The kindness of some people goes beyond words.
There I was one day, merrily working away and my inbox pings with an email from an old PR friend, Chloe, with lovely news that her and one of her clients wanted to treat me to a stay at a stunning property called Summer Lodge in Dorset.
Summer Lodge, a five-star hideaway – part of the Relais Chateaux collection of luxury properties – and located in the sleepy village of Evershot, had read about my cancer diagnosis and ailments I’d experienced with chemo and wanted to do something to give me a break from all the treatment I’d been having – basically take my mind off things.
And they wanted nothing in return. No mention of a social media post – and certainly not a blog post write up. Nada. They just wanted to get me away for the night, treat me to a spa treatment and a three-course dinner with the love of my life.
Reading the email brought tears to my eyes. As with most cancer patients I had been through the mill recently. In fact, just two weeks before we were due to stay I caught an infection and was admitted to hospital for three days, hooked up to antibiotics, followed by three days in the ambulatory unit as an outpatient for more antibiotics.
A getaway was just what the doctor ordered (I told myself) and I knew it would be restful and restorative for my mind and body. I was overwhelmed at the generosity of Summer Lodge – especially in what was peak season for them…there are some wonderful, kind souls out there.
I simply had to put pen to paper (or rather fingers on keyboard) about my experience at Summer Lodge, even though it’s not expected. It had such a profound effect on me that it would have been somewhat selfish of me not to divulge my experience. So grab a cuppa, sit back and relax and prepare to be taken into the world of Summer Lodge…
As we neared the property – and slowed down to take in the gorgeous thatched cottages of the quiet village of Evershot – it was almost like time slowed down with us.
We got a sense that local drivers were not in a hurry; the whole pace of life seemed to change – something that I welcomed with open arms. Turning into the entrance to Summer Lodge, we drove down a hydrangea-lined driveway bursting with colour – and in the distance we spotted the Country House Hotel and Spa; a stunning Grade II listed building that simply oozed country house manor charm.
VIP suddenly declared that he felt underdressed in his shorts and t-shirt. I smiled as I’d heard this one before; VIP lives in shorts and t-shirt year round – yes, even when it’s snowing. So I put a question to him, one that I already knew the answer to.
“So you’re telling me that if we won the £83 million on the Euromillions tomorrow that you’d suddenly start wearing a Savile Row suit – or come to think of it, any suit at all? Or would you simply carry on wearing your TU pink shorts and your slogan tee from George because that’s who you are?”
Okay, so it was more a rhetorical question but it did the trick.
“Point taken” he replied.
“Good” I said, looking down at my faded M & Co jeans and NASA tee I picked up in Primani. “At the end of the day, all they want is for us to feel relaxed, pampered and welcomed. I don’t think they couldn’t care less about what we’re wearing – as long as we don’t rock on up in the buff”, I said thinking out loud.
And guess what? Lauretta was right. Short of a huge hug, our welcome was very warm indeed. Although mine was a little short-lived; my spa treatment had been booked for 2pm and we had arrived at 2.10pm, so I had to dash off – albeit a little flustered as I hate being late.
Who’s Jennifer Young?
Rewind a week prior to our stay at Summer Lodge and Chloe told me that the spa manager, Rosemary, would be giving me a call to book in my spa treatment, mentioning something about a ‘Jennifer Young’ treatment.
I didn’t think much of it at the time, believing that it was some kind of new spa trend. But then Rosemary called and I was given a mini educational lesson about Jennifer Young treatments and how they are specifically catered for those who were undergoing cancer treatment.
This was wonderful to hear; I was going to ask for a foot treatment or something ‘safe’ that wouldn’t interfere with the chemo that I was having. But I learned that since I hadn’t had chemo in the last few days, all of the treatments were available to me – and she thoroughly recommended the full body massage with natural grape seed oil.
I later learned that all the of spa treatments offered at Summer Lodge use 100% natural, pure, highly active ingredients – and as you know, clean living and a huge reduction in chemicals have become something very important to me.
On Googling Jennifer Young, I discovered that all spas that offer her treatments have to undertake an accredited oncology massage course – and be insured to do so. Training involves things like honing skills to deliver a treatment menu to those affected by cancer and how adapted touch therapies are not harmful, and are instead actually very therapeutic.
Some two hours after I had arrived, I could be found emerging from the spa centre on cloud nine. Young Sophie, my masseuse, had worked her magic with the best massage I had ever experienced, hands down. Remember that I had arrived late (one of my pet peeves), all flustered and anxious.
Within 10 minutes of donning my robe and slippers and lying on the treatment table, I had drifted off to sleep, momentarily waking to discover that Sophie had moved to work on a different part of my body.
My experience also included a head, shoulder and neck massage and left me feeling rested, rejuvenated and as relaxed as I could ever feel. I had forgotten how good it felt to have a massage and, as I went to look for VIP (who told me that while I was having my spa treatment, he’d be off in search of a bar treatment), I silently promised myself that I’d treat myself to massages more often.
I did indeed find VIP in the bar – Summer Lodge’s Whisky Lounge to be exact, which was a lovely little room. And even though I’m not a drinker, I’d have happily stayed in that room admiring the décor, the countless bottles of whisky and chatting or reading for a few hours. But as the sun was shining, VIP and I decided to go for a walk in the village.
VIP and I are not used to villages, but maybe that’s a good thing. Where we live we’re within walking distance of a train station, the supermarket, the hospital and a huge town centre.
Evershot appeared to be the antithesis; it consists of a pub, a village shop and a bakery – and that’s pretty much it. The population of Evershot is just 200 inhabitants.
“Imagine living here”, I proposed to VIP. “You couldn’t have an affair could you? I mean, everyone would know about it.”
He shoots me a look that wonders why I’d be thinking about an affair.
“You know what I mean”, I continue. “Everyone knows each other’s business. Just one little fart and I’m sure Maureen Harper who lives at Puddle Cottage will know about it in less than an hour.”
We both laugh. It was great to see VIP smile and enjoy himself and right at that moment I couldn’t have felt happier; I really was in my element. We ended up at the pub and sat outside to soak up the last of the summer rays. But within minutes we were rushing indoors to escape from a wasp that was after my lemonade.
The bartender confirmed that they had a bit of a problem with wasps in the area. It freaked me out a little, as my friend Tania had been stung the week before by a wasp and ended up in the ambulatory department with me on antibiotics. She also had some of her lymph nodes removed following breast cancer (which had lowered her body’s immune system) and I was reluctant to end up back in hospital because of a pesky wasp.
I suggested to VIP that he look up where the nearest hospital was as a precaution and we took a slow walk back to the hotel, smiling to each other as we spotted the same bartender going into Summer Lodge. It seems like the village businesses also share the same staff. What was that I was saying about not being able to keep a village secret?
It all made sense later when I discovered that the pub, The Acorn Inn, is a sister property to Summer Lodge and was previously run by Summer Lodge’s general managers, Alex and Jack, before moving over to the property.
A suite deal
By this time – and feeling suitably refreshed – I was ready to see our room. Summer Lodge offers 18 guest rooms and six luxury suites – each one of them different from the other.
I soon discovered that we didn’t just have a room at Summer Lodge – we would be staying in one of those six suites! A suite that was perfectly fitting for a king and queen – I kid you not.
From the lavish but tasteful décor, right down to the regal touches of furniture grandeur and art pieces, it reminded me a little of my stay at the Cora Pearl Suite in London. A special place to reside for a special day – a wedding anniversary perhaps or a celebratory occasion where you could push the boat out and feel pampered.
The suite really didn’t disappoint and I walked around taking in the room, mouth ajar in awe. The walk-in wardrobe was a favourite of mine, while VIP was suitably impressed with our own private terrace. At that moment I remember wishing that we could stay here for a week.
When it came to bedtime, the sheets felt amazing – like they were made of 2,000 thread count cotton – if there is such a thing. They were the epitome of luxury and again, I drifted off into a deep and restful sleep that night, sleeping better than I had in months. Isn’t it amazing what a wonderful massage and luxurious bed linen can do for the soul?!
Our suite also came complete with fresh fruit, REN toiletries (which I resisted in bringing back with me!) and some fabulous homemade shortbread in an equally impressive tin, which we promptly polished off while watching an episode of The Americans that night.
Not being used to watching TV in bed, I had forgotten how lovely it was. I was warm (I’m seldom warm these days), cosy and felt so relaxed. I could really get used to this. I suggested to VIP that we occasionally introduce a ‘telly in bed’ night back at home – Summer Lodge was certainly giving me some great ‘takeaway’ ideas that I wanted to implement back at home.
The traditional décor of the room was nicely complemented by the mod cons that we seem to rely on these days – air-conditioning, a DVD player and free high speed Wi-Fi that worked!
One thing that really impressed me were the small, thoughtful touches and attention to detail; from the umbrellas stacked outside our accommodation, to the bottled water ‘for the onward journey’ that was given on check out – every foreseeable incident appeared to have been accounted for.
Food, glorious food
After admiring our suite and building up an appetite on our walk, it was time for dinner, which consisted of a three-course à la carte affair. It felt wonderful to sit down in beautiful surroundings tasting exquisite food that I imagine the queen is treated to on a regular if not daily basis.
It really was out of this world – well, given that Summer Lodge has an award-winning head chef on its team (whose menus exceed Relais & Chateaux’s gastronomic standards) and that the restaurant has recently been awarded Hotel Restaurant of the Year at the Dorset Food & Drinks Awards, it doesn’t really surprise me.
VIP had the starter of cured and scorched Cornish mackerel with heirloom tomatoes, avocado purée and pickled red onion. I opted for a two-course meal, knowing that I would struggle to finish three courses, plus dessert was my favourite course, so I simply couldn’t miss that.
For the mains we both chose the lamb, complete with crispy sweetbreads, aromatic cous cous, confit tomatoes and wild garlic, and VIP opted for the cheese selection for dessert. I knew he would as he loves his cheese, but what we were delighted to hear was how Summer Lodge supports local farmers by buying local produce for most of its food supply and ingredients. They also grow a lot of produce themselves, which is fabulous.
When the cheese cart came over and VIP was making his selection on all the different kinds of cheese for his plate, I asked if they had the same sort of trolley for desserts. The couple on the table next to us overheard and laughed. Except in my head I wasn’t joking – can you imagine…a little taste of rhubarb and custard as one option, a cheesecake for another – all the desserts on the menu looked awesome.
I ended up settling for valrhona dulcey cremeux, which consisted of manjari sorbet, nibbed cocoa tuile and white chocolate ‘aero’. If truth be told, the only bit I really understood from any of that was the white chocolate ‘aero’ – but that’s all I needed to know and it didn’t disappoint. A fusion of flavours melted in my mouth and, had it not been for them melting, I could have savoured them for hours.
Breakfast was an equally impressive setup; VIP went for a traditional English feast, while I opted for sourdough toast, smoked salmon, smashed avocado and a poached free range egg, with a dash of lemon on the side.
I was also delighted to meet the general manager, Alex Mackenzie, at breakfast who came over to introduce herself. As previously mentioned, Alex looks after Summer Lodge with her husband Jack – and what a wonderful lady! She offered me a warm welcome telling me “it’s a pleasure to have you stay with us”. I hoped that she didn’t see the tears welling up (why am I so emotional?!) as I thanked her and told her how appreciative we were.
Sadly our time at Summer Lodge in Evershot had come to an end. Thanks to some literature – and VIP’s general knowledge – I learned a few facts about the village of Evershot during my time there – namely that it’s Dorset’s second highest village at 625ft above sea level, is the source of the River Frome and is
famous for its inclusion in much of Thomas Hardy’s literature, an English novelist and poet. In fact, I’m sure I spotted a couple of Hardy’s books in our suite (room number 15 if you’re interested!)
I also found out that Thomas Hardy designed the drawing room of Summer Lodge in his architect phase, and The Acorn Inn features (as The Sow and Acorn) in Tess of the D’Urbevilles!
I can see why Hardy was so inspired to put pen to paper in the beautiful setting of Evershot. And now, some 100 years later, here I am typing up my thoughts about the destination and the gorgeous Summer Lodge Country House Hotel on my MacBook.
Of course, my words don’t come close to doing the place justice, but if I’ve inspired you just a little bit and maybe have even piqued your interest into doing a bit more research on Summer Lodge or Evershot, then here’s a great place to start. Happy reading!
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