market at Tavistock
On Saturday morning we ventured out from the Moorland Garden Hotel to explore the nearby market town of Tavistock, which sits on the western edge of Dartmoor. The town became prosperous in the Middle Ages from the wool trade and was one of the “Stannary Towns” around Dartmoor that controlled the local tin mining that took place on the moor.
In front of the impressive stone Guildhall we chatted to the owner of the fruit and veg stall and wandered through the covered craft market. Through an archway we found the Pannier Market, a historic covered market that was given its charter 900 years ago and houses an eclectic mix of different stalls that change daily, with antiques, crafts and daily necessities. On the Saturday it seemed to be a bustling general market of everything you could hope to find in a Devon town, from birdseed to fishing bait, tweed hats to moleskin trousers and country fudge to old books and antique costume jewellery.
Around the courtyard that enclosed the Pannier market there were a number of small specialist shops, including de la Torre’s selling a huge variety of olives and Mediterranean foods like houmous, olive oils and jars of condiments. Right next door was the Country Cheese shop where the staff were only too happy to let us try a sliver of this or that before we decided which of the many West Country cheeses to buy, deliberating between the delightfully named Miss Muffett, Tilly Whim and other Devon specialities.
The Garden House at Buckland Monachorum
On the way back from Tavistock that afternoon we stopped in at The Garden House, a privately owned gardens in a secluded Devon valley, set around a Georgian vicarage. The garden was bought in the 1940s by Lionel and Katharine Fortescue who moved to live in the vicarage and started planting the 10 acres of garden which was further developed in the 1960s by head gardener Keith Wiley who introduced the naturalistic landscapes of the cottage garden, wildflower meadow and Acer glade.
Walking past the house where I made a mental note of the tea-room, we started our tour of the garden at the small lake where the water lilies and sculptural gunnera made a picturesque setting with the half submerged blue rowing boat that was moored to the bank, but not going anywhere. Most beautiful at the end of summer was the walled garden where the long herbaceous borders were filled with hostas turning to yellow and decaying brown, with fraying silver thistles and the bright spots of dahlias blazing pink and pumpkin orange. In the middle of the walled garden was a small stone thatched cottage, perhaps the gardner’s cottage making a backdrop for the dusty pink hydrangeas and pink penstomen.
At the furthest end of the garden we enjoyed the rhododendron walk which was now full of autumn colour with golden maples and acers lighting up the dark rhododendron foliage. The path led us gradually up hill through the Acer glade beside a small stream trickling over shale which had been cut into the grassy bank. Having completed the circuit of the garden we hurried back to the tea-room in the house before it closed, to have a Devon Cream tea and a slice of home-made fruit cake. Please note the Garden House is now closed for the winter and will re-open again in March.
Buckland Abbey, home of Sir Frances Drake and a Rembrandt self-portrait
On Sunday before we headed for home, we drove the short distance to Buckland Abbey, a medieval abbey which later became home to the Elizabethan sailor, Sir Francis Drake and is now run by the National Trust. We spent a few hours here, enjoying the great barn, medieval house, the Rembrandt exhibition and had lunch at the cafe before driving back to Bristol, although it would be very easy to stay a whole day here if the weather was fine. Read about our visit to Buckland Abbey.
The Cistercian Abbey was founded here in the 13th century, but after Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries, the abbey was sold to Sir Richard Grenville who demolished some of the monastic buildings and converted it to a family home. In 1582 Sir Francis Drake bought the property with the proceeds of his bucaneering raids on the Spanish fleet in the Americas and it remained in the hands of his heirs until earlier this century. This year Buckland was in the news due the Rembrandt Portrait which came to Buckland Abbey in 2010 and after a 2 year investigation by art experts has now been confirmed as a genuine painting by the master himself. We enjoyed looking around the special Rembrandt exhibition within the house showing the portrait and details of all the ways they had confirmed it was genuine, as well as other museum exhibits such as Drake’s Drum which accompanied him on his voyages and is said to sound when England is in danger.
There are no shortage of things to see in this part of Devon and another time we might enjoy a walk up to one of the Tors on the moor or drive into Plymouth where the waterfront is being developed with new restaurants and museums. If you’re looking for a comfortable and welcoming hotel with an excellent restaurant to use as a base for exploring the area I’d certainly recommend the Moorland Garden Hotel and would love to come back in summer to enjoy the gardens and sit out on the terrace, perhaps enjoying a Devon cream tea.
The Moorland Garden Hotel, Yelverton, Devon. Rooms for a weekend stay range from £100-125 based on B & B for 2 people sharing or £125-155 for a suite. Check the hotel website for information on special breaks such as 3 nights for the price of 2, Sunday night stays or breaks that include dinner and afternoon tea. Dogs are welcome in the hotel and can stay in certain rooms. My tip would be to check whether there is a wedding or function taking place in the hotel when you book and if so request a room at the opposite end of the hotel where you won’t be disturbed.
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Since I love to stay in hotels with a strong design influence and a boutique feel I was interested to see that The Square Hotel in Copenhagen has won a World Travel Award for Denmark’s leading boutique hotel for 2014 and in fact has won the award for six years out of the last eight. Copenhagen is a city that has no shortage of well designed hotels, drawing on all kinds of design influence, especially the clean, modern Scandinavian design and it’s one of my favourite places to visit at any time of year. The World Travel Award is quite an accolade and aims to promote global travel and tourism by identifying and rewarding excellence, with winners in the many different categories being selected through voting by travel industry professionals.
The Central Location of The Square Copenhagen
Although I haven’t personally stayed at The Square Hotel, I have visited Copenhagen several times and know that the hotel is set in one of the most central locations by the City Hall Square which gives the hotel its name. It’s a fantastic location for those visiting Copenhagen both for business or for a leisure break, since the Central Station is just a 5 minute walk away allowing you a quick and direct transfer from the airport in 30 minutes.
Close by you’ll find the Tivoli amusement park which is popular with locals and tourists and has something to appeal to all ages, with beautiful gardens, 25 adrenalin pumping and family friendly rides and plenty of restaurants and cafes. If you enjoy art and sculpture, visit Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek which is also a short walk away, with a beautiful greenhouse winter garden, classical statues and a great collection of impressionist art. Heading in the other direction through the City Hall Square will take you for a stroll along Strøget, the premier pedestrianised shopping street of Copenhagen with great Danish brands like Georg Jensen and Royal Copenhagen as well as many different fashion and clothing stores.
Boutique design inspiration at The Square Copenhagen
The ‘Square’ theme is followed through into the simple, minimalist lines of the open reception area as you enter from the City Hall Square and the square motif also continues into the textiles and furnishings in the rooms. The hotel’s lobby is furnished with the Danish design classic Egg chair by famous designer Arne Jacobsen and all of the hotel’s 267 rooms are decorated in a typically Danish design with subtle colors of soft green, purple, gold and deep red.
As all travellers know, design alone can’t guarantee a pleasant stay and so the staff at The Square Copenhagen go out of their way to create a relaxed and home-like atmosphere, and do everything they can to make it a comfortable stay.
Rooms at The Square Hotel Copenhagen
The Square Hotel has 268 non-smoking rooms with stylish, minimalist design, featuring the square motif to unify the design. You’ll find it in the luxurious velvet and satin fabrics used in the curtains and throws and in the dark wood headboards and other furniture. All rooms feature the normal conveniences of flat screen TV, air conditioning, ironing, tea and coffee facilities, hairdryer and mini bar as well as free internet. If you are travelling as a family or group of friends, connecting rooms are also available so you can keep an eye on the kids or have fun with your friends.
The bathrooms also feature modern, Scandinavian design, with large mirrors and clean white tiling. If you suffer from allergies, let the hotel know when you book, since some rooms are available without carpets and all the duvets and pillows are hypo-allergenic and feather-free.
The buffet breakfast is served in the 6th floor restaurant area where you can enjoy a view over the square and the rooftops of Copenhagen. To set yourself up for the day, book the bed and breakfast deal and enjoy a range of fruit, yoghurt, pastries, cereals, cheese and cold meats as well as those excellent nutty Danish breads.
I love staying in hotels that have a boutique and designer feel and although I haven’t personally stayed at The Square Copenhagen, I think it would be an excellent choice for a business of leisure stay in Copenhagen, which is a wonderful city to visit at any time of year.
Booking information for The Square Copenhagen
Visit the Square Hotel Copenhagen website to check prices and book your stay in Copenhagen. Rooms are available from 1030 DKK (£110/ €140/ $175) per night based on 2 people sharing with a 35% discount when you book for 2 nights or more. Special offers are also available for mini-breaks, seasonal packages and stays that include entrace to Tivoli or a dinner and show at nearby Wallmans. You can follow The Square Copenhagen on Google+ | Youtube | Instagram
This article was brought to you in partnership with The Square Hotel, Copenhagen. All photos courtesy of The Square Copenhagen
More things to do in Copenhagen
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In this article our guest writers, Illia and Nastia share their tips for visiting Anghor in Cambodia – while it’s a one of those must-see sites with a huge amount to cover in a day or two, we find out whether the heat and high prices were worth it.
Angkor, a UNESCO heritage site, is considered to be a photo paradise. Unbelievable sun rises, ancient ruins and wild rainforest combine to make this place unbearably attractive for any photographer. Of course, we weren’t that lucky: while we enjoyed ancient ruins, it was raining, cloudy and gloomy. The temperature was either extremely high (in the middle of the day) or extremely low (early in the morning), so it was pretty hard to choose what to wear. Nevertheless, we managed to take a few of pictures and now want to share them with you.
When you depart early in the morning from Siam Reap, the nearest Cambodian town, it is 6 o’clock in the morning and the only thing you can think about is how much you want to sleep. The wind blows through an open tuk-tuk and it’s freezing cold. The price of the entrance tickets – $40! – quickly wakes you up and here you are, awaken and ready to explore ancient Hindu-Buddhist temple complex. Ancient? Hmm, not really. In fact the majority of temples were constructed in the 12th-15th centuries. However, if Lara Croft considered it to be old enough to die for its treasures, we can assume that it’s old enough to pay $40 entrance fee.
The Angkorian period began in AD 802, when self-confident Khmer monarch Jayavarman II decided that he was a “god-king” and “universal monarch” and lasted until the late 14th century, when Ayutthaya conquered “god’s territories”. Khmers didn’t like it and organized a rebellion which resulted not in freedom, but in migration of population to Longvek.
The complex includes so many temples that it is physically impossible to visit all of them. Scientists believe that some of them are still hidden in jungles and are impossible to reach both for tourists and explorers. Many temples are built on moors, so it’s hard to understand how Khmers managed to access them at all. We took a traditional two-circle tour (small + big circles) and were completely satisfied with the amount of ruins we saw.
Interestingly enough, these ruins were never used for living or praying in them, but were rather considered to be home for gods, accessible only for priests. The great-grandchildren of the architects and constructors believed that the temples were erected by gods. In 1850 Angkor was found by a French priest, owing to whom it became a popular destination for European tourists and researchers.
Nowadays there are so many tourists in Angkor that sometimes it’s impossible to take a picture. The situation is worsened by numerous local sellers, trying to persuade you to buy totally unnecessary stuff. In addition to the crowds of tourists there are lots of orphans hanging around in Angkor. At first, it looks strange, but in fact there is nothing surprising about that: there are several orphanages in the temples’ neighborhood. Orphans either beg for food and water, or collect plastic bottles, thrown away by tourists, to sell them to recycling companies. Even though the life style of these children is miserable, they don’t look unhappy: we saw lots of them playing in the jungles and riding the vines.
To cut a long story short, the visit to Angkor can be described as follows:
Day 1 – Wow! Ancient ruins!!! I must see ALL of them!
Day 2 – Hm, that is interesting collection of stones, I think it differs a little bit from the previous temple.
Day 3 – I am fed up with heat and rocks! I want ice-cream and rest.
That’s why we conclude that two days are enough.
In general, visit to Angkor was unusual and quite inspiring experience we highly recommend to everyone visiting South East Asia.
Practical information for visiting Angkor
How to get there: from Cambodian town Siam Reap you can take a tuk-tuk ($7) per day or a bike ($4). Take into consideration that Angkor is pretty big; walking might take too much time.
Cost: $40 for three days
Where to stay: Only in Siam Reap – our budget (but totally fine) hotel cost $6 per night for double room.
Where to eat: Only in Siam Reap. When going to Angkor, take food with you, since it is quite expensive to eat there.
Many thanks for this article to Illia and Nastia who are passionate about each other, traveling around the world and sharing their experiences at crazzzytravel.com, a blog where you can find plenty of budget travel tips as well as practical information about numerous destinations. They have already been to 33 countries on 4 continents and ain’t no stopping. Visit their Facebook or Google+ pages and follow them on Twitter.
For more things to see in Southeast Asia:
Photo Credit: All photos by crazzzytravel.com
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