Romance, far from the madding crowd

Peace, privacy and seclusion, far from the madding crowd, are important for a romantic break. Paschoe House, a spacious Tudor Gothic style cottage built in the mid-19th century, is an intimate boutique hotel and romantic hideaway in rural Devon. There are just nine rural themed rooms, though the Jack and Jill suite has an adjoining room if you really have to bring the family.

Putting some distance between the two of you and the frenetic 21st century world is essential. West of Exeter, south of Exmoor but north of Dartmoor, twixt moors and seas, Paschoe House awaits at the end of a long private drive. Eventually, passing through farmland and with views of the lake, you arrive at a country house both elegant and reassuringly solid. It was designed by John Hayward, the architect also responsible for Exeter’s Royal Albert Memorial Museum. When you step inside there’s an indulgent welcome of home-made petit-fours and cookies.

Birdsong rules in a countryside quilt of green fields, hedgerowed lanes and sparkling streams. Mornings are leisurely and the grandfather clock seems to tick to a slower beat. Breakfast is not served until nine o’clock. Moreover, Paschoe House closes, rests and revives from late Monday morning until Wednesday afternoon check-in. This is a place for quiet walks, a massage in your room, taking a book from the shelves of the Library Bar, a game of croquet on the lawn or a cocktail as the sun sets.

It is a green, fertile landscape where romance blossoms.

“Meet me by the swing,” reads one anonymous note, found in a 1920s cigarette tin, hidden away in a nook in what is now Hedgehog Room. Builders discovered the tin when they were renovating Paschoe House in 2016

“Pigs, meet me in my bedroom,” reads another.

“A local lady told me that her grandfather’s nickname was Pigs and that he owned Paschoe House from 1948 to 1958,” said Tabitha Fern, who manages Paschoe House.

Is this a Thomas Hardy style tale, perhaps of illicit love between servant girl and the master of the house? Perhaps a mid-20th century take on The Go Between? As the opening line of that great novel reminds us, “The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.”

Possibly not. Still, Paschoe House remains a romantic location. This rather special hotel draws people from afar. Robin Fern collects guests from Exeter Airport or the local railway station in the hotel’s Land Rover Discovery, though there are ambitious plans for a helipad.

Tabitha has given the traditional country house a makeover. In the entrance hall an antler chandelier marries ancient and contemporary. Quirky taxidermy elicits smiles; an ostrich keeps beady eyes on the bar, whilst a curled badger smiles his last sleep curled up by the fire. Thirteenth century stone fireplaces from the original Paschoe House coalesce with a discretely butterfly-patterned light wallpaper.

For couples planning futures and homes together this is inspirational interior design. On the way home you are bound to talk Designer Guild wallpapers, pastel colour palettes, underfloor heating, push-button curtains, Victorian style roll-top baths, original rural-themed art work, Nespresso coffee machines, woollen jacketed mini hot water bottles, separate thermostat control for the bathroom...

Food, wine and romance have been inextricably entwined through the ages. There’s even a romance to Paschoe’s kitchen garden, once lost and forgotten under a landslip, now producing ingredients for the casual dining, a la carte and tasting menus. The head chef is Craig Davies, a passionate perfectionist, who has worked alongside many of Britain’s top chefs. He plans to produce 25 fruits, herbs and ingredients every season. His menus for 2020 are already planned around this home- grown provenance.

If you visit Paschoe House, it would be a crime not to sample the tasting menu. Although it changes with the seasons, the spirit of the seven courses remains constant: the creativity of a veloute of parsnip, taleggio cheese and hazelnut, the precise sous vide cooking of a lobster tail resting in a shellfish bisque with brown shrimp and sea lettuce.

Alongside the menu there is a well-matched wine flight that includes Bouche Pere et Fils Champagne with the lobster, the only red of the evening, a robust Dao accompanying the red deer and finally a 10 year old Madeira pairing with the decadent Manjari chocolate and whisky jelly. It’s no surprise that Paschoe House’s restaurant has just been awarded its third AA rosette and the Michelin’s inspectors are taking an interest as Craig Davies works towards a Michelin star.

Above all, romance is about dreams. Paschoe House epitomises aspirations and hopes. Tabitha grew up in the chilly Paschoe House that her father had brought to restore into a grand family home. Sadly, he ran out of money in 2010. Paschoe House lay empty until 2016 when Tabitha, aged 26 and working in London, asked her father if she could convert the property into a boutique luxury hotel. Tabitha had the vision but still needed to raise finances, obtain planning permission and complete an ambitious restoration project. She was determined to make it work. A rejuvenated Paschoe House opened in August 2017 and a year later hosted Tabitha and Robin’s wedding reception. Can it get any more romantic?