Far from the madding crowd in the tranquil village of Evershot, Summer Lodge offers a blissful escape into a rural idyll. This fine Georgian country house, built in 1798 as a dower house by the 2nd Earl of Illchester, has 25 individually decorated suites, large rooms, garden rooms with hot tubs and cottages with copper slipper baths, all set in gorgeous gardens.

Our suite is in a late 19th century wing designed by Thomas Hardy! In 1893, the 6th Earl commissioned his friend Hardy, an architect by profession, to plan a new wing. I find this particularly intriguing as at this stage Hardy was a famous writer. Maybe the two of them cooked this up over a few pints in the village pub just down the road, The Acorn Inn, which appears in Tess of the d’Urbervilles as the Sow and Acorns. Both our room and the drawing room below have huge sash windows looking out over the gardens to the hills beyond. Hardy got it so right; the views are breath-taking.

Summer Lodge and The Acorn Inn are owned by Red Carnation, run by the Tollman family. Mrs Beatrice Tollman designs and curates the interiors and uses fabric on the walls, giving a sumptuous feel. Our room was in English country house style, with a Downton-esque four poster and florals throughout. It has two bathrooms: a shower room with huge walk-in shower, and a ‘hers’ bathroom of pure Barbiecore - pink leopard print walls, crystal chandeliers, fabulous mirrors, and roll-top bath. The décor also included some lovely paintings. Mrs Tolmann has quite an eye for art. Summer Lodge boasts an originals Matisse, three Miro drawings and two Picasso lithographs.

Great British Life: The fabulous bathroom with pink leopard print walls. (Photo: Summer Lodge)The fabulous bathroom with pink leopard print walls. (Photo: Summer Lodge)

We fancied a pre-supper swim, so headed for the indoor pool and spa, set next to the rose garden. We loved swimming lengths towards multicoloured banks of late summer roses just outside.

That evening we dined at The Acorn Inn, renowned for its award-winning food. I enjoyed a twice-baked Coastal Cheddar soufflé with wild mushroom velouté - light as a feather, with sharp Cheddar notes. Stu was impressed to see a dedicated vegan menu and chose seared Portobello mushrooms, braised baby gem lettuce with tofu dressing, potato straws and wild garlic pesto.

His main course of spiced cauliflower, basmati rice, raita, tikka sauce and poppadum perfectly judged spices and heat. My Fossil Farm sirloin, served with a tomato ragout, came with moreish onion rings and proper chips. This classic was matched with an excellent Quinta dos Murcas Assobia Tinto from Portugal. Dessert was Bea’s vanilla cheesecake, with lemon curd and meringue – a delicious spin on a lemon meringue pie.

After a late breakfast (Stu - mushrooms on sourdough toast, me – the decadent Summer Lodge Eggs Benedict), we walked around the extensive gardens. Head gardener Robin Andrews, who worked for the National Trust for over 30 years, has created a beautiful haven with immaculate lawns and colourful flowerbeds, arbours with tinkling fountains and woodland paths leading to shaded ponds. I left Stu lounging on a hammock with a book and sought out James Mearing, the executive head chef who took up his post in March. I was impressed that the menus have a map showing where the ingredients come from. ‘Championing local suppliers is really important to us,’ James says, and he is in a superb place for great produce.

James has a real passion for using fermentation for preserving seasonal produce. Classic dishes get a shot of flavour from unusual ingredients - fermented blueberries and gooseberries, and preserved elderflowers. ‘When these ingredients are in season, we look at ways we can bring that back on the menu later in the year,’ he tells me.

Great British Life: Beetroot Tartare with frozen shiso gazpacho and black onion lavosh. (Photo: Helen Stiles)Beetroot Tartare with frozen shiso gazpacho and black onion lavosh. (Photo: Helen Stiles)

We were excited to sample his cooking at dinner. For his starter Stu had the Beetroot Tartare – a vegan riff on steak tartare. A combination of golden and red beetroot, with umeboshi plum for pops of umami, ponzu for an acidic hit, pickled onion and hazelnut for crunch and then a semi-frozen garlicky shiso gazpacho with a black onion lavosh – a crisp flat bread. This dish looks wonderful and boasts time-stopping textures and flavours. It’s rare to find my lyrically lexical partner striving for suitable words.

My starter of Stuffed Rabbit Saddle is something rarely seen on menus, mainly because of the skills required to butcher a rabbit. It came with a pressed truffled leg, burnt leek, pickled walnuts and a truffle sauce; it expertly showcased the delicate flavour of the meat.

I opted for the Tasting of Lyon’s Hill Iron Age Pork as my main, which is raised just three miles down the road. I was intrigued to sample something my ancestors may have enjoyed! This was served with choucroute, a type of sauerkraut, black garlic, Dorset cider and a sauce Diable made from the pork trimmings cooked with apples, sage, and Calvados, then finished with a splash of cream and some mustard. Sublime!

Stu chose roasted cauliflower steak with flavours of truffle. Though it was an outstanding autumnal combination, he came away still talking about the beetroot tartare!

Great British Life: The koi pond in the gardens at Summer Lodge. (Photo: Summer Lodge)The koi pond in the gardens at Summer Lodge. (Photo: Summer Lodge)

Fine wine is very much part of the Summer Lodge experience, and I enjoyed the sommelier’s choice of a refreshing Grenache with the first course, and a nicely rounded Chilean Pinot with my main. Dessert was accompanied by a glass of Domaine Castéra Jurançon, a pleasing finish to the meal.

Having walked past their beehives that morning, I opted for Honey From Our Hives featuring a honey and thyme parfait (the thyme the bees feed on), honey jelly, fresh blackberries, honeycomb and blackberry sorbet. The end of an English summer in a dessert. Stu had Lime Leaf Mousse, with coconut sorbet, crispy marshmallow, pear and croquant, which was light and zesty.

Suffice to say, we were still discussing the meal the following day as we drove home. What really excites me about the menu here is that James brings seasonal flavours in innovative ways to classic dishes, raising them to another level.

Our Evershot Experience was a memorable one. The staff were delightful, the room sumptuous, the gardens beautiful and the food at both establishments was top notch. It’s easy to see why their guests keep returning. I for one cannot wait to go back.

Summer Lodge Country House Hotel & Spa 

Make a reservation (booking up to April 2024) before the end of November and your booking includes a three-course meal for two and a bottle of Bouchard Finlayson Blanc de Mer to take home. Book two nights or more, and a Summer Lodge Cream Tea is included too. Prices start from £355 for a cosy double room for one night, £590 for two nights. To take advantage of this special offer call 0808 196 8893. Want to have a taste of Summer Lodge? Join them for cocktail hour every day between 5 –6pm, drop by for coffee or book an afternoon tea. summerlodgehotel.co.uk