MICHELLE TOMPKINS finds Monday mornings a whole lot more pleasurable at a country manor on the Devon coast

THERE’S a perverse pleasure in knowing that the world and his wife are getting up for another grey day at work while you are waking up in a king-size hotel bed, listening to the birdsong outside your door and watching the sunshine creep in from behind the curtains.

An early morning walk on the beach – not a cloud spoiling the blanket of blue, not another soul in sight – only served to heighten my smug sense of schadenfreude. I can’t resist a sneaky Facebook (aka Bragbook) post, just to rub it in a little more… “Now THIS is how I like to spend a Monday morning” I write, knowing just how envious I’d be if I was reading that from my desk. It’s all I can do to resist following up with another picture of the enormous fried breakfast we arrive back to. I would like to keep some of my friends, after all.

Yes, I could get used to spending Monday mornings on Devon’s Maidencombe beach and, indeed, staying at the magnificent Orestone Manor, where the biggest decisions you'll ever need to make are whether to get in the hot tub at the start or the end of the day (heck, why not both?) or whether to choose the lobster or the fillet steak for dinner.

We earned that breakfast, mind you. When the hotel guide said it was a 10-minute walk down to the beach but half an hour back, we both raised an eyebrow. How hard could it be? But as I came huffing and puffing back up the hill, I realised just how unfit I really am. It was only reasonable to tuck away another sausage at breakfast to restore all that spent energy.

Orestone Manor is a just a few minutes outside Torquay; normally a pleasant and gentile little seaside town, but on the weekend we visited playing host to the UK Young Farmers’ Convention and therefore best avoided (although it was amusing to watch the blue rinse brigade trying to make sense of the beer-swilling, shot-chugging antics of the youngsters).

We escaped pretty quickly and made our way along the coast to the hotel, where I'm pleased to say things were all together more civilised. Our Coach House room put a huge grin on our faces from the off; whether it was the roll-top bath sat overlooking the sea towards Lyme Bay or the private terrace with its hot tub that pleased us most, I’m not sure, but we knew there and then we’d be making full use of them both.

The Coach House rooms are a recent addition in the grounds of the hotel, which has steadily been developed and modernised by the D’allen family since their arrival in 2011 – husband and wife team Neil and Catherine are the owners, while son Craig runs the front of house and daughter Laura runs reception.

The house, built in 1830, was the former lodge of the acclaimed painter John Callcott Horsley who, as well as being credited as the designer of the first Christmas card, also happened to be the brother-in-law of one Isambard Kingdom Brunel.

Brunel had links with the Torquay area – just as he did with Swindon – in his role as chief engineer of the Great Western Railway and, after taking his wife there for a holiday, the pair decided to settle in nearby Watcombe Villa. It was at Ornestone Manor that Horsley painted a portrait of Brunel, which now hangs in the National Portrait Gallery.

It’s only fitting then that the hotel’s newly-refurbished bar has been christened the Brunel Lounge Bar.

Not that were giving much thought to the great man’s feats of engineering as we sipped pre-dinner G&Ts in said bar while looking over the menu – there was far too much else to interest us.

Neil and Catherine D’allen both have a background as chefs so it inevitably follows that food plays a big part in the Orestone experience. Provenance is key and you’ll find South Devon beef, Exmoor lamb and Teign River mussels on the menu, depending on their availability.

I was swayed by Vulscombe Farm goat’s cheese to start, from Devon’s own Tiverton, served with carpaccio beetroots, apple syrup and walnuts (£8.25) – a vision of bright colours and just as much a feast for the taste buds as the eyes – while my partner enjoyed his warm salad of chicken livers with black pudding and quail’s egg (£8.50).

Mains were turbot in a garlic and shrimp butter for me (£25.95), served with sugar snap peas and herby new potatoes, and a trio of pork in Marsala sauce (£22.45) for him, sat on a quince puree and served with buttered vegetables. Every dish presented before us was sensational to look at and just as good to eat. It’s not every day you get to eat such well-cooked food but I wish it was.

After much debate, we shared a dessert in the end, our chocolate fondant (£6.50) perfectly gooey in the centre and its black cherry sorbet accompaniment offering a sourness to offset the sweet.

As we walked the 20 paces from the manor to our coach house, the stars twinkled in the sky above – no such thing as light pollution here – and I wondered whether life could get any better. It turns out it could; a nightcap on our second floor balcony picking out Orien’s Belt and The Plough (at least I think it was them) was the perfect end to a perfect day.

The chance to spot seals on Maidencombe beach was what led us down that hill to the sea the next morning but they must have been in hiding so we amused ourselves by skimming stones instead. The slow plod back up seemed only fair after such an indulgent dinner the night before, and the promise of round two at breakfast.

Another couple of hours on our balcony, soaking up the spring sunshine and looking out to sea with the use of some handy binoculars, and it was time to reluctantly pack up and head for home. The best possible Monday morning had turned into Monday afternoon and the clouds of work the next day were gathering.

Still, at least we’d had the best possible start to the week (not to mention 28 envious Facebook ‘likes’).


Michelle Tompkins was a guest of Orestone Manor, Rock House Lane, Maidencombe, Devon TQ1 4SX. See www.orestonemanor.com or call 01803 897511

Double rooms are from £110 rising to £130 in mid-season, £150 in the peak summer months. You can stay on a dinner, bed and breakfast basis for an additional £35 per person, and enjoy three courses from any of the menus, plus coffee & petit fours.

Coach House rooms are priced from £250-£350 per night.

The hotel hosts regular themed nights throughout the year – the next is a summer menu tasting night on June 9 (£60 pp with wine) or there are murder mystery nights on October 27 and November 17