In 2019, when Newt in Somerset opened its doors for the first time, it didn’t take long for the travel world to rain down accolades and bestow endless superlative praise. The brainchild of South African couple Koos Bekker, a telecom billionaire, and Karen Roos, the former editor of She Decoration, the hotel, carved out of a Georgian mansion, sits in rural Somerset, spanning some 300 acres of farm and woodland. Not only has it become renowned as a model for how to ‘do’ country house hotels in our modern age, it is also prized for its beautiful gardens touched by a series of gardeners over the years.
When it comes to hospitality, the couple were already in good shape. Their first property is Babylonstoren, South Africa, which also includes an immaculate estate and expansive vineyards. The Newt echoes its success, and the world is so enamored with it that waiting lists for rooms are now growing months in advance. That’s why his one-day insight into the field of work – known as The Great Garden Getaway – is such a good idea.
Giving you a taste of Somerset idyll, the day-long adventure, in partnership with Great Western Railway, takes you from Paddington to the West Country in first class, with plenty of local treats along the way . Departing on Fridays and Saturdays (6 May to 24 September), this means you can spend time exploring the acres of pristine gardens, woodlands, farmland and cyder orchards, without having to book an overnight stay.
The journey begins in Paddington, where a member of the Newt team accompanies you to your horse-drawn carriage. As the urban vistas fade into rolling fields and valleys, you’ll enjoy a freshly cooked breakfast (delivered to London at dawn that morning from the Newt). From buttery croissants with seasonal jam and thinly sliced Hartgrove coppa to milk yoghurt topped with apple and nut granola, the bountiful and nourishing produce sets the tone for what’s to come.
Just over two hours later you have arrived at the old market town of Castle Cary. A short hop takes you to the working estate – set in a dreamy setting with British whites grazing the land and cyder orchards bursting with bountiful fruit. On arrival, one of Newt’s gardeners is on hand to show you around the extensive gardens.
Shaped over the past 200 years by a long line of gardeners, each corner is as diverse as it is imaginative. There is a curved walled garden filled with fragrant herb beds and a unique apple tree maze, made up of 296 varieties of apples – sourced from different parts of the UK. There are fields of wildflowers and structured Victorian gardens. Famous landscape artists, such as Penelope Hobhouse and Nori and Sandra Pope, shaped the landscape, so you can stroll through a cottage garden, a perfume garden and a vegetable garden for sensory overload. Age-old oaks and giant hornbeams stand in the forest, which opens onto a copse of hazel trees, while wrens, finches and woodpeckers create a soundtrack of birdsong.
The aerial Viper treetop walkway takes you about 40 feet above the forest floor and gives you views of the beautiful grounds. This leads into the Story of Gardening exhibition, an immersive and interactive look at some of the world’s most famous gardens – from the water lily ponds of Monet’s Giverny to the sunny landscape of Babylonstoren. Get ready to take off your shoes and get lost in the wonderful virtual reality capsules.
The latest incarnation of The Newt Gardens was created by Italian-French architect Patrice Taravella, who believes a garden should be both beautiful and useful. Combining ornamental and productive elements, the gardens are a feast for the eyes and the stomach. Customers are invited to get their hands dirty, to stop to pick, taste and smell the products.
Speaking of which, lunch is taken in the glass-walled Garden Café, which offers expansive views of the gardens and surrounding Somerset countryside. From crunchy radishes served with freshly baked estate sourdough to spring asparagus with butter, capers and tarragon – the menu designed by estate chef Alan Stewart is all about plants. There’s a main course of roasted spiced cauliflower, for example, with fermented leaves, almond yogurt and cilantro. While the dessert also comes from the estate and is made with Black Pearl plus, buffalo gelato and salted almond praline. You can also sip wines from the orchards of The Newt’s South African partner estate, Babylonstoren.
After wandering the grounds – perhaps opting for a raspberry sorbet from the gelateria, or browsing the artisan shop, which sells tree bark-printed ceramics and botanical coffee table books – it’s time to do a cider tasting (it is deliberately spelled in the Old English style) in the Cyder Cellar. It’s a hands-on experience, located next to the apple press, with the Fine Cyder a particular good choice for a crunchy appetizer.
As part of The Great Garden Escape, seasonal themed days also take place throughout the summer. Next month, bees and honey (July 29 and 30) is an immersive day, hosted by Chief Beekeeper and Global Beekeeping Consultant, Paula Carnell. Guests can “dive” into the life of bees on a Bee Safari around the estate, including a tour of the beezantium’s honeycomb structures. Here you can explore beehives and colonies and discover the secret benefits of nature’s ‘liquid gold’, as well as enjoy a honey tasting experience.
On the train, on the way back to Paddington, you get a taste of the countryside with a picnic of afternoon tea, fresh from the bakery – there are beetroot and lemon open sandwiches smoked salmon, scones and jam and carrot cake topped with edible flowers – it’s a reminder of the sweetness of country living.