Surrey Hills provide some of south east England’s most beautiful – and accessible – countryside, so hop on a train from London and hole up at De Vere Wotton House for a wonderful weekend break…
England’s first purpose-made Italian gardens are in Wotton in the Surrey Hills, just an hour from London. It’s ideal day-tripping distance, but given that these gardens belong to a magnificent 17th century country estate hotel, De Vere Wotton House, you might want to spend the night. Especially if, like us, you decide to cycle there…
Well, ok, we cycled from Dorking station, not London. Just pop your bike on the train at Victoria station and an hour later you’ll be at Dorking station, from where it’s a 30 minute ride to the hotel along the A25, via a rather large hill. You can also just grab a cab – it’s about a 15 minute drive. Or, if you’re up for the challenge, it’s a three-hour cycle from London.
And what a welcome. The winding country road removes you from the noise and traffic of the A25 and sets the scene for what awaits beyond – a long, pebbled driveway passing formal gardens on the left and beehives on the right, leading you to an imposing red-brick manor house with turrets, church-like windows and winged griffins hovering high above the grand entrance.
It makes quite an impression. So much so that we thought we’d better pace the grounds a little to let the cycle sweat subside before we entered, so as not to lower the tone. Shackling our muddy road bikes next to the beautiful, basketed Pendleton bikes, we scurried inside. But the line of colourful Hunter wellies by the door told us all we needed to know – country pursuits are welcome here, just wipe you feet and head on in.
The hotel has recently undergone a £6 million refurbishment, celebrating the original features of the house, which dates back to 1086, and bringing them out in their best light, while ensuring a stylish, comfortable stay fit for the 21st century guest. There are soft furnishings everywhere. Wing-backed chairs in leather or upholstered in rich mustards, or smart combinations of the two, invite you to sit back and take it easy, while rich carpets underfoot lead you along the halls.
We stayed in the Jasmine suit, which has a view of the ornate gardens, where we watched a wedding party spill out for champagne and photos. The room combines serene, contemporary blue/grey decor with a beamed, vaulted ceiling that lends the room drama and grandeur. There’s a gorgeous tea set, a two-seater sofa, an armchair with footrest, a writing desk, and a proper hairdryer.
The bathroom, tiled a brilliant white, has twin sinks and both a roll-top bathtub and a walk-in shower (with both a rain shower head and an angled, movable shower head (very important when us ladies don’t wish to wash our hair). A sleek, silent, discreet Dyson air conditioning unit sits in the corner. It’s a beautiful suite with all mod cons.
And then we did as all guests seem to do on arrival – head out to explore those wonderful gardens complete with an ornate fountain, Roman temple structures, manicured lawns, a staircase that ascends above the temple to a quiet woodland area marking the perimeter of the grounds, cavernous grottoes of mossy rocks, wicker animal sculptures created by Yorkshire artist Emma Stothard, a babbling stream and a tennis court, tucked away out of sight of those who might find it all too energetic.
If you fancy a pre-dinner stroll, wander your way back up the drive to The Wotton Hatch, a lovely pub with an expansive beer garden that’s ideal for a local ale. If not, quench your thirst at the hotel bar, which has a lovely terrace overlooking the grounds, and a classical interior with elaborate ceiling roses and beautifully painted portraits on the walls.
The hotel’s 1887 Restaurant & Bar has been beautifully designed around an old tree stump, brought back to life with the addition of olive branches and fairy lights to quite dramatic effect. Around the tree is a circular mustard banquet with tables for two fanning out into the larger-than-expected restaurant (which, FYI, is where you also take breakfast).
We ate beautifully presented starters of cured and torched mackerel (with caramelised onion and dill, £6.95) and wild mushroom arancini (with truffle egg yolk, mushroom ketchup and celery, £5.95), followed by a pan-fried fillet of sea bass (with spiced lentils, cubes of roasted butternut squash and slithers of apple, £15.95) and a grilled sirloin steak (with twice cooked chunky chips, sautéed wild mushrooms and a wonderfully wicked Bearnaise sauce, £25.95). Little dollops of sorbet accompanied both fish dishes, which added a refreshing little lift but mostly just looked pretty.
A bottle of Gable View Cabernet Sauvignon from South Africa had us feeling merry at 14% proof, and desserts of decadent chocolate and coconut ganache with mango and ginger sorbet and toasted coconut (intense and decadent), as well as the Wotton House Honey Cake with lemon, yoghurt and blackberry (wonderfully light and lovely), made for a fabulous feast.
Afterwards, decamp to the bar for a nightcap before retiring to the splendour of your room for a wonderful night’s sleep in your resplendent, king size bed with nothing to wake you but your alarm telling you it’s time for a swim. A girl can’t chase up a dinner like that with a cooked breakfast without at least a bit of a paddle.
The Club, positioned at the far end of the hotel, has a gym, swimming pool, Jacuzzi, steam room and sauna. It’s due an upgrade as the second part of the hotel’s refurbishment, so at the moment it’s less than sparkling, but a few lengths of the 25-meter pool later and we returned to 1887 for a cooked buffet breakfast with cracking scrambled eggs, sausages, mushrooms, bacon and plenty of coffee, before we were back on our bikes and up into the glorious Surrey Hills.
De Vere Wotton House, Guildford Road, Wotton RH5 6HS; phcompany.com/de-vere/wottonhouse
Rooms start at £129 per night, based on double occupancy (breakfast not included)
5 things to do in
DORKING & THE SURREY HILLS
1 Cycle to Shere Village
Shere Village, considered one of the most picturesque villages in Surrey, is a lovely little country village with quaint gift shops, a bakery, the wonderfully named Shere Delights (a real hive of activity), colourful hanging baskets outside the White Horse pub, a babbling stream filled with ducks, which one assumes is where The Dabbling Duck – a great little lunch or afternoon tea spot with outdoor seating – gets its name. The William Bray pub, a little way up the hill, has a great outdoor terrace and Formula One stars Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button have been spotted there. Click here to read more about Shere in our sister title, Surrey Life
2 Eat at the Stephan Langton Inn
Cyclists and ramblers should carve themselves a route that bypasses the award-winning Stephan Langton Inn, just 2km from the hotel (cyclists can take a an easy circular route from the hotel to Shere, then on to Peaslake before heading over to Stephan Langton Inn that’ll take up an afternoon). The secluded pub sits by the large, tranquil Hammer pond, with ancient woodland as a backdrop. There’s parking too should you prefer to drive, or start your hike from here. stephanlangton.pub
3 Tour Denbies Wine Estate
Denbies Wine Estate, one of the largest wine producers in the UK, has won multiple gold awards for sparkling wine production, the first ever gold for an English rose and an international gold for Denbies Noble Harvest Dessert wine. Some seven miles of scenic public footpaths trail throughout the vineyard, but Denbies also offers a variety of indoors tastings and outdoor wine tours, including a 50-minute train tour of the vineyards, which offers some fantastic views, and a vine and dine grape picking experience with lunch. denbies.co.uk
4 Visit Polesden Lacey
Polesden Lacey is one of the National Trust’s most popular properties. The Regency house was extensively remodelled in 1906 by Margaret Greville, an Edwardian society host and philanthropist known for her celebrated house parties and collection of fine paintings, furniture, porcelain and silver. The name Polesden Lacey, thought to be old English, refers to both the house and its 1,400 acres of grounds with walled rose garden, lawns, ancient woodland and landscape walks. In 2017, Polesden Lacey even launched its own rose, the Rosa ‘Margaret Greville’ at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show. nationaltrust.org.uk/polesden-lacey
5 Wander round Vann Lake
The wooded area of Vann Lake is great for walkers. The eight acre lake, surrounded by ancient woodland, is a designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest that provides a variety of habitats sheltering 110 bird species including kingfishers, 10 species of fish and rare purple hairstreak butterflies, as well as irises, water lilies, bluebells, snowdrops and a number of orchids. Vann Lake is also one of the best sites in the country for fungi – to date in excess of 900 species have been identified. surreywildlifetrust.org
Discover more things to do in De Vere Wotton House’s Companion Guide