Sherborne is the perfect retreat for a short-break or a long weekend. A quiet market town of golden sandstone and timbers, with a magnificent Abbey, it frequently featured in Thomas Hardy’s Wessex. As a reminder of those 19th Century days there’s even an antique dealer called d’Urberville. South of the A303 and north of the Jurassic coast that heads into East Devon and Lyme Regis, Sherborne sits peacefully in glorious Dorset countryside.
Perhaps the most stylish way to arrive at Sherborne is by train, it is just two-and-half hours from London’s Waterloo. There you will be met by a 1964 Beardmore taxi, probably driven by the Eastbury’s Manager. With sumptuous leather and gleaming chrome the car looks as if it is raring to go on the London to Brighton Vintage Car Rally.
Behind the Eastbury Hotel’s classically balanced Georgian exterior, solidly built in 1784, sits an elegant boutique hotel. The original gentleman owner would nod approvingly at the sun still streaming into the Morning Room and the striped Regency wallpaper of the Drawing Room. Within the walled garden mature trees and shrubs flourish around the deckchairs and patio.
The intimate Eastbury has just 21 rooms, their names such as Anemone, Bluebell, Cowslip, Delphinium, Elder, Fresia, Geranium and Iris celebrate Sherborne’s rural setting. Each room or suite, with varying aspects and sizes, has its own individual decor. Yew, a ground floor suite with its own private walled garden, has a 18th Century gold-gilded fourposter from Littlecote Manor.
Currently five Victorian Potting Shed Rooms, far more contemporary with state-of-the-art wet rooms than their name suggests, are under construction and should be open for late summer. One common feature for all 26 rooms will be the welcoming decanter of sloe gin.
New owner, Peter de Savary, has brought significant improvements to the hotel and a personal touch too. He has hung part of his collection of original art, as well as 1920s and 1930s glamorous magazine covers from the Golden Age of the Illustrator, around Seasons restaurant. A pianist, playing a white upright, and a wide range of cocktails add to the elegant aura.
Eastbury’s traditional English charm is enhanced by de Savary’s touch. Croquet is still played on the lawn, afternoon tea has become a very special daily ceremony and a staff full of knowledgeable Dorset folk share their local knowledge. Another step forward will be the completion in late summer of a Woodland Spa in Hobbit House style, providing two treatment rooms, a hydrotherapy pool, a mini-gym, a relaxation room and an external hot tub.
Seasons Restaurant, already with two AA Rosettes, is flourishing under Matt Street, Executive Chef, as it has for the last 12 years. Well-sourced, traditional English ingredients are at the heart of the menu but reinvigorated by some lessons learnt from a glance or two overseas. For starters there is a sharp verjus sauce with the carpaccio of octopus salad and wasabi accompanying the Devon Crab.
The Poached Salmon comes with the oriental interpretation of a prawn dumpling and pak choi. Once upon a time Rice Pudding was a nursery comfort pud, now with a warming shot of Armagnac and a dollop of Raspberry compote it’s suddenly all grown-up.
The Eastbury has location on its side too. It is just a short stroll to both the main thoroughfare and the Abbey with it’s tall pointed Gothic arches and vaulted ceiling. Make sure that you bring an extra case as Sherborne has an impressive range of independent shops. For the gents there is Orvis supplying all your fishing tackle and country clothing requirements whilst there are several boutiques for the ladies including one specialising in Cruise Wear. There are artisan bakeries, two bookshops, a vintner, a teddy bear shop and a shop selling toys for grown-ups.
Of course, the busiest of times to visit are for the music of the Abbey Festival or for the Sherborne Literary Festival. Then again, you might just find plenty to interest you on any day of the year in Sherborne.
Find out more at The Eastbury Hotel
Rooms, for B & B, begin from £195.