Just a two-hour drive from London, and not far from the legendary Stonehenge, The Newt in Somerset is one of England's most stunning luxury hotels.
On any other day, I’d dodge a buzzing bee near me, flapping my hand in every direction until it zapped off, but today I was the one pursuing them. I leaned in toward a bed of lavender blooms — my concentration intense — eager to observe the bee that was trailing the flower.
“Do you see the hair along its dark body?” asked beekeeper and honey sommelier Paula Carnell. I nudged my head even closer to the fuzzy, blackberry-resembling creature. “This one is a mason bee.” It was only a few minutes into our bee safari, and we had already identified three species among the fragrant labyrinth of gardens; I would later learn there are more than 20,000 around the world. Carnell, who manages several chemical-free colonies, continued to explain the healing, spiritual role bees play in her own life — and the world. “Without bees, our entire ecosystem would be off balance,” she said.
We then made our way over to a spot called the Beezantium, a honeycomb-shaped building in the woods, where we could witness some of the bee colonies — we’re talking thousands, including one swarm perched high in the trees — listen to their therapeutic buzz, and inhale the aroma of their hives. It was nothing like I’d ever experienced, in a hotel that was like nowhere I’d ever stayed, with a person who was like no one I’d ever met.
I would remember this precise feeling repeatedly during my stay at The Newt in Somerset, a magical 1,000-acre estate in Bruton, England, a small town that’s just a two-hour drive from London’s Heathrow Airport and under an hour from both the iconic Stonehenge and Roman Baths.
On my way back from the Beezantium, I hopped in an electric golf cart (provided to hotel guests), when I serendipitously stumbled upon a herd of sheep grazing under the dappled shade of trees. It was a scene straight from a Jane Austen novel — the golden Georgian façade of the hotel’s main building, Hadspen House, and its surrounding lawns, an almost-electric shade of green from days of rain, standing stately in the distance. I audibly gasped, pulling out my phone to snap a photo and send a text to my husband back home: “I'm definitely in the English countryside.”
Opened in 2019, The Newt now has 40 rooms — many with fireplaces and freestanding soaking tubs — split between the Hadspen House, a restored 17th-century manor, and the Farmyard, former dairy-farm buildings that shelter cozy, loft-style rooms. But for a grand dame of an estate, The Newt still feels warm, welcoming. In the Hadspen House, there’s an inviting living room with velvet couches, gilt-framed portraits, and a crackling fire — the perfect spot for an afternoon tea or evening tipple. An adjacent bar, with blue-green wood paneling and, of course, another fireplace, has a direct path to a courtyard and croquet lawns. And just a little further is the spa that would fit right in at a mountain retreat, with its exposed brick walls, high beamed ceiling, and indoor-outdoor pool. The equally dreamy Farmyard, sitting under the cover of oaks, also has its own pool, as well as a snug bar with a help-yourself approach for homemade pastries and refreshing drinks.
The owners, Karen Roos and Koos Bekker, are known for their first property, Babylonstoren, an 18th-century estate in the wine region outside Cape Town — and their sequel is an equal hit.
On my second day, England’s notorious drizzle arrived, somehow giving the estate an even more enchanting, ethereal quality — moody skies and fanciful fog luring me outside to the pitter-patter. I grabbed a pair of wellies and a rain jacket (both available to guests) and jumped in the buggy to the on-site orchards, a 65-acre apple tree maze with more than 70 varieties — fortunately in full bloom during my early fall visit. Just two weeks later, the fruits — populated by those very same bees I had seen earlier — would be harvested and processed at the estate’s cider mill, where more than 25,000 gallons are bottled each year following an impressive cold-fermentation process. Tastings and tours are available in a cathedral-like cellar, and though I didn’t partake, I got a taste of it in the restaurants — pure liquid gold.
With so many unique experiences on offer — deer park tours; wine, cider, and honey tastings; garden storytelling; bee safaris; and spa treatments — you could spend more than a week at The Newt and still come back for more. (The grounds are also open to the public during the day, so expect livelier crowds in the morning and afternoon.)
With only three days, though, I opted for touring the property’s newly reconstructed Roman villa. Led by excavations of an adjacent Roman-British villa dating back to 351 A.D., Villa Ventorum (Villa of the Winds) is an ambitious reimagining of the original structure — a seven-year project that took the combined effort of archeologists, architects, engineers, and craftsmen. I snaked my way around the grounds — through the kitchen, bedrooms, Roman baths, and courtyard — my attention being pulled in different directions at every turn: the stunning frescoes on the walls, the detailed artifacts, even the scent in the air. “It smells like really good food,” I told my guide, confused by the odor since we were far from the property’s restaurants. “There’s Roman-style street food with flavors from the time period and region,” he said, leading me to the open-air kitchen serving three different soups and a flatbread topped with estate lamb braised in wine.
Speaking of food, it’s a delicious affair here. Every meal I had, from the day boat fish with summer squash at the Botanical Rooms to the grilled lamb hearts with jalapeño mayonnaise at the Farmyard restaurant, was superb. Driven by seasonality, all dishes use ingredients from the estate or gardens. But my favorite was the complimentary afternoon tea, a ritual I had grown to relish every day.
During my final afternoon, as the rain began beating down, I darted inside to the bar, pulling up a seat beside the fire for instant warmth. I requested the usual: two scones served with Cornish clotted cream and jam, plus a steaming pot of blood orange, turmeric, and ginger tea — like clockwork, a sweet taste of the English countryside life.
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