Review by Fiona Duncan, published 4th April 2011.
For a man who hangs out in a Dragon's Den, making people nervous, Duncan Bannatyne seems surprisingly eager to please. Right inside the front door of Charlton House, and in all the bedrooms, is a photograph of the hotel's new proprietor, the aforesaid Dragon, above a Customer Care Policy statement that starts "if you are happy with Charlton House, tell me about it, I'd like to know; if you are unhappy with Charlton House tell me about it – I'd REALLY like to know".
And please don't go running to TripAdvisor, it might well have added. Bannatyne is having a well-publicised row with that hugely powerful website, ever since a disparaging review, comparing Charlton House to Fawlty Towers, appeared on it last year (since removed). Like many other hoteliers and restaurateurs he is furious that TripAdvisor includes reviews that are defamatory, much to the detriment of the hotels, and he religiously exercises his right to reply by having his managers answer almost every post, whether complimentary (most are) or not.
"Hurrah, at last you've got rid of your paint effect walls," I told my sister when I picked her up to take her to Charlton House, only to find that Charlton House still had its intact.
She was the right companion. A man might have felt de trop. On a Sunday evening, the hotel's large, flouncy conservatory dining room ("I'm thinking Marbella resort," she commented, and I know what she meant) was hen heaven, packed with groups of women enjoying the very reasonable spa packages on offer.
I'm sure that Charlton House will flourish. A manager with a background in country house hotels has just joined, and hopefully further improvements, particularly in the bedrooms and bathrooms (ours had several shabby elements) will soon be made.
We found the staff to be excellent, and the Moroccan-style spa with hydrotherapy pool now offers Bannatyne's signature Elemis products and treatments (there is a divine flotation bed) at affordable prices.
The food was enjoyable, too, though the breakfast buffet was a bit lacklustre, as so often. Oh, and the Orangery, for weddings and private functions, is a really lovely room.
But if Mr Bannatyne wants to bring Charlton House back to its former status as a destination hotel then, though I am no Dragon, I would suggest he did a few things. First, promise never, ever to design another bedroom, as he has in Duncan's Den, a brutal essay in black. Second, improve the naff, incompatible website. Third, remove the ghastly metal name tags from the staff. And fourth, ditch the photo and the Mission Statement.
Do this, then, as they say on Dragon's Den, I'm in.
Standard Secret Garden, Adam & Eve and Ostler recommended, otherwise worth paying extra for superior rooms
We found staff charming and helpful
Best for spa girls at present; potential needs realising; the road is close
Food & drink TTT
Decent dinner; average breakfast
Value for money TTTT
Expensive weekend rates; look for the spa packages
- Shepton Mallet (01749 342008; www.bannatyne.co.uk). Doubles from £110 per night, including breakfast. Access possible for guests with disabilities
Don't miss a walk through nearby Charlton Viaduct, the largest Grade II listed monument viaduct in the UK. accessible opposite the hotel itself. For details of walks in and around Shepton Mallet, visitwww.sheptonmallet.info.
Where to bag a bargain
Mulberry has a factory shop in Shepton Mallet (www.mulberryfactoryshop.com). You won't find the latest It bag but well worth a trawl through for Mulberry staples. Clarks shoe shop also has a factory shop in Street (0844 499 5566). Alternatively, the city of Wells (the smallest city in Europe) has a great market on a Wednesday.
Great for lunch
Try At the Chapel (01749 814070; www.atthechapel.co.uk), a bakery, wine store, bar, café and restaurant in Bruton; The Three Horseshoes (01749 850359; www.thethreehorseshoesinn.co.uk), a 400-year-old pub in Batcombe; and the 18th-century Queens Arms (01963 220317;www.thequeensarms.com) in Corton Denham