Review by Fiona Duncan, published 2nd September 2007.
If part of you yearns for the grand solidity of the Edwardian era, the allure of old-fashioned English seaside resorts and perhaps a whiff of colonialism, then look no farther than Orestone Manor.
'The superb view, framed by fir trees, took in gardens that sloped toward the sea'
It is not a trendy place. Nor is Torquay, three miles away, although change must surely be on the way: the gorgeous English Riviera around Torbay can't, one feels, be ignored by the smart set for much longer, and Torquay, with its palm-fringed seafront and lush gardens, is ripe for revival. A few contemporary bars and cafés are beginning to open up and there's even a Michelin-starred restaurant, The Elephant, run by the previous owners of Orestone Manor.
The Manor has a hang-up about elephants. When they refurbished the hotel in 2000, those same owners came up with an elephant logo, simply because the Edwardian style of the house suggested colonial associations. Soon the elephant motif proliferated. Guests kept asking about its significance, and the owners "embarrassingly, had no answer". Then, in 2002, the gardener unearthed an object from deep in a flowerbed: a charming, perfectly preserved ladies' ceramic pipe from the 18th century, shaped in the form of an elephant's head. Even if the elephant theme irritates, all is forgiven.
The little pipe is now displayed in the hall. Unfair, I know, but the heavy, dark blue-striped wallpaper in this stately room (and continued up the stairs) made my heart sink: it felt passé - in a bad way. But then we were shown to our huge, first-floor "superior" room (there are also suites and top-floor "gable rooms") with dramatic Arts and Crafts-style wallpaper, antique furniture, sleigh bed, Deco lighting: eclectic, luxurious and passé - in a good way.
The superb view, framed by fir trees, took in gardens that sloped toward the sea.
From then on, this hotel could do little wrong. We saw other rooms; some of the smaller ones smelled worryingly stuffy but the larger ones were lovely; all, like ours, faintly Edwardian, faintly colonial and rather grand. The same went for the wood-floored public rooms: an elegant sitting room and bar, and adjoining conservatory leading to a (disappointingly tatty) terrace where lunch and dinner in the summer, overlooking Babbacombe Bay, must be heaven.
These rooms, softly lit by table lamps, looked lovely in the evening, when we slumped on a squashy sofa for drinks and serious canapés.
Dinner was really very good. My "tomato plate" included a wonderfully refreshing tomato consommé, while my husband's beetroot risotto was equally good. Excellent beef and sea bass followed, and then a delicious poached pink-Champagne rhubarb with scrambled-egg ice cream for Andrew, most of which I stole from him.
The chef is the son of the hotel's new owners, Mr and Mrs May. Stay in any hotel around Torquay, especially one with views of the sea - "over there - between the land and the sky" as the oft-quoted Basil snapped at his querulous guest - and you can't fail to think of Fawlty Towers.
Professional Torquay hoteliers with three previous properties under their belts, the Mays haven't a hint of Basil and Sybil about them, but it's not beyond the bounds of imagination that you'll see the Colonel slumbering on a sofa near the bar.