When you think about gourmet holidays in the UK, there are a handful of destinations that will pop into your mind.
I can guarantee that Cornwall is one of them. But Wiltshire? Probably not.
Indeed, it’s one of those places that I’ve been to so many times to shop – it’s just an hour and half down the M4 from London – but have hardly ever stopped long enough to have lunch.
Well, except the one time I stopped at the (which now has a Michelin star) on the way to Cornwall.
And yet, there’s a new map from Visit Wiltshire that’s hoping to change the public perception and put it, well, on the map as a foodie destination.
So with a long weekend booked off, I drove down to Wiltshire to see exactly what’s on offer.
My first stop was , an impressive property on the outskirts of Bath, where a three-course dinner would set you back £87.
There’s a one-way road system that forces you to follow a grand drive way, taking in the magnificent building when the treeline finally reveals it.
I immediately wished I was staying the night – there are so many things to do on site, including a cookery school – but I was there to try out their one Michelin-starred restaurant, Restaurant Hywel Jones.
Their website tells me that ‘Restaurant Hywel Jones by Lucknam Park transports you to a bygone era of elegance and sophistication’, and that is very true.
Dinner takes place in an enormous room hung with chandeliers, and is preceded and succeeded by drinks in the nearby lounge.
The chef, Hywel Jones, has clearly made an effort to source British produce, with location markers like Cornish and Norfolk peppering the menu.
I enjoyed the chicken and duck liver parfait and loin of Wiltshire venison, followed by a moreish banana parfait with rum and raisin sponge.
After relaxing with post-dinner petit fours and fresh mint tea, it was time to drive to my bolt hole for the weekend – in Malmesbury.
It’s one of the two self-catering cottages at The Rookery, and was perfectly situated for my eating plans for the rest of the weekend – seemingly, everything delicious was no more than a 20-minute drive away from there.
It also came with the most delicious welcome cakes, a moist raisin number, made by my host Jenny. That was breakfast sorted then. Just as well because I got in exceptionally late on the first night.
Next up was Sunday lunch in Lacock, at .
The National Trust village gets plenty of footfall thanks to its credentials as a popular filming location (Harry Potter and Pride And Prejudice among them) and quintessential English village, but I wondered how many visit (mostly) for the food?
Well, Sign of the Angel is a 2 AA Rosette-awarded gastro pub set in a charming 15th century inn, and it’s very affordable at £21 for two courses.
And as I visited on a Sunday, it was all about the roast – belly of pork with apple fritters and seasonal vegetables in my case. They were incredibly gracious, even though I managed to arrive two hours late because of car trouble.
I was sorry not to see sticky toffee pudding on the menu though – surely a staple of a pub lunch?
But it was a gloriously sunny day so I swapped out for a rather futuristic looking gin parfait with cucumber and meringue, which probably helped me fare better in the heat.
Dinner was a stone’s throw from my cottage in Malmesbury, at the Michelin-starred at Whatley Manor.
The chef, Niall Keating, won the Michelin Young Chef award recently and I would not be surprised if they gained a second star in the next guide because the food is seriously imaginative and, more importantly, delicious.
A quick Google of his CV soon revealed why – Keating had previously worked for Sat Bains in Nottingham (two stars), Benu in San Francisco (three stars), and Kong Hans Kælder in Copenhagen (one star).
I had morsels like oyster with a seaweed mignonette, lobster custard with chicken broth and turbot sashimi on nashi pear as part of the tasting menu, but the stand out dish for me has to be the risotto with scallop. So much flavour and so many textures were distilled into a singular, colourful dish.
It’s not exactly cheap, at £120 per person for the tasting menu, but I’ve had inferior food in London that made a bigger dent in my wallet.
My final stop, en route back to London, was at , an organic gastro pub with its own farm.
I don’t think I’ve been anywhere quite like it – there were literally chickens greeting me at the door and they weren’t shy about fighting over the scraps later on.
I sat outside, under the canopy of the trees, and had a very generous open sandwich, topped with rare sirloin steak, tomatoes and horseradish, and hand-cut chips.
It was incredibly nice to soak up the rays streaming down between the leave.
Ruminating over the meals of the preceding days, I realised on reflection that I haven’t eaten so well in the UK for a long time.
Wiltshire might not have the lure of the Cornish coastline but its bounty is certainly more than brimful.
As I sipped the last of my refreshing elderflower cordial and readied myself for the drive back to London, there was just room for one last thing – a sticky toffee pudding.
Because what pub lunch would be complete without it?
Other things to do in Wiltshire:
You can kick back and enjoy the countryside – and there is quite a lot of it – but it’s also worth seeing some of the local attractions.
, the National Arboretum in Gloucestershire, is just a 20-minute drive from my base in Malmesbury – and you actually get complimentary entry if you stay at The Rookery’s cottages.
You get to see a lot of interesting trees, including a pine that was thought to have been extinct for millions of years before it was discovered again in Australia.
Tickets are £10 for adults.
In Lacock, there are a lot of filming locations, which are free to scout, and the village itself is generally quite picturesque.
You can also visit the , where you can learn all about the Brit who invented photography – but didn’t tell anyone until someone else pipped him to it.
Entry is £13.40 for adults.
If you love charming villages like Lacock, Wiltshire isn’t short of options. Castle Combe is another celebrated spot.
There are also a couple of grand houses nearby, which you’ll probably want to pack a picnic for.
is smaller and costs £6.50 for adults. There’s a huge park surrounding it, which is free to visit.
costs £7.70 and this includes entry to house and gardens.
Where to stay in Wiltshire and how to get there:
I stayed at The Stables at The Rookery, which is available to book through – there’s no additional booking fee or charges so what you see is what you get.
It’s a delightful one-bed property with a full kitchen/lounge and patio space in the garden. The bedroom is upstairs so it’s worth bearing in mind if you have trouble with stairs.
It’s within walking distance to the charming town centre of Malmesbury, too, just in case you want to ditch the car while you’re there.
A week’s stay for two starts from £475, and a three-night weekend starts from £356.
I booked a car through as they had a few automatic ones near my office.
A three-day weekend hire, excluding additional mileage (60 miles a day is included in the basic membership) starts from £175.
For more ideas on what to do in Wiltshire, and where to eat, have a look at and ’s websites.
(Top picture: Getty)
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