Jackie: We want to Talk about the grand finale of David’s winter tour in Great Britain. They don’t call it great for nothing.
However, when things go unexpectedly off, it’s called a “cock up.” Don’t ask: That’s what they say in England. David experienced one of his own — but not to worry; it all went right on the night (another British saying).
David: I was booked in for a two-night stay at one of the best-known country house hotels near Bath — Ston Easton Park. Suddenly, my second night became impossible: The entire property had been taken over for a big deal wedding. But thanks to Tom Baxter, Deputy General Manager, there was a silver lining on my cloudy day. I was offered refuge in any of the other hotels in the Von Essen Group. I chose nearby Bishopstrow House, no longer homeless, but suddenly afforded a happy hotel hop.
Ston Easton Park Hotel, Somerset
If my accommodation at this Palladian mansion, dating from 1740, was a peace offering, I surrendered with pleasure. One of 22 rooms was the grand suite I entered. Its two large windows overlooked the vast green parklands in front of the hotel where satisfied cows grazed. The room, large as a small house, featured a great canopied four poster bed, a lovely dressing table, carved fireplace, window seats for the view, a sitting area with flat screen TV and Wi-Fi and a warm bathroom.
In the hotel’s lounge, I was greeted by Oscar, the dark chocolate house Spaniel with wagging tail and furry toy clamped in his mouth. From the impressive Drawing Room, with handsome furnishings and crackling fire, I stepped out onto the rear terrace. Great trees guarded the lawns where daffodils were just beginning to fight their way up. The grounds eased down to the fast-moving River Norr that formed tiny waterfalls. Further along, I found the kitchen garden where a lot of the fresh produce finds it way to the dining room. Later I would follow for what proved to be an unforgettable dinner. Ston Easton’s Head Chef, Adam Cain, proves that youth is no deterrent to expertise. He is charming, effusive and very talented. Adam provided a starter of perfectly cooked hand dived scallops followed by loin of venison that was meltingly delicious. My choice of pudding was a trio of the best sorbets I have ever tasted: orange, peach and (to gasp over) fig. Applause, Adam!
Bishopstrow House, Wiltshire
About a half-hour drive took me to the second of my Von Essen hotels. Georgian Bishopstrow is what Americans dream of when they imagine the perfect country retreat. With lots of ivy framing its windows, the house sits in the midst of beautifully landscaped gardens along the River Wylye with swans galore. The lovely rooms are all different — all stylish and comfortable. Mine was on top of the world, up several staircases. I was afraid the porter would have a heart attack lugging up my Louis Vuittons stuffed with six weeks travel gear.
After a walk around the property and a survey of the attractive public rooms, I had a nice chat with the General Manager, Jason Thorley (all these guys with so much responsibility are so young!).
Then I visited the Halcyon Spa with its well-equipped fitness room, steam room, indoor pool — all perfect for relaxing after a trip to nearby Bath or Stonehenge or historic Longleat House. That evening, my dinner was in the contemporary Mulberry Restaurant after a drink by the fire in the Drawing Room. My excellent meal by Chef Frank Bailey started with beautifully under-cooked scallops, followed by a heavenly salad of mixed field greens, then a braised blade of beef that fell apart when touched by my fork and for a pudding, intensely flavored lemon and cherry sorbet.
Jackie: Meanwhile, I was home under my electric blanket. It’s hard enough, for my easily chilled self, to stay cozy in Sherman Oaks. For David, this was the perfect way to end his tour of a lovely part of Britain. Next time, weather permitting, I’m up for it.