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Words by Bronwen Batey

It’s not often you find yourself walking towards a hotel and you stop in your tracks
and utter ‘stunning’ out loud. That was my reaction to Lympstone Manor glowing
pearl-white off the Exe Estuary.

Welcome to the brainchild of Michael Caines MBE. Renowned Michelin-starred chef. Now luxury hotelier and English wine producer.

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It was in 2014 that Michael discovered this secret gem, all 28 acres of it. Looking down from the Grade II listed house, his imagination bubbled with ideas on how he was going to develop what was then a dilapidated building and unused fields. The result is an extraordinary vision – if you give free rein to a chef to create a hotel destination in his own home county, who’s passion for detail, local cuisine and wine are legendary – Lympstone Manor is the sequel.

As he looked out over the grounds and down to the river, Michael saw the makings of a vineyard, and not just any vineyard, one that would create wines that were as gastronomic as they were award-winning. Here you could be in one of the great wine regions of the world where rivers dominate – the Loire, the Mosel – yet this is distinctively Devon. White sheep dot the hillsides, a coastal breeze salts your hair and the river of Exe sings with migratory birdsong.

The river’s estuary is ever present, it sparkles in the windows and is the muse for the hotel’s wallpaper and artwork; the hotel’s main staircase wall a watercolour display of local birds and woodland wildlife created by local artist, Rachel Toll..

The wide Exe also tames the weather, keeping this beautiful part of East Devon relatively mild all year round, perfect for us but more importantly for the 20,000 rare and vulnerable migratory birds that flock here every year.

From the hotel, guests can explore the estuary as it winds from Exeter to Exmouth and take in the sea and rolling hills, the yachts and boats, and catch sight of oystercatchers, redshanks, kingfishers, cormorants and mute swans, Just like the wildlife that call this part of East Devon home, Lympstone Manor entices guests to relax in its 21 guest rooms and suites, and six Shepherd Huts, and enjoy some the UK’s best dining experiences – complete with wow-inspiring views.

Today Michael is one of the first British chefs to launch his own luxury hotel, complete with two restaurants (one with a Michelin-star, the second casually poolside) and 10 acres of vines, setting a high bar for a unique hotel and wine destination on par with the best in the world.

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More than a hotel

Lympstone Manor feels elegantly boutique yet quintessentially British. The grand mansion hints at parties of past and future, the vineyard feels cosmopolitan, and the hotel restaurant is for serious foodies. Walking the grounds, Shepherd Huts giggle with the sound of children, whilst the gardens, dotted with sculptures of majestic birds, sunglass-wearing fairies and dreaming couples are whimsically witty.

There is a sense of legacy being created here, with Michael at its heart. His experience working at some of the world’s leading hotels and with celebrated chefs is clear to see – Lympstone Manor’s period interiors combine old and new, muted colours shine off warm wood floors and balance cosy plush fabrics creating a luxurious country escape where the only thing that is flashy is the river constantly in your eye line.

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As a luxury hotel room devotee, mine was up there – a Master Suite, facing the Pool House, with the Exe on the horizon. It’s the small details that make a great hotel, such as the welcome Plymouth Gin and Luscombe tonic, the citrus-infused bath amenities and huge fluffy towels; windows and doors that open onto your own veranda and the biggest bath to soak the day away in.

This is a grown up hotel, however families and four-legged pals are welcome, there are a number of interconnecting rooms in the main house, whilst the Shepherd’s Huts make for a fun escape for the little ones, with just the right luxury perks for Mum and Dad.

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Wining & Dining

Michael Caines MBE needs no introduction, and his dining rooms and formidable wine cellar at Lympstone Manor are a testament to his passion for West Country produce.

As one of the most recognised and approachable chefs in the country, it’s how Michael spends time with his guests – how his passion for Lympstone Manor ripples through the fabric of the property and into his enthusiastic team – it all just feels so natural. You cannot but be transported into a world where fine dining, great wines, luxury accommodation and jaw-dropping views take centre stage with Michael as composer.

Dining is a joy here, from the wholesome breakfast to a relaxed lunch, afternoon tea, and dining in the pool house restaurant or terrace on a sunny day. The ultimate treat is Michael’s Michelin starred restaurant – with all the anticipated ceremony that comes with a seat at the table of a great chef – low lighting, muted tunes, clothed tables and white gloved waiters.

Michael’s past, present and future is brought to life on each plate. Having worked with Raymond Blanc, Bernard Loiseau and Joël Robuchon, there is a distinct French appeal, complemented by a lightness of touch and a nod to Devon. It’s no surprise that his restaurant gained its Michelin star after only six months of opening.

OK, Michael is used to being up there with the stars, having held two Michelin stars for 18 years, and earning a global reputation for his modern take on British cuisine. Here, his food champions local produce and artisanal producers, focussing on flavour over fashion, combining Michael’s trademark attention to detail with little surprises of wonder.

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With a choice of an à la carte menu and two tasting menus, we opted for the eight course Signature Tasting Menu with wine pairing; and starting with a glass of Lympstone sparkling wine and canapés in the Lounge Bar, we were treated to a choreographed masterclass of fine dining. Each dish enthused with sauce, foam and sumptuousness, sour against sweet, cool against heat, light and shade. The wine pairing was a balanced display of bottles from across the world, some of which I had never tasted before, each presented by the enthusiastic Sommelier, Sylvia.

We commenced with a decadent Scottish langoustine topped with Oscietra caviar infused with truffle cream, paired with a saline Albariňo from Uruguay, showing hints of citrus and peach, followed by a ballotine of duck liver heightened with a sweet yet sour daikon and hazelnut crunch, tantalised with an off-dry Vouvray from the Loire Valley.

Next, the Cornish sea bass with olive tapenade and saffron-braised onions simmering in a rich bouillabaisse and the tiniest mushrooms washed down well with the steely notes of a white Rioja.

My personal favourite of the evening, the roasted partridge with poached quince, braised chicory, golden raisins, walnuts and Gewurztraminer sauce balanced perfectly with the Lympstone Manor Estate Pinot Noir, from grapes grown just a few feet away. Wonderfully rich and bursting with the sunshine that blessed the 2020 vintage; case in point that what grows together goes together.

Venison followed cocooned by an aromatic chestnut, fig and red wine jus, made even more moreish with the red cherry and sour plum notes of a smooth Chianti Classico.

The cheese course, led by Beauvale blue with a side of black truffle, honey and quince was a gift with the non-vintage Tawny, a port-like wine from Washington, USA made from Cabernet Sauvignon, its sweet blackcurrant and minty sweetness an instant hit. With just enough room for dessert, the two final plates were all detail and delicacy; the apple mousse with green apple jelly, apple sorbet and a vanilla foam was followed by a trio of chocolate, chocolate mousse, Madagascar vanilla bavarois and yuzu parfait.

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Home amongst the vines

Planted in 2018, the just over 10-acre vineyard is home to varieties similar to what you’d find in Champagne – Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Meunier. The first harvest in 2020, happened to be a near=perfect vintage, and the long warm summer meant a still Pinot Noir could be made alongside the sparkling. Lympstone Manor’s subsequent Triassic Pinot Noir won gold at the recent International Wine Challenge, the only English red wine to do so, and only the start of a raft of awards for this sensational wine.

Lympstone Manor’s Classic Cuvée is floral with orange blossom, spiced pear and tangerine on the nose, evolving into a palate of English apples infused in a light berry spice with a toasty finish. This could equal my favourite Champagne. With Michael’s experience making his own champagne in France for over 20 years, it’s not surprising to see this fizz possessing a creamy, slightly lower acidic style compared to a typical English sparkling.

Lympstone Manor’s rosé is a light, fresh, appetiser-style wine, made from a field blend of the three grapes grown at Lympstone and perfect to enjoy in the summer sunshine overlooking the Exe.

Over the past decade, there has been a marked increase in accommodation, tours and restaurants linked to vineyards across the UK, however Lympstone Manor is one of only a handful of luxury wine tourism destinations to enjoy year-round, and the only one (that I know of) that comes with its own vineyard, a Michelin-starred restaurant, an outdoor pool and second restaurant.

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Pips ’n pieces

Hotel guests can take one of the hotel bikes and venture on the path to Exmouth, just 40 minutes away, or hike the many paths from the hotel, or enjoy a swim in the heated pool before a relaxed lunch looking across the estuary.

Devon is a county of discoveries, whether it’s sun-kissed beaches, or national trust properties, (Agatha Christie’s summer home is on our must-see list).. The hotel team can arrange activities for hotel guests from wine tastings and guided walks, stand up paddle boarding and kayaking, to horse riding and golf, and speciality tours around Devon.

Within walking distance of the hotel, the maritime village of Lympstone is home to a waterfront harbour and three pubs, or there’s Topsham where antique shops and cafés are are a window into old Devon, whilst Exmouth to the south is the gateway to the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site, and a spot of fossil hunting.

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The bottom line

Lympstone Manor guest rooms start from £347 per night including breakfast for two .

Afternoon tea is available from £49.50 per person. Lunch menus start from £75 per person.

The casual dining Pool House restaurant and bar is open for lunch and dinner to non-residents; however the leisure facilities and pool are for members and residents only.

Dinner in the Michelin starred restaurant includes a choice of À La Carte Menu from £175 per person; a seven course seafood Estuary Tasting menu from £215; or Michaels’s signature eight-course Tasting menu at £225, with wine pairings at an additional cost.

From May to September guests can enjoy vineyard tours and wine tastings at Lympstone Manor.

Lympstone Manor

Prices, opening times and information were correct at the time of our visit. Advanced bookings for hotel and dining experiences are strongly recommended. Please check the Hotel’s website for exact details.