One of the great virtues of the modern travel and leisure industry is that it provides ordinary mortals with the ability to at least sample from time to time, at a price they can afford, the lifestyles that the rich and famous take for granted.
A weekend or longer down in the country experiencing the house party joys of how the other half live is now within the financial reach of mere mortals, especially if you can put together a big enough group of friends and take over an entire property for a few days, Search well and you can find five-star luxury at little more than three-star prices.
Across these islands there are now literally hundreds of so-called country house hotels – converted and usually luxuriously refurbished former mansions and manor houses, castles and even palaces.
There’s new another slant on the theme, Self-catering takes on a whole new meaning at Huntsham Court – making the good life even more affordable.
With up to three easyJet flight a day from Belfast to Bristol and just 40 minutes drive from there down the M5 towards Exeter, this truly palatial baronial pile, set deep in the lush, rolling Devonshire countryside is eminently reachable from Ulster.
Benefits of scale
Though smaller groups can still be financially viable, larger ones get the full benefit of scale when it comes to footing the bill. The house is capable of sleeping as many as 72 in some 30 spacious bedrooms. When its grand family home tenure ran out, it had a chequered history. The present owners, Damian Llambias and Christopher Badham, could have continued running Huntsham as a conventional luxury country house hotel. They chose instead to rescue the rather rundown building and transform it into an exclusive self-catering property, rented out by the week or for a few days to one client at a time – be it a family, a well-heeled individual entertaining close friends, or a corporate group.
A true retreat in the country, Huntsham is now available by the week or for exclusive mid-week and weekend hire, for day use only mid-week or for overnight stays of a minimum two nights.
Built in the mid-Victorian era but resonant with Gothic and Jacobean architectural influences, it’s a grandly elegant and exquisitely furnished place yet at the same time very homely – a house you seem to wear, like a well-worn old hacking jacket, rather than merely inhabit.
Shades of Oscar Wilde, Noel Coward and the Cliveden Set, it’s a perfect stage for a magical and quintessential English country house party.
The owners’ impeccable taste shines throughout the property, from the magnificent great hall and superb country-style kitchen to the library, bar, butler’s pantry and airy glass atrium. The now completed refurbishment they embarked on when they acquired the property in January 2012 has been inspired, showcasing superb fabrics, ornate wood panelling and classic wall coverings and a truly eclectic collection of valuable antiques and quirky bric-a-brac.
There are inter-connecting family rooms, some four-posters and a twin-tub bridal suite, as well as a private three-bedroom cottage.
The property is licensed to conduct civil wedding ceremonies while there is an adjacent C of E church for more traditional ceremonies,
Run of the house
Renters can enjoy the run of the whole house. They are welcome to bring in their own caterers, or to use local companies recommended by Damian and Chris.
During our stay we sampled a selection of mouth-watering Sri Lankan curry dishes (featuring lamb, chicken and butternut squash curries and all the expected accompaniments, supplied by Ceylon Curry, one of Huntsham’s recommended drop and leave purveyors); an expansive English buffet lunch and a high tea (scones, jam and clotted cream, natch! – supplied by Posh Nosh); a full-English breakfast (courtesy of local farmers Scott and Maisy); a full-on gourmet dinner (silver service catered by Fosters, with canapes and a potted brown Devon shrimps starter preceeding succulent roast rump of Buxton Butchers Dorset lamb), and a groaning board of fine English cheeses (from local producer Godminster, Cheese – enjoyed with a fine brandy before a comfortingly roaring log fire in the gloriously spacious main lounge).
Wines can be provided to order but if clients prefer to bring their own there is no corkage fee.
The house’s individually styled bedrooms each have their own unique character and pricing options are available for 19, 27 or 30 bedroom bookings while the venue can comfortably accommodate up to 120 delegates for conferences, ceremonies, banquets and product launches,
Bespoke entertainment itineraries can be arranged for corporate or private gatherings – with such activities as team building, fencing, both clay and game shooting, falconry and massage treatments available.
“Hire of Huntsham Court is totally flexible,” says Damian, “There are no set packages or hidden charges – just a one-off hire fee,” he adds..
Huntsham Court, Huntsham, nr Tiverton, Devon EX16 7NA (01398 361 277 – any time, or 01398 361 899 – daytime only. firstname.lastname@example.org; www.huntshamcourt.co.uk).