For a city dweller who only drives on holiday, The Mount Somerset couldn’t be better situated. Sitting in the middle of four acres of beautifully landscaped gardens between the Quantock and Blackdown Hills – and with a field of sheep at the bottom of the car park – this revamped Regency house felt to me like the heart of the country, yet I didn’t have to navigate narrow winding lanes to get here: it’s just off the A358.
Show me to a room with a proper four-poster bed and you’re immediately in my good books. The only thing better would be one with a private outdoor hot tub – and The Mount Somerset has two of those as well. Not that our bathing facilities weren’t impressive. The vast bathroom in our Premier Suite had a huge, very comfortable free-standing bath with a view (depending on how deep into the water you decided to sink) of the gardens outside. I could easily have devoted half a day to that bath.
Of course, The Mount Somerset Hotel also has a Spa in its name so you don’t need to confine the aquatic relaxation to your room. The hot tub was fun for a while, and I also enjoyed the dark steam room with its constellation of tiny little ceiling lights. The twin foot spas were slightly underwhelming, though, and the 'experience showers' were disappointing – when I selected 'Caribbean storm' I expected to be lashed by a warm spray but the side jets just drizzled tepid water on my foot. And while the spa was empty that afternoon, except for me and my wife, I imagine it could get uncomfortably crowded quite quickly. It’s free with the stay and we enjoyed it but I would certainly treat it as an added bonus rather than a reason to visit.
My favourite room in the hotel was the stylishly decorated lounge, with its high ceilings, corner bar and perfectly-judged soundtrack of mellow Sinatra. The sofas looked inviting (as did the cream teas other guests were eating) but our spot was a table by the French windows, looking out on to the flagged terrace and the colourful spring flowers. Perfect for a post-drive pint and a pre-dinner cocktail, which was accompanied by some delicious veggie-friendly canapes.
Eating and drinking
Across from the lounge, the restaurant décor continues the theme of modern elegance. Menu options include a three-course Du Jour at £35, a more extensive a la carte for £55 and a fine dining tasting menu at £75.
The starters were the stars of the show: a home-cured and smoked trout was subtle, supple and served with a delicious lemon Hollandaise, while the chicken tureen was moist, almost creamy, and packed full of flavour.
A beefy main course was decent enough, but this is not a restaurant for vegetarians to get excited about. There was nothing veggie on the menu, so I asked what they could rustle up. The pumpkin ravioli was fine but the sort of thing you’d find in a supermarket chiller cabinet while the minimal amount of sage butter left it dry and the crunchy, orange-flavoured carrots were just bizarre. Those happy with meat and fish, though, will find themselves well serviced, with dishes like roasted fillet of grey mullet with a crab, coriander and fennel flavoured risotto, creedy Carver Duck and local pork in the form of belly, fillet and black pudding.
Breakfast is good too, with interesting options like black pudding, smoked salmon and kippers alongside the full English, croissants, cereal and fruit.
Getting out and about
If you’re looking for country houses on a slightly grander scale, The Mount is a good base from which to visit Tudor mansion Barrington Court, along with the period landscaped gardens of Hestercombe Gardens. There’s also nature’s own landscaping in the moors and woodlands of Exmoor National Park, and the chance to visit the villages that lie on its outskirts, as well as the historic market town of Taunton.
Price: Rooms start at £145 for a classic double
Address: Lower Henlade, Somerset TA3 5NB
Radio Times Travel rating: 8/10 – Come to The Mount Somerset for its beautiful grounds, luxurious rooms and enjoyable dining, but treat the spa as a bonus, not your reason to visit
The Mount Somerset Hotel & Spa is part of the Eden Hotel Collection of seven hotels across the south of England and the Midlands. You can arrange a tour and experience the different properties by booking at any of the hotels.