I’ve written before about my BFF discovery week-ends. We go way back with my Parisian girlfriends and each year, one of us gets invited to a place none has visited before as a birthday treat [kids & partners stay home]. So far, we have been to Tangiers, Sassi di Matera, Antwerp (no post on that one) and Formentera. I just came back from another epic one, in Somerset England and although we were 4 minus 1 this time (Gaelle: we missed you too much!!), we still managed to laugh and chat ’til past midnight.
The theme could have been: Art + Music + Green. Bruton is 2h30 away from London by car (an easy train journey but you will need a car once here) and is a mecca for Art. This stunning part of the English countryside has always been a magnet for artists, writers, musicians… and the hub of Bruton today seems to be At The Chapel, a gem of a little hotel / bar / restaurant / bakery / club with good taste and kindness all around. So glad we chose it as our base. Of note: room #5 on the top floor has very pretty views, and is the largest and the only one that would accommodate a family.
FRIDAY NIGHT: After a walk through town checking out the little shops, Caro Somerset stands out with her good eye for pretty things (and delicious Somerset-made chocolates), we made it on time for happy hour at the bar of the hotel. For dinner, we enjoyed a delicious meal at the Roth Bar & Grill. It is the restaurant of the Hauser & Wirth art foundation, on the outskirts of Bruton, where the walls are filled with the private collection of the owners and the bar has a long and colourful mural by father and son Oddur and Bjorn Roth. The restaurant prides itself in that the majority of the sourcing comes from less than a 5 miles radius, in true farm-to-table style. The atmosphere is casual, the food is so so good (from seabass to aged beef) and it’s the place to be on a Friday night in Bruton. It was fun to go back to sleepy Bruton after dinner, and find the bar of At The Chapel still buzzing.
Note: you could stop in Stonehenge and visit this major historical site on the way from London as it’s right by the highway.
SATURDAY: How often do you find the freshest croissants hanging by your bedroom door when you wake up? The small details that make a big difference At The Chapel (Not to mention the gluten-free muffin they brought up in a minute. Yes, gluten-shit happens even to the Frenchies). We then headed to Messuns Wiltshire, a surprising art gallery within a stunning estate about 30′ drive from Bruton. Loved the light installation by David Spriggs, set in an old barn with the most beautiful wooden structure.
Took a long muddy walk through the fields (note to self: do NOT forget rain boots)
Headed for a yummy lunch at The Beckford Arms 5′ away from Messuns, mingled with the locals who were all exchanging christmas gifts, some dressed in fancy outfits, us with our dirty boots and our French accents pretending to belong. This chic country pub also has a few rooms to rent, and a long list of recommended activities in the area.
We could have, would have, should have stopped at Alfred’s Tower in Stourhead on the way back, as it’s a beautiful estate famous for its grounds and part of the National Trust…but we were eager to warm up and chitchat and giggle before the evening’s concert.
At The Chapel hosted a wonderful little concert that night, by the rising local singer/songwriter Jack Samuel, who used to be a barman at the hotel but has since performed at Glastonbury and will be on a European tour soon. A mix of folk and rock with a warm and deep voice. What luck!
SUNDAY: We missed the Magician’s show At The Chapel in the morning (they organize so many wonderful events all year long, it’s worth timing a visit accordingly) and we used our time until lunch to mingle at Durslade Farm, the site of Hauser & Wirth Somerset.
We admired the surroundings designed by Dutch landscape artist Piet Oudolf (him who designed the gardens of the High Line in New York), wondering what it would all look like on a sunny summer day. It didn’t matter actually that it was a grey and rainy day. We still found the grounds stunningly beautiful. Romantic, Nostalgic, Atmospheric. Plants flowing with the wind, as if burnt by the cold of the winter, but standing softly all around. Magical.
We walked around the colonnades designed by architect Luis Laplace, who has managed to skilfully blend the new with the old, keeping a color palette and a sense of light that is very connected with Somerset.
We agreed to disagree on the works exhibited throughout the galleries, but we all loved the large paintings by Rita Ackermann, reminiscent of classroom chalkboards, and also depicting women flowing figures. Wow.
Worth noting: Hauser & Wirth Somerset organizes events for families and children every first Sunday of the month. Also, it is possible to stay on the beautiful grounds of the art foundation, at Durslade Farmhouse, in the buildings that they fully renovated into six beautiful bedrooms.
On our way back to London, we stopped near Salisbury at The New Arts Center, and were greeted by Lady Bessborough herself (and her great dane!), the force behind this magnificent land art space. What an unexpected visit. We learnt how she opened an influential gallery on Sloane Street in the 1950’s, and when her heavy sculpture of Henry Moore could no longer fit, she moved to the countryside with her husband, taking over this Georgian-era property first built for Lord Nelson. The land is never ending, with valleys and forests and cows and sheeps grazing everywhere, all of it dotted by large-scale sculptures. It is fascinating to step into this world of hers, as if we were guests for a moment. The space is actually a gallery with everything for sale. Highly recommended.
Of note: the space has an interesting educational program culminating in the ARTiculation prize, centered around history of art for 16-19 years old. Also fyi if you come with young children: there are no cafes (only toilets) and it’s not allowed to picnics.
After 3h30 drive stuck in traffic, I still don’t know how I managed to drop my girlfriends exactly on time at the Eurostar, at 6:39pm for their 7pm Eurostar (check in closes 20′ prior!) but I do know that today I am feeling a little down back at my desk in very urban London, so I am trying to remember the jokes and the stories that we shared, and the feeling of living only once and making the best of it.