The historic town of Sherborne lies in the westernmost part of Dorset, and is full of independent shops and cafes, a castle and an abbey. It makes for a lovely weekend break, not just to enjoy the town itself, but to explore the surrounding area as well. ‘New’ Sherborne Castle – built by Sir Walter Raleigh in 1594 – is only open in the summer months, but there are many good country walks to do if it’s closed, not least the Dorset Downs and North Dorset Trailway. A short drive away are the National Trust properties of Stourhead, Montecute and Tintinhull Gardens – all worth a visit – plus, of course, you have the World Heritage Jurassic Coast just an hour away by car.
The only hotel in town is The Eastbury – a renovated Georgian townhouse, with walled garden, cosy lounge, games room and 22 bedrooms. Bought by the entrepreneur, Peter de Savary, a year ago, it makes for a very comfortable and stylish base from which to explore this part of the world. As an extra bonus, if you’re arriving by train, the hotel will pick you up in its vintage car.
The 22 guest rooms are named after English flowers and trees, and are dotted around the deceptively large property. I checked into Yew – a superior garden suite located round the back, with its own little courtyard and fountain, exposed beams and ornate four-poster bed fit for a princess. So many birds came into my garden, it’s definitely the one to book if you’re in any way a twitcher. I loved my room’s little touches, such as the vase of fresh flowers, the hot water bottle (brilliant idea), homemade biscuits, fresh fruit and carafe of sloe gin. The bathroom also came with jacuzzi bath and White Company products – a real bonus after a long country walk.
The Eastbury’s restaurant, Seasons, currently has two AA rosettes, and its menu runs the gamut from Durdle door beer-battered fish and chips to gourmet tasting menu with paired wines. I opted for the Vale of Camelot cheese brulée, kiln-smoked salmon salad, tenderstem broccoli and cod fillet with garlic and herb crumb. This was preceded by an amuse bouche of creamy cauliflower soup with truffle oil and homemade bread with tomato butter – all delicious and very satisfying. The staff in both the restaurant and reception are wonderful and make you feel very relaxed and at home here.
Pre-dinner drinks are taken in the next-door bar, where appetisers are also available, should you wish for something lighter and less formal. No less than three Dorset gins are on the menu, plus Sherborne Castle wine in white, red, rosé and sparkling. So often English wines get forgotten about in our own establishments, which is a great shame as we have some fantastic wines in this country, so it was great to see one here. It’s only available by the bottle, however, so I plumped for a glass of beautifully light Oude Kaap Chenin blanc from Stellenbosch instead – an excellent second best – followed by a Californian Elysium Black Muscat to sip with my dessert.
The Eastbury is currently undergoing an extension, where five eco-friendly Potting Shed Garden Suites and a Hobbit House Spa are being added to the back of the property this spring. It may be quieter to book a room in the main house until work is complete, depending on your sensibilities. This will be an exciting development for Sherborne, and make the hotel a destination in its own right. I can’t wait to go back and see what it looks like when it’s finished.
The Eastbury Hotel, Long Street, Sherborne, Dorset, 01935 813131. Doubles at The Eastbury start at £170. Yew costs £350 per night. For more information, visit www.theeastburyhotel.co.uk.