We just returned from the 1-hour walk around Chagford, and were about to take a nap before getting ready for dinner at Gidleigh Park. Or so we thought.
Me (eyeing email confirmation rather suspiciously): Dear…..Is Gidleigh Park in Exeter?
M: No… it’s just a 10-minute drive from here. Why?
Me: But it says here on the confirmation that Michael Caine’s restaurant is in Exeter. Here, have a look.
M: That can’t be……..(took a glance at the email and was suddenly looking rather mortified)…SHIT!!! I booked the wrong restaurant!! This is Michael Caine’s other restaurant in Exeter called Abode, and…..it has no Michelin stars!!!!
Me: OMG!!! No wonder the menu was so cheap!!! What should we do?
M: Ok ok ok, calm down (not very calm himself). I will call Gidleigh Park now to ask if they have a table tonight.
An animated phone conversation later…
M: Sorry dear, it’s all my fault… Gidleigh’s fully booked. Should we still head to Abode, or do you want to cancel? I checked, Exeter’s about half hour away from here.
Me: Let’s just go, this town is quite small and I don’t think there’s a place where we can have dinner tonight..
M: I’m really sorry..Do you want to head to Gidleigh Park for a quick visit, just to say we’ve been there? (sigh) I feel so stupid…
Me: Hey..we can always come back for dinner again. Don’t feel sad..it’s just a mistake..Come, let’s go before the sun sets.
And there we were, Gidleigh-less but still visiting Gidleigh. We were so disappointed. We had planned the dinner for months since we received the wedding invitation from my colleague. We’ve watched countless programmes that Michael Caines (protégé of renowned chef Raymond Blanc) was on, read so much about the unfortunate accident that lost him an arm, and were very inspired by him fighting so hard to obtain the second Michelin star for Gidleigh Park four years after the accident. He struck us as an earnest, down-to-earth guy and we wanted to be there, at Gidleigh Park, to sample his efforts and products of his ingenuity. We even harboured hopes of bumping into him. M was more upset than me, because he was the one who first took notice of Michael Caines. I remember him clutching the computer mouse excitedly, whizzing everywhere on the monitor as he gushed at how beautiful Gidleigh Park was and how fantastic it was going to be if we could get a reservation. And M was over the moon when he thought he managed to get one at our first two Michelin-star restaurant, at Michael Caines’, no less! But we didn’t. M felt like he drove all the way out to Devon (4 hours from London) for nothing, that we should have just gone straight to Dorchester (which was only 2 hours away from London) to enjoy the area and the wedding for the entire weekend. Oh well, but we were handed lemons….and there was nothing we could do except to make lemonade out of them. We were already settled down in Chagford, so we could be near Gidleigh Park without incurring the high costs of actually staying in Gidleigh Park. To justify the detour from Dorchester, we simply had to visit the grounds of Gidleigh even if we couldn’t dine at its restaurant. So we did.
We drove for about ten minutes, through a very narrow two-way road that only allowed one car to pass through at a time. It was in the day, but the drive was still a little scary because the road was lined with really tall and unkempt trees, trees that would scare the shit out of me if I were to be walking in the middle of the night. Ten minutes felt like forever and at a point in time, we thought we were lost because it didn’t make sense to have a posh hotel in the middle of a forest, or did it? The folks at Gidleigh Park must have read every visitor’s mind, right about thirty seconds after we thought we were lost, the sign in the picture above came up. It read, ‘Keep heart, you are still en route’. Okay, if you say so…..
Soon we were greeted with the most enchanting sight. A historical Tudor-style country house hotel was indeed tucked away in the deepest part of natural gardens and woodlands that belonged to the Dartmoor National Park, sitting grandiosely amidst the prettiest lights filtered through the trees and the mist, at the banks of the North Teign River. To travel through tall shrubs, before suddenly coming into a beautiful clearing like this, was magical.
This place was one of a kind. It was nothing like I’ve ever seen. I’ve been to country house hotels, but this felt like a gem that has been sitting there since the beginning of time, waiting to be discovered by travellers of all sorts in a fairytale, and everyone would leave with a unique story to tell.
It was posh, yes, but the decor, the people and the setting in nature would make anyone feel right at home. I was in my grubby tee and jeans, but oh I felt like Little Red Riding Hood in a forest that reeled me in with its mysterious charm. And unlike Little Red Riding Hood, I knew I was safe to be this close to nature. You could only find peace here. The air could not be fresher. The city and my troubles couldn’t be further away.
We sheepishly told the butler of our little blunder and explained that since we were here, we would like to tour the 107-acre grounds of Gidleigh Park. They obliged us and welcomed us to do so, they even took us around and explained everything to us. How un-snooty was that? I was duly impressed.
The interiors were indeed fashioned after a country house. Plush sofas in deep reds and mustards, antique wooden furniture, old paintings, these lent a rustic and warm charm to the hotel. It felt like we were stepping into the home of someone really wealthy, very English and very generous.
The exterior of the hotel was lined with ebony-framed window panes, which allowed plenty of light to enter the sitting rooms and the restaurant, and this also offered unparalleled views for dwellers who were resting within.
The hotel looks out to acres of land, partly shrouded by amber trees with the North Teign River running in front of it. I could see myself waking up and ambling to the patio in my jammies, with a book in my hand for tea. There was much more ground to wander through beyond the trees in the picture above. I explored those areas quite a bit, wandering through the trees and strolling by the tumbling river. All I can say is fairytale is an understatement. Much too beautiful and enchanting to be true.
Whilst the owners, Andrew and Christina Brownsword have retained the idyllic charm of Gidleigh’s surroundings, modern facilities have also been built to cater to guests who would like a little more activity. The tennis court is situated to the left from the patio, but there’s so much green around the hotel that I couldn’t tell. There is also a miniature golf-course nestled deep within the woods. It’s all very unobtrusive and yet, very self-contained.
I reckon that Gidleigh Park is one of the most beautiful areas that I’ve ever visited in my life. M who is far more well-travelled than me, agrees too. Snapping back to reality, we returned to the sitting rooms after our walk on the grounds and couldn’t help but wander if we should attempt The Amazing Race.
We were here, butts on expensive plush sofas, heads in the enchanting woods, and body immersed in pure leisure and probably inches away from Michael Caines. Before we knew it, we delved into a deep conversation on whether we should extend our stay in Southwest England. It was going to be tight on schedule, there would be a lot of driving to do and a frustrating amount of detours to make but the thought of returning to Gidleigh Park after the wedding in Dorchester for lunch on Sunday was much too tempting. It seemed to be the perfect plan… we have lunch on Sunday and drive back home to London after that. That way, we get to rest for the night and be ready for work on Monday morning. So……we asked.
Lunch was fully booked, unfortunately………but dinner was available!! We were in luck! I was absolutely thrilled but a little concerned that M might be tired from driving till the wee hours of Monday morning if we have dinner on Sunday, but M was adamant at having dinner at our first two Michelin-star restaurant. We wanted Michael Caines’ to be our first!
So we did. We made a reservation, gave them our credit card number, and there was no looking back. There was no need to, because….we were coming back after all!! Lemonade was sweeter than I thought it would be. More pictures on Gidleigh Park to follow when I do a review on the restaurant.
Final stop of Day One: Dinner at Michael Caines’ Abode in Exeter.
Gidleigh Park is located at:
Chagford, Devon TQ13 8HH