A couple of weeks ago fellow Bristol-based blogger Kym Grimshaw and I hopped in the car and headed down to Somerset for a quick girls-only getaway. Our destination was Bruton – one of my go-to places when I need an escape from the city.
On the face of it, Bruton looks like any other English country town, with its honey-stone cottages, willow-lined river, ancient dovecote and twisting lanes. But underneath the surface, it’s buzzing with creativity. Over the last few years it’s attracted artists, musicians, film producers, designers and more, and it’s even home to a branch of international gallery group Hauser & Wirth. It’s also the location of one of my favourite lifestyle shops, Caro Somerset, and our base for the night: restaurant, hotel, bakery and wine store At The Chapel.
I’d enjoyed several meals at At The Chapel on previous visits to Bruton, but this time I was lucky enough to stay thanks to i-escape, a handpicked collection of boutique hotels and rentals around the world. The site has more than 1,500 properties to choose from – everything from bijou city apartments to luxurious beach retreats – so it’s a great place to find and book special places to stay, whatever your budget.
Anyway, back to At The Chapel. Originally a coaching inn, then a place of worship, this cavernous 17th-century building has been totally reinvented by its current owners, restaurateur Catherine Butler and furniture designer Ahmed Sidki, without losing any of its character. The couple had originally intended to turn it into their home after relocating to Somerset from London, but soon decided to create something more sociable instead. They opened the doors to the restaurant, wine store and bakery in 2008, and eight bedrooms for overnight guests followed a couple of years later.
The whole place is a striking mix of restored period features and contemporary minimalism, with art at every turn. The former chapel is now the dining room – a vast, light-filled space with sleek white walls, soaring windows and a huge chandelier whose glass baubles cascade down over the tables below. A nude sculpture called Faith hangs where the alter once sat, and spiral stairs twist up to the gallery above, where there are quiet corners for coffee and reading.
The bedrooms are just as beautiful. Each one is different, but they all combine mid-century modern classics, cowhide rugs and bespoke wooden pieces created by Ahmed. We stayed in Room 6, which has long, leafy views over the town’s rooftops to the green fields beyond, plus a little window nook with a table and chair. Most impressive, though, is its huge marble-lined bathroom, complete with a freestanding tub where I could have happily wallowed for hours.
We also managed to peek inside a couple of the other rooms. One featured a stained-glass window and a leather and steel ‘Wassily’ lounge chair, designed by Marcel Breuer of the Bauhaus movement; another opened onto a private terrace, with a grass-green chaise-longue and arched ceilings. In all of them, I was struck by the wonderful attention to detail: art books and magazines to peruse, fluffy towels and robes, stashes of REN toiletries, drinks-making kit with little bottles of organic milk, Kilner jars of freshly baked lemon shortbread, and headboards designed to line up exactly with the height of the doors.
Our visit coincided with 24 hours of solid rain, but we didn’t really mind – it was the excuse we needed to linger in the restaurant and the lounge-like Clubroom beneath, slowly working our way through the cocktail menu and feasting on locally sourced food. For lunch, I tucked into a zingy summer salad of broad beans and ewe’s cheese; for dinner, a crispy taleggio and field-mushroom pizza from the wood-fired oven, plus a mound of herb-dusted skinny fries.
Everything we sampled was delicious, but what appealed to me most was the laid-back atmosphere. This really is a place to kick back and unwind: the staff are unfailingly friendly, and couples, families and laptop-toting workers all mingle together quite happily, whatever the time of day. There’s also a steady stream of locals popping in to browse the bakery’s shelves of artisan bread, cakes and pastries, and the always-chatty Catherine seems to know most of them by name – I got the sense that At The Chapel has become the hub of the town.
We somehow managed to be the last people in the bar that evening, chatting away for hours over a bottle of wine and finally toddling off to our room sometime after midnight. Luckily, though, there was no rising early the next morning to make a set breakfast time; instead, we woke to find a bag of fresh croissants hanging on our door (butter and jam were waiting in the minibar) and ate them in our pyjamas, washed down with big mugs of steaming coffee. Come check-out time (thankfully not until noon), we were both very reluctant to drag ourselves out from under our duvets and pack up to leave.
Anywhere that wholeheartedly encourages breakfast in bed gets a big tick in my book, but it was just one of the many things that I loved about At The Chapel. Impeccable style, top-notch food, smiling staff, and a warm vibe that puts everyone at ease… it’s the perfect combination, and I’m already plotting a return visit.
Rooms at At The Chapel start at £125 per night, including breakfast. Book a stay via i-escape and you’ll get the best available rates, plus welcome glasses of Prosecco on arrival.
All photography by Abi Dare
I enjoyed a free stay at At The Chapel courtesy of i-escape, but all words and opinions are my own.