I set myself a goal this year – to spend a little more time travelling the country I live in. To be honest, flashbacks of rainy childhood camping holidays to Wales sprung to mind, but I eventually plucked up the courage to spend a long weekend in the unpredictable English countryside. So long sunny Barcelona, hello…Bruton?
I exaggerate a little – Choosing Bruton as a weekend destination was hardly a struggle. My boyfriend came running home one day with this photo of this charming Somerset chapel and shouted “WE.ARE.GOING!” I wasn’t going to put up much of a fight.
Nestled in the sleepy Somerset town of Bruton, At The Chapel is exactly that – a renovated grade II listed former chapel. Bought in 2000 by Catherine Butler and her partner Ahmed Sidky (a furniture designer), it was originally opened as a restaurant but now also acts as a bakery, wine shop and eight bedroomed hotel.
Pushing open those huge wooden front doors you’re instantly welcomed by the smell of freshly baked bread and sweet pastries. Straight ahead of you, the building opens up into that beautiful restaurant area – all high ceilings and cosy furnishings. One of the things that drew me to At The Chapel was that effortless blend of the old and the new. They’ve kept all the original features, but it feels clean, modern. The staff were so lovely and actually let us check in immediately despite us eagerly arrived two hours before the check in time. She led us through the wine shop, down a flight of stairs and towards the one ground floor bedroom (room 8), the most beautiful little living space imaginable.
We were met with huge, airy room, patio doors flung wide open overlooking our private ivy covered courtyard – chaise lounge placed perfectly for catching up on work emails in the late afternoon sunshine. Most importantly though was THAT bathroom!
That first evening was probably the most relaxed I’ve ever been. After strolling around the Bruton countryside I ended the day in that bathtub with a glass of prosecco and a fluffy grey robe. I’m feeling jealous of myself just thinking about it.
I won’t lie here – when I travel it’s usually because 15% of me wants to visit the place and 85% just wants the food.
The most wonderful surprise at At The Chapel was waking up every morning to freshly baked croissants hanging on our door and homemade jam topped up in the fridge. There was something so tranquil about waking up in the sunlit courtyard over fresh coffee and pastries.
In fact every meal I experience in Bruton was magical. Perhaps this was because I actually got to savour long relaxed lunches rather than gulping down a salad over emails at my desk. The At The Chapel menu is more of a relaxed Mediterranean approach to British food, and we spent three glorious days dining on homemade ewes cheese and smashed peas, south coast bream, portland crab and huge wood fired pizzas. Brunch was always spent al fresco in the shade of their terrace (a secluded walled garden fragranced with roses, jasmine and honeysuckle, with views over the ancient town rooftops and the distant 16th century dovecote).
One of my favourite things to do after a day of sightseeing and driving round the Somerset countryside was to settle down in one of the armchairs on the restaurant balcony with a glass of wine and a good book. The great thing about Bruton is it feels good to do nothing. In such a sleepy town there’s not an awful lot to do past 9pm, so taking the time to unwind in the evening was something of a luxury. So much so that by the third day we seriously considered extending our stay instead of facing the reality of heading back to work and the sweaty London commute.
At The Chapel’s heritage may sit comfortably within it’s historic surroundings, but there’s something about the place that feels alive with creativity. Visitors from both inside and outside of town clearly come here to soak up that energy – one that I can’t really explain but you’ll feel as soon as you step through those doors. Just thinking about it has me full of anticipation for our next visit – Maybe next time we really won’t leave…