SPANNING more than 368 square miles, Dartmoor National Park is the largest and wildest area of open country in the south of England.

And nestling in the heart of this rural idyll, is the Ilsington Country House Hotel, a quintessentially English retreat owned by the Hassell family since 1998.

My daughter and I were keen to spend a relaxing weekend together before she went off on her gap year, so a hotel spa break in a beautiful location was the perfect choice.

Although it feels as though you are in the middle of nowhere, it is a fairly straightforward two hour drive from Bournemouth.

Unlike the new brand of identikit, uber modern hotels, the Ilsington has plenty of character and charm and also boasts one of the most acclaimed restaurants in South Devon.

We were given a warm welcome on arrival from Sheila at reception who has worked at the hotel for 15 years.

Our twin bedroom suite was cosy and comfortable, with all mod cons including a flat screen TV, free Wifi, fluffy white robes hanging in the wardrobe, thick curtain drapes, plush carpets and a modern bathroom ensuite with a classic freestanding bath and a huge shower.

After a quick change we headed downstairs for dinner. At the Ilsington you have the choice of the main two AA rosette restaurant or the Blue Tiger which is less formal.

Sheila recommended that we dined in the main restaurant, so after a pre-dinner glass of prosecco, and a selection of homemade nibbles in the hotel lounge, we were invited to take a seat in the main restaurant.

Everything is cooked to order and the menu is designed by head chef Mike O'Donnell as a showcase for local ingredients. There is a choice of two or three course options priced at £33.50 and £39.50 respectively.

For starters I chose sea bream served with carrots, peppers and shallots in a white wine and saffron broth, followed by braised Mediterranean vegetable and goat's cheese crumble with sautéed artichoke, tomatoes and potatoes rounded off with hot, dark chocolate fondant with caramel sauce, rum soaked raisins, praline mousse and honey ice cream.

Each dish was elegant in presentation and exquisite in equal measure. The menu was a perfect balance between traditional classics and comforting English cooking with a modern twist.

The following morning, after a good night's sleep, my daughter and I headed down to the restaurant for breakfast and now it was light, we could appreciate the sweeping views of the moors and of Haytor in particular, a granite tor and well-known landmark on the eastern edge of Dartmoor.

After a hearty English cooked breakfast, my daughter and I were able to walk from the hotel onto the moor and within half an hour we were climbing to the top of Haytor.

The views from the top of the rock were spectacular although it's not a climb for the faint- hearted!

A few hours later we headed back to check out the hotel spa which is situated in a light, airy purpose-built annexe boasting a hydrotherapy pool, sauna, steam and treatment rooms.

We loved the little touches like the mood lighting and comfortable poolside loungers that have been moulded to fit the contours of your body.

It’s easy to see why this classic English hotel has stood the test of time. This is a place that isn’t afraid to embrace change, but without sacrificing its traditional country charm.


There is a choice of standard, country or superior rooms (dogs are allowed in the standard rooms which are on the groundfloor) prices start at £140 for a standard double, rising to £205 for a suite.

Ilsington Country House Hotel, Ilsington Village, Nr Newton Abbot, Devon, TQ13 9RR. For more details, visit or call 01364 661452