A Night Away: all the comforts of home at Glebe House in Devon
Inspired by the generous spirit – and sustenance – of Italian agriturismi, the aptly named Hugo and Olive Guest have transformed his parents' B&B into something that manages to be both worldly and welcoming
There is, of course, something lovely about hotels. They make you feel anonymous, separate. But, as we’ve all had the misfortune of learning in recent times, being separate isn’t necessarily what one always wants. With the popularity of home-turf holidays on the rise, has the time come for the resurgence of the great British B&B?
Greatness is the key here, however. No two-bar electric fires and mothballs for us. What we want is something more special. Enter Glebe House, near Colyton in Devon. A night here is sublime. It belongs Hugo and Olive Guest, who did exactly as they should with a name like that – the young couple now welcomes the public into their supremely comfortable Georgian house, offering princely bedrooms and breakfasts – and very good dinners to boot.
This isn’t Glebe House’s first iteration as a guesthouse. In fact, before they moved to east Devon from London, it was open too; Hugo’s parents had run it as a B&B for many years and Hugo grew up here. A few years ago, however, the idea of selling was mooted and the younger Guests were heartbroken. They set about trying to convince Hugo’s parents to keep it in the family. At the time, Olive was working for an advertising agency; Hugo was working as a chef. They’d spent a lot of time in Italy and were interested in the country’s agriturismi – small independent farmsteads that support their income with paid accommodation. “We liked the idea of doing something relaxed and not like a five-star hotel, with a real focus on food and the craft that goes into it,” Olive explains. Could they really do it in deepest Devon, without the vineyards and Tuscan sun?
The answer is a resounding yes. What Hugo and Olive have made at this rural smallholding shares an attitude if not a style with its Italian counterparts: informal, with delicious food and a generosity of spirit. There is a conviviality here so often lacking at similar set-ups. Each evening, for instance, guests can choose if they want supper, which is served at various shared tables dotted around the ground floor (those not staying can also book). There’s one sitting and one menu, reducing food waste. As much as possible is grown at Glebe, foraged nearby or sourced from nearby small-scale farmers; expect local meat, fish caught just a few miles away and home-cured charcuterie.
When Hugo and Olive moved in, the house hadn’t been decorated for decades. Olive’s revamp of the place, in collaboration with Alexandra Childs of Studio Alexandra, feels lavish without being excessive: winsomely sprigged wallpapers, ruffled cushions, bobbin lamps and marbled shades. “I felt it was really important to make it feel comfortable as well as aesthetically pleasing,” Olive explains. “I wanted it to feel like us, like a reflection of our family.”
They have succeeded. In the best way possible, Glebe House feels very much like someone’s home – though, at other peoples’ houses, one doesn’t normally find unctuous chocolate cookies warm from the oven in one’s room on arrival. Nor are the breakfasts quite so good. Every morning, Hugo serves bacon from Glebe-reared pigs, homemade granola and hunks of chewy-crusted toast and marmalade like amber. Overnighters can use the tennis court, the croquet lawn or the swimming pool (complete with retro vinyl lining) and can dip into the illustrated ‘Walk Book’ found in each of the five rooms; the countryside surrounding Glebe House is as magical as the immediate grounds, where well-tended and generous beds give way to a sweeping lawn and a ha-ha. Beyond, the hummocks and hills of east Devon, an Area of Outstanding National Beauty, roll into the mist.
Hugo and Olive both accept that they’re relatively new to this business, but it’s been a rapid learning curve. “We were nervous,” Olive says, because they knew that people coming from London “are used to having lots of choice. You can get anything at your fingertips. We’ve had to work quite hard at making sure our guests are aware it’s not quite like that down here.” She’s right, it’s not. And that’s exactly the charm.
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