Magical sightings of red stags, star-filled skies and a breathtaking coastline go hand in hand with Exmoor’s exquisite dining spots, characterful pubs and unique places to stay
Where to stay on Exmoor
Exmoor’s gorse-and-heather-strewn hills, Dark Sky Reserve status and coastal charm make it a superb playground in which to unleash your sense of adventure. If you’re keen to explore the National Park’s wild beauty, take advantage of its many alluring places to stay.
On the drop-dead-glamorous end of the spectrum is Bittescombe Lodge & Deer Park, which has ten architecturally exciting ensuite bedrooms. Everywhere the gaze falls in this lavish lodge – only available to rent in its entirety – there is a tableau of opulent furnishings, curated art and luxe living.
Those seeking rejuvenation can swim in the infinity pool, chill out in the spa, bask in the sauna or work out in the gym. Dinner is a decadent affair, where each menu is designed with the current occupiers in mind. Classically trained chef Nick Pyle gets creative with Bittescombe Estate’s own vegetables, fruit, venison, rare-breed lamb and Iron Age boar. Guests can also fish on the estate: their catch can be barbecued within minutes of reeling it in and savoured with a glass of bubbly.
If you fancy pitching up in one of the UK’s most beautiful medieval villages, The Luttrell Arms Hotel in Dunster oozes old-world charm. Guests can get everything from a massage to a new haircut in The Mews, linger over a cream tea in its attractive courtyard, cosy up next to a roaring fire in the bar, and dine on head chef Alan Woodhall’s regionally inspired dishes in Psalter’s Restaurant. History buffs will be in their element as the characterful hotel overlooks an ancient market hall and is a short stroll from Dunster Castle.
Should the romance of coastal moorland hold more appeal, The Old Rectory Hotel at Martinhoe, a mere 500 yards from the South West Coast Path, is the perfect hideaway. Owners Huw Rees and Sam Prosser are hot on providing the very best hospitality at their stylish Georgian boutique hotel and offer a variety of rooms and suites in The Old Rectory and its nearby Coach House and Coachman’s Cottage.
Their restaurant is only open to guests so Huw and Sam like to create a convivial house-party atmosphere, inviting residents to join them for pre-dinner drinks (there’s a fantastic local gin offering and an award-winning wine list) and canapés. Menus are overseen by executive chef Thomas Frost, whose wealth of experience in Michelin-starred kitchens makes him a trustworthy pair of hands when it comes to crafting dishes from Exmoor and north Devon produce.
Those looking to experience the very essence of Exmoor will find a stride along the River Barle at Simonsbath is best followed by supper and an overnight stay at The Exmoor Forest Inn (pictured top). The pub is part of the Exmoor Forest Estate and serves its own venison and grass-fed native-breed beef and lamb, as well as fruit and veg from its kitchen garden. There’s a choice of 11 ensuite rooms with pocket-sprung mattresses, deep baths and big showers (ideal after a day trekking the moor). There are also three holiday cottages and, in peak summer, a small campsite at the rear of the pub garden.
Where to eat on Exmoor
Everyone longs to stumble across an Exmoor local serving the kind of dining delicacies they would willingly travel across heath and heather to devour. The recently renovated Bittescombe Inn (formerly Lowtrow Cross Inn) at Upton ticks that box and has been bestowed with new owners, a snazzy makeover and, crucially, an excellent chef.
Frenchman Olivier Certain, who has spent more than 25 years in the South West working in some of the best dining pubs in the region, crafts hearty dishes like toasted crumpet with wild mushrooms, parmesan and truffle. Seasonal produce such as wood pigeon, organic free-range chicken and venison are sourced from nearby Bittescombe Estate as well as from local fishermen, farmers and foragers. The 17th-century former farmhouse also has five cosy rooms allowing guests to postpone the drive home and explore a bespoke wine list curated by food and drink writer and broadcaster William Sitwell.
On the northern edge of the moors, Locanda on the Weir in Porlock is a chic restaurant with rooms and is known for its charming hospitality, intriguing set menus and beautiful boutique decor (co-owner Cindy Siu has a great eye for interior design). Dinner here is a special occasion, with guests invited for aperitifs by the fire before tucking into combos such as roebuck with mugolio, chanterelles and wild mushrooms. Each dish is artfully plated (pictured above), with many showcasing the Italian heritage of head chef and co-owner Pio Catemario. Stay in one of four stylish rooms and explore Porlock Weir’s cluster of galleries, cafes and pubs.
The Masons Arms at Knowstone is a surefire bet for those seeking moorside Michelin dining. The rural country pub, with its ancient bar area and bucolic views, is a charming retreat in which to enjoy owner and executive chef Mark Dodson’s classic flavour combinations and elegant execution (pictured below). Dishes fashioned from the likes of Exmoor beef fillet and pork belly feel perfectly in keeping when you’re eyeing up views of rolling green countryside.
Also on the fringes of Exmoor National Park, another firm favourite among the foodie fraternity is Pyne Arms at East Down. Chef-owner Ellis Pannell offers a classic menu that balances creativity, quality and value (read our review of Pyne Arms here).
For alternative epicurean experiences, Exmoor offers a few unique culinary adventures. At Sitwell Supper Club, William Sitwell mines his extensive contacts to pull in top chefs (previous invites have been taken up by Atul Kochhar, Anna Haugh and Adam Handling) to cook in his converted cowshed at Rooks Nest Farm. These sociable occasions are popular with locals and visitors, and provide a superb opportunity to experience cooking by the best of the best (read our review of Sitwell Supper Club here).
Those staying or living on Exmoor can also dial in personal chef Tim Zekki who will bring his Duende restaurant direct to their home. A personalised à la carte menu, or a tasting menu of five or seven courses, is crafted especially for your party with optional wine flight.
If scoffing delicious street food by the sea sounds appealing, Ziangs in Minehead offers fresh-from-thewok makan. Chin Taylor and his mother Choo draw on their family’s heritage of authentic cooking from China, Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand in a changing menu of four or five mains. The best bit is that you can recreate the dishes at home by watching Chin and Choo’s YouTube cooking channel, Ziang’s Food Workshop.
Where to drink on Exmoor
Woods in Dulverton is something of an Exmoor institution, not least because it has walked away with The Good Pub Guide‘s National Wine Pub of the Year accolade for 11 years running. Landlord Paddy Groves is incredibly proud of his cave of bottles and loves to talk tipples. However, that’s not the only thing this fantastic community pub does well. There’s always cask beer, farm cider and unusual spirits on the go, as well as a traditional food menu fashioned around produce from Paddy’s farm.
Woods is one of a wealth of ancient atmospheric pubs dotted across the moors that provide liquid refreshment after a long ramble. Some, like Tarr Farm Inn, are located at iconic beauty spots and have local ales on tap and a delightful beer garden in which to enjoy them. The 16th-century grey-stone inn, tucked in a remote valley directly above the River Barle and ancient clapper bridge Tarr Steps, has plenty of cosy nooks in which to enjoy a glass of wine and a decent meal after a stroll along the riverbank.
Fans of R D Blackmore’s Exmoor tale Lorna Doone might prefer to seek out the The Royal Oak Inn at Withypool. The author is said to have written part of the novel from the comfort of the inn’s bar, which today is known for its extensive whisky list.
Exmoor Ales‘ cask and bottled beers are a quintessential part of moorland life and can be enjoyed at pubs across the National Park. The microbrewery at Wiveliscombe concentrates on craft ales, which range from light and golden to the deepest, darkest porter.
Where to shop on Exmoor
Shopping might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Exmoor, but the National Park does have some fantastic little towns worth exploring for their indie shops.
Dunster is packed with indie outlets such as interiors shop Dunster Living. Run by Helsinki-born photographer Nina Dodd and her carpenter husband Andrew, it’s a stylish showcase of British and Scandinavian artistry. Local foodies rave about Nina’s pop-up Scandinavian Cakery (taking place on select weekends), for which she bakes cinnamon buns, cardamom buns, blueberry pies, quark pies and Swedish chokladbollar using recipes passed down by her mother.
The bustling town of Dulverton is also a charming destination for a day of leisurely browsing. Alongside tea shops, pubs and gift shops are quirky finds like Seven Fables, a magical shop filled with British ceramics, jewellery, stained glass, prints and paintings, as well as quirky raku clocks made by Ian Roberts.
Minehead is home to a fantastic Farmers’ Market (Fridays, 8.30am to 1pm) which makes for the perfect picnic-hunting destination. Head to The Parade and fill your totes with everything from golden-crust loaves and sumptuous cakes to artisan cheeses and free-range chicken.
If you can’t get to Exmoor any time soon then fire up the fingers and do a spot of online shopping. Porlock Bay Oysters has a fantastic oyster gift box which includes its award-winning bivalves, a shucking knife, lemon, Tabasco sauce and everything you need to make classic mignonette.
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