Try this child-friendly staycation in Minehead, Somerset
- Credit: Exmoor Character Cottages
Charlotte Skidmore and family retreat back to a special place in Somerset to try out another very special holiday cottage.
You may recall that my husband, daughter and I spent a few blissful days at Exmoor Character Cottage's Stone Barn in spring 2021?
Well, Lucy Green, the owner of Exmoor Character Cottages invited me back to spend some time at another of her cottages in November - and believe me, having seen the photos, I jumped at the chance. The accommodation has been rated Five Star Gold by VisitEngland and it is very clear why.
The entire experience of staying at The Old Sweet Shop starts before you even open the front door. There's the beautiful thatched roof on this quaint-looking cottage, with the front window of the former sweet shop (yes it was actually a sweet shop at one time) decorated ready for Halloween when we visited.
So, let's take a tour of the inside of this cosy cottage.
Key in the door and I spy a handy space to store those walking boots and wellies in the porch, then you turn into the large lounge on the left.
The gorgeous fireplace is the centerpiece of the room, with its log burner and everything you need to make a warming fire.
There's Sky Television, DVDs and a bookshelf packed with novels to meet everyone's entertainment needs and there are also many games and puzzles under one of the beds too.
The kitchen, like the one in Stone Barn, is so well equipped. It meets every cooking need and the beautiful Range was a joy to cook on. So much so that I insisted on cooking on the last evening rather than going out!
The property has four bedrooms and four bathrooms, all themed on traditional sweets.
The downstairs Refresher room has a beautiful king size four poster bed and a large en-suite shower room and, as you'd imagine, all the rooms have luxury extras like thick fluffy towels and gorgeous lavender toiletries, as well as high-quality mattresses and weighted duvets.
There is a second bedroom downstairs, a double called Refresher and the cottage would very comfortably fit eight people.
Upstairs is another king size room, Marshmallow, which is where we stayed, amongst everything all pink and pretty.
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It has the most gorgeous claw foot slipper bath in the en-suite bathroom.
The aptly named lemon sherbert room next door, painted in bright yellow hues, has an en-suite shower and is just next door, perfect for our daughter.
The cottages are dog and child-friendly - there are cots, stairgates and highchairs available.
This cottage, like Stone Barn next door, has the most beautiful garden, complete with bubbling hot tub.
There is a summer house and two other seating areas, so plenty of space to retreat to for a quiet moment or two. The garden can be enclosed too, to avoid the escape of children or four-legged guests.
The most memorable and unique aspect of this cottage for me is the sweet theme running through the whole building. Everywhere you look, from cushions to table mats and inscriptions on the walls, there's always something different to notice every time you walk through the door. Such lovely, thoughtful touches.
This cottage, likes its sister accommodation next door, is truly fabulous. It has everything you need for the most comfortable stay, is immaculate and, very importantly at the moment, incredibly clean.
Lucy keeps high standards in her holiday accommodation and she also makes your stay as enjoyable as possible, offering as many extras and as much information as she can. You can tell how much she values her guests, old, young, two-legged and four-legged.
We really love it there.
Take a look around the Old Sweet Shop here:
A must-visit for dinner
I have waited a very long time to try Reeves Restaurant in Dunster. Thanks to Covid and distance it was never meant to be, until my visit to The Old Sweet Shop, which is five minutes from the restaurant.
My husband and I therefore managed a rare dinner for two, as my mother was staying at the cottage with us and out we went on the ultimate date night.
When you walk into the restaurant in Dunster High Street it is like walking into a gorgeous bistrot with a cosy feel. The restaurant was busy, but many COVID precautions were in place - there's even a quieter corner in the restaurant reserved for those who are elderly and vulnerable.
I was treated to delicious olives with a 'kick of chilli and garlic' while I perused the menu - which was full of some really exciting options.
There were choices including artichoke heart, pesto and Godminster cheddar tartlet, smoked duck and avocado tower with bacon crisps, tangy tomato dressing and garlic croutons and seared king scallops on black pudding with pear puree and parsnip crisps.
But I opted for the recommended Fowey mussels with cream, garlic, fresh thyme and white wine. The mussels were very 'meaty' and plump and the sauce was delicious. I didn't decline the offer of more crusty bread to mop it up.
My husband and I had already eyed up the beef wellington for main, as it is a favourite that we rarely come across on menus.
But I was also tempted by the likes of chargrilled West Country rib eye steak and rosemary, garlic and Exmoor gin marinated lamb rump and grilled lemon sole with tagliatelli and mussels.
The menu felt unique and plentiful, a great combination.
The fillet of beef in the beef wellington came from local butcher Stuart Lowen and it was beautifully tender and flavoursome. The pastry was lovely and crisp.
Claire paired my courses with some beautiful wines, she really knows her stuff. I enjoyed a nice, crisp Spanish Wine by Nature Airen sauvignon with the mussels and a gorgeous, full-bodied, rich red, the Chateau Bonneau Montagne St Emilion 2016, with the beef wellington.
Claire and Justin own this gorgeous restaurant. A husband and wife duo, with Claire heading up the front of house wonderfully and Justin being king of the kitchen.
Our meals were finished off perfectly with the cheeseboard for me and the warm treacle and lemon tart with clotted cream for dessert for my husband. The latter being sweet, sticky, indulgent heaven on a dish.
Needless to say we came away from Reeves happy, full and desperate to return again one day.
Well done Justin and Claire, you're doing a cracking job.
Things to do
I think it's fair to say that you may need to make your own entertainment a bit more in Minehead in November, but Lucy has thought of this.
The Christmas elf came for an early visit to the cottage and my daughter absolutely loved it. Lucy arranged for 'Elf 11' to come round and do games, arts and crafts and some Christmas biscuit decorating with my three-year-old. There was a definite festive spirit in the air and it was the perfect setting into which to inject some Christmas flavour.
Elf 11 was marvellous with my daughter, who went from excited but shy, to not wanting to let Elf 11 leave.
There are very many things to do at the cottage, which Lucy can arrange, including candle or marshmallow making, cookery lessons or you can even book private chef Ben to create a meal that is perfect for you.
We also took a safari with Red Stag Safari. Andrew Turner, who is is the guide for all the tours is Somerset born and bred and grew up on Exmoor. He is incredibly knowledgeable and we got to see some fascinating sights like wild grazing ponies, red stags in rutting season and birds of prey.
We also got to see many beautiful villages of Exmoor and delve into the history and legends of these special places.
Andrew picks you up from the cottage in his spacious Land Rover Discovery - and if you are lucky he may take you for a bit of off-roading.
If you are visiting with a young child, I'd suggest a two and a half hour tour with a toilet break in the middle, but otherwise you can stay out up to four hours or so if you are a group of adults or you're with older children.
There are many beautiful, fascinating walks in the area and there is plenty of information in the cottage about them.
Tour guide Jackie Barnes runs a great one and a half to two-hour walk around Dunster. She shares her wealth of historical knowledge with walkers, peppering it with anecdotes and stories about the residents of the village past and more recent. This really brings to life the story of the village through the centuries.