THE NEWT IS named in the time-honored British tradition of giving silly names to fancy things. While the property in southwestern England was being renovated — a multiyear endeavor — newts were discovered on the grounds. As they are a protected species, their discovery necessitated a halt in construction while the habitat was surveyed. Ultimately, the fountains of the extensive gardens had to be altered to create passageways that would allow the small, semi-aquatic amphibians to move about freely, only after which construction could resume. An already gargantuan project grew that much bigger. But rather than try to put the disruption behind them, the hotel’s owners embraced the association, renaming the property for the little creatures.
I’m told this story while touring the grounds with Paula Carnell, the property’s resident beekeeper. She oversees the 16 chemical-free colonies set up around the property, and acts as sommelier for its honey tastings, which showcase honeys from around the world with a fascinating range of color, texture, and taste. She also designed and curated the hotel’s Beezantium. This honeycomb-shaped building, set in a gently wooded area behind one of the vegetable gardens, has interactive learning elements to educate guests about the healing properties of honey, along with Carnell’s beliefs about the connective, spiritual role bees play in the world.
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The newts are an aside she mentions as she is giving me a bee tour of the property. She points out the traditional skep hives set on an island in a marsh and the boxed hives fixed high in the trees, and draws my attention to the many species of bees. There are more than I would have otherwise noticed, from honeybees to bumblebees to mason bees, a furry species as big as a blackberry that burrows underground. In the late spring when I visit, the ample gardens are just beginning to bloom, and the bees are hard at work pollinating the blossoms of the over 3,000 apple trees that are planted on the grounds. Their fruit will later be processed at the property’s massive cider production facility, run by cellar master Greg Carnell (who is also Paula’s husband). There, more than 25,000 gallons of the drink Somerset is best known for are bottled annually, to be served in the property’s three restaurants and sold in its farm store.
The Newt occupies a seventeenth-century Georgian estate, set in the rolling hills of Somerset near Bruton. It’s less than two hours by train from Paddington Station, or accessible by car on a route that takes you right past Stonehenge (“There’s always traffic here,” my driver tells me, as he points out the monument from the crest of a hill). And as with so many previously sleepy regions, Somerset has boomed in recent years. Many former weekend residents decamped to the area during the pandemic’s lockdowns and never left. Nearby, Hauser & Wirth, the Swiss gallery with spaces in every art-world hub from New York to Hong Kong, has set up an outpost, a former farmstead that offers art programming and artist residencies.
Opened in 2019, the hotel has 40 rooms spread throughout several buildings. Twenty-three are in Hadspen House, a grand manor that has been impeccably restored so the traditional elements sit alongside modern twists. A gracious sitting room with deep, velvet couches and a crackling fire leads to a transitional courtyard drenched in light from its peaked glass roof. The bar is outfitted with blue-green paneling, gilt-framed portraits of the family that previously owned the estate, and orange and pink chairs that wouldn’t be out of place in a chic Mexico City eatery. There is a spa set in a neighboring building, its space semi-raw with brick walls and a soaring beamed ceiling. The Botanical Rooms restaurant, helmed by Chef Ben Champkin, serves vegetables grown on the estate and fish from the nearby coast. It sits in an almost industrial glass-and-steel extension off the manor. The juxtaposition of styles manages the trick of being both thrilling and seamless.
The room I stay in is the Stable, a part of the grounds of the Hadspen House that saw the original working Stable Yard transformed. I’m not sure what to expect when I am led to it in a small outbuilding steps from the manor, but I find that it is, indeed, true to its name: the plush bed set between the scarred wooden walls of old stalls, a bale feeder still bolted to the wall, the bathroom hosting a deep soaking tub set across from a wood-burning stove. The space is weird and cool and surprisingly cozy, though I do wake up in the night momentarily confused about where I am.
Seventeen of the rooms are hosted at the Farmyard, across the road from Hadspen House. When I’m told we’re heading over to visit I put on rubber boots — all sizes are available for guests in a muck room off the bar — and jump on the golf cart to be driven, I presume, to meet some of the cows and sheep I see grazing on a long lawn outside the manor. After being driven through massive apple orchards, what I find instead of animals is a whole other set of impeccably renovated buildings, a formerly operational farm transformed into sleek, loft-like living quarters. Along with another spa and restaurant, the Farmyard also has a self-serve bar housed in its own building, where guests can relax and help themselves to complimentary drinks. The muck boots, it turns out, were quite unnecessary.
They could have come in handy, though, to walk the estate’s many miles of trails. Though some areas are reserved for hotel guests, much of the vast property is accessible to day visitors. Locals can buy an annual membership, which provides access to the gardens, the grounds, the farm shop, and the Garden Café. The option transforms what could feel like a gated experience into one that feels like an integrated part of the community. Guests and members alike can take workshops, from stone-wall building and cider making to gardening classes and tours of the property’s Roman villa. Discovered during the renovation and dating from around 350 A.D., it has been completely restored and opened to tours.
The owners of The Newt, Karen Roos and Koos Bekker, are known for Babylonstoren in their native South Africa. A sprawling eighteenth-century estate set outside of Cape Town in the Franschhoek wine valley, the property has made its way to numerous “best of” lists. It’s evident Roos and Bekker carried that successful formula over to The Newt. Though the renovation was clearly a major investment, with no expenses spared, their biggest investment seems to be in the people. Again and again while visiting, the people working there — from Carnell and her bees to gardeners to farmers — expressed their excitement to have been hired to do what they do best while given the creative runway to truly showcase their talents. I was left with the feeling that the owners share some of my ideas about what leads to success: working with the best people, and giving them the space and tools they need to do what they do really well. It’s exciting to see it applied to a hotel. The result is a compendium of incredible talents in a bucolic setting — with some very beautiful cows.
Skye Parrott is the executive editor of Departures. A magazine editor, photographer, writer, and creative consultant, she was previously a founder of the arts and culture journal Dossier, and editor in chief for the relaunch of Playgirl as a modern, feminist publication.