Wotton House, near Dorking RH5 6HS - hotel review
PUBLISHED: 15:24 12 July 2017 | UPDATED: 15:25 12 July 2017
In the second of our new feature exploring places to stay in Surrey, Rebecca Younger visits the former home of botanist John Evelyn, Wotton House, near Dorking
Originally published in Surrey Life magazine June 2017
One thing is profoundly evident as you descend the sweeping drive that leads from the A25, just outside Dorking, towards the terracotta-bricked Wotton House, and that is the estate’s botanical roots. Despite our arrival being on a rather grey day weather-wise, the 13 acres of grounds that surround the mansion were no less inspiring. Earlier this year, the house – home to conservationist and naturalist John Evelyn in the 17th century – underwent a £6 million upgrade as part of a rolling refurbishment programme by hotel group De Vere.
While the house has been renovated throughout – adding a further 16 suites to the hotel and bringing the total number of rooms to 127 – the gardens have remained predominantly untouched, apart from the introduction of several commissioned sculptures by Surrey-based artist Emma Stothard.
Evelyn, who was the inspiration for toiletry brand Crabtree & Evelyn, once described Wotton as “my most cherished place on earth”. He designed some of the gardens at Wotton House – including the first Italian garden in England – and as a result, they now have Grade II listed status.
When you also have a perfectly-preserved Roman temple, which is lit beautifully at night, as well as a huge fountain and quirky grottoes within the grounds, there really is no need for change.
What’s inspired about the hotel’s revamp is how it incorporates notes of Evelyn’s expertise as a botanist, and the importance of the gardens, around every corner – from the suites that are named after plants to the tasteful décor in each room, which is heavily influenced by nature. Hanging on the walls of the corridor leading from the main reception to bar, there is also a gallery of historical portraits and tablets of information depicting the life story of Evelyn and his time at the house and, for those who want to properly get out and explore the gardens, the hotel even provides Hunter wellies in various sizes and colours for guests to borrow.
The ‘outside-in’ theme continues in the 1877 restaurant, where a beautifully-lit tree acts as a centrepiece to the room. The food, while good, was heartier than you might expect from such an establishment and the menu a little confused, part fine dining, part staple country pub. The service here was also a little muddled – a mixture of staff so attentive they were falling over themselves to ensure guests were happy and those who were perhaps a little too honest about their opinions of the menu; we were told by one waitress to stay well clear of the house wine when actually it was perfectly drinkable and possibly one of the better house options I have tasted in my time.
What it didn’t deliver in service however, it made up for in ambience and our evening was topped off with a post-meal tipple by the outside fire pit, overlooking what really makes a stay at this historical house quite special – its immaculate gardens.
Rooms start from £129 per room per night, based on double occupancy. De Vere Wotton House, Guildford Road, Dorking RH5 6QQ Tel: 01306 730000 Web: devere.com/deverewottonhouse