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Exmoor excellence

PUBLISHED: 09:00 22 March 2014

A warm welcome awaits guests at The Old Rectory Hotel

A warm welcome awaits guests at The Old Rectory Hotel

Matt Fryer Photography

Hospitality is the key to success at The Old Rectory Hotel, writes Owen Jones

You may not have realised, but the most romantic hotel in the UK is in North Devon - according to users of the TripAdvisor website.

But if you’ve ever been lucky enough to spend a couple of nights at The Old Rectory in Martinhoe the accolade won’t come as a surprise.

As you might expect it ticks a lot of boxes - a great Exmoor location, fabulous meals and 11 beautiful bedrooms.

But what really sets this place apart is the warmth of the welcome and attention to detail from owners Huw Rees and Sam Prosser.

The Old Rectory is one of a number of Devon hotels which appreciate the value of the South West Coast Path to the local economy.

The hotel adds a small optional charge to guests’ bills which is passed on to the local National Trust to help maintain the coast path. Last year this paid for the renovation of steps in the section of path which runs between the hotel at Heddon’s Mouth.

Both had successful careers in the corporate world before deciding to take on the Old Rectory in 2008. But it’s clear they are natural hosts, running the hotel in a way that makes every guest feel special.

Sam, once a business sales manager for a major car company, recalls: “We fell in love with the hotel before we had even opened the door. It was a grey, wet day but even then the beauty of the area was apparent.”

“It is the most amazing location,” adds Huw, who previously worked as a surveyor. “A guest told us we were probably one of the quietest hotels in England. Most of the time the only thing you can hear are the birds singing.”

The hotel, as the name suggests, was once the home of the rector of Martinhoe and it sits right next to the 11th century church.

"We wanted to create the kind of place where we and our friends had wanted to stay"

It’s also a stone’s throw from the South West Coast Path - meaning guests can stroll out to enjoy spectacular sea views at Woody Bay and Heddon’s Mouth, probably stopping for a bit of lunch at the characterful Hunters Inn.

But if relaxation and TLC is what’s required there’s little reason to leave the hotel at all. The en-suite bedrooms and suites are all different and decorated in an eclectic mix of contemporary and antique style with a selection of Molton Brown luxury products and crisp white bed linen.

The garden is stunning, with plenty of quiet spots to lie back with a book. There’s a small maze, trout pond and stream to attract the local wildlife; deer are often seen sipping from the water. And at 4pm Sam and Huw produce home baked cakes to enjoy with a cup of tea.

There’s a real sense of occasion when dinner is served. All the guests are invited to enjoy pre-dinner drinks and a selection of canapes before dinner. It’s a great time to meet fellow guests if you want to, or just chill out on the terrace.

Sam shows guests to their tables while Huw is working his magic in the kitchen, with culinary skills developed at the supper clubs the pair used to host before they took the plunge into the hotel business. The food is great and if you happen to be a vegetarian you’ll love the fact that there’s a whole new menu just for you. It’s all part of the thoughtful, caring and friendly service from the owners that really makes every guest feel as though they’d like to stay for at least an extra week.

Huw and Sam explain: “We wanted to create a unique boutique country house hotel - the kind of place where we and our friends had always wanted to stay, but which we could never find.”

So it’s hardly surprising that after reluctantly leaving, after a delicious Exmoor breakfast, guests are minded to give rave reviews of the hotel to TripAdvisor. The Old Rectory has also just won Gold in the Best Small Hotel Category of the South West Tourism Excellence Awards.

This article was first published in the March issue of Devon Life. To get the magazine delivered every month to your home, subscribe at or call 08448484217


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