Somerset’s landscapes are steeped in legend, from the lush fields of ‘Avalon’ to Cheddar Gorge and the wilds of Exmoor. The winding, country lanes hold secrets: a spectacular gathering of birds at sunset; a cave filled with fertility symbols; a farm taken over by huge sculptures.
The local food scene is flourishing, involving everyone from Michelin-star chefs to foragers on the Mendip Hills and farmers selling cheddar and cider from the barn door.
Glastonbury Festival shines as the centre of the musical universe in June – but the region is becoming known for much more than this. Quiet, agrarian villages are now fashionable places in which to eat brunch, buy designer ceramics and paddleboard down river. Bruton has an internationally-renowned art gallery and the county’s hip, country house hotels, from Soho House and Babylonstoren, are some of the UK’s most desirable.
What makes Somerset so exciting is that it preserves a bucolic way of life while keeping its finger firmly on the pulse.
The perfect weekend in Somerset
Stylish towns, Gothic cathedrals and Michelin stars
Bruton is an earthy yet stylish little town and a good base for a weekend of food, art and gardens. For an indulgent stay, check into The Newt, a country estate, hotel and spa. Or, with the feel of a well-travelled friend’s home, try Number One Bruton.
The converted barns at Durslade Farm are an outpost of international gallery Hauser & Wirth. Contemplate artists’ ideas in the dreamy Piet Oudolf garden afterwards or stay for a buzzy brunch at Roth Bar & Grill. Emerging artists exhibit at Bruton’s former Methodist church, now the Bo Lee and Workman gallery.
Visit Wells, a 25-minute drive away, to stand in awe beneath the West Front of its Gothic cathedral. Wander to Vicar’s Close, the only complete medieval street in England and explore 13th-century Bishop’s Palace, which has fortified walls, a great hall and a moat.
Encounter Somerset creativity on the first Sunday of the month in Frome (a 20-minute drive), when artisans and antiques dealers descend for The Frome Independent market. Alternatively, dainty Mells makes for a picturesque stroll, stopping at the bloom-filled Walled Garden, or at the Talbot Inn.
Prefer engines to gardens? The Haynes Motor Museum houses classic cars, while the Fleet Air Arm Museum has bombers, helicopters and Concorde. Both are 15-minutes from Bruton and close to caramel-stone South Petherton, where restaurant Holm serves confident, seasonal food.
Back in Bruton, Osip is unmissable for Merlin Labron-Johnson’s fresh, imaginative Michelin-starred cooking. At the Chapel offers sourdough pizza on a terrace beside rambling roses. Or try The Three Horseshoes, where London chef Margot Henderson is shaking up tiny Batcombe with punchy dishes of local produce. Find more of the best restaurants in Somerset in our guide.
The perfect one-week holiday in Somerset
Soaring cliffs, Glastonbury and wildlife watching
An extra four nights gives you time to explore Cheddar Gorge, Glastonbury and a variety of landscapes, from the Mendip Hills to the Somerset Levels and Exmoor. Base your first two nights in Wedmore, at the foot of the Mendips, staying at The Swan, an old coaching inn that offers River Cottage-style cooking.
At Cheddar Gorge, 15-minutes’ drive away, cliffs soar upwards from the road and limestone slabs lunge across it. Impressive views reward those who climb the footpaths at either end, or walk a circular four-mile route (free; wear appropriate footwear). Sample cave-aged cheddar and watch the cheese being made in the village of its origin. Alternatively, try rock climbing, abseiling or caving. Find more of the best things to do in Somerset in our guide.
Walkers will find Ebbor Gorge, nearby, more unspoilt, or families might prefer the caverns at Wookey Hole, where there is a dinosaur park too. Continue to The Ethicurean restaurant, just north of the Mendips, for a memorable, part-foraged dining experience that is rooted in these hills. Find more of the best pubs in Somerset in our guide.
To uncover some of England’s most famous legends, head to Glastonbury, a 20-minute drive across the Somerset Levels. Seek out the cloaked trustees of the Chalice Well and enter the garden and candlelit cavern that contain the sacred red and white springs. Climb the steps to Glastonbury Tor afterwards, which is topped by 14th-century St Michael’s Tower and looks over fields crisscrossed by cattle droves and old drainage channels. Glastonbury’s ruined abbey, back in town, contains the alleged resting place of King Arthur.
Between November and February, starling murmurations can be seen nearby above the RSPB reserve at Ham Wall. Stop for supper and a riverside pint at the eclectic Sheppey inn, before witnessing the spectacle.
End the week in Exmoor, staying at Locanda on the Weir , which stands between the wild moor and Porlock Weir’s purple shingle beach. Book ahead to try the co-owner’s sublime Italian cooking. Most of Exmoor lies in Somerset, so spend a couple of days walking through ancient combes and hills bristling with gorse; shucking fresh oysters; visiting Coleridge’s Cottage, riding the heritage West Somerset railway, scouting for fossils at Kilve beach, or exploring the castle at medieval Dunster .
Where to stay
Best for romance
The Newt (rooms from £385 per night) is a spoiling country house hotel with spa treatments and picnics in the gardens. Or couples will love the marble-clad bathrooms At the Chapel (rooms from £125 per night), with their minimalist freestanding baths.
Best for families
With afternoon tea, a creche and a games loft, Babington House (rooms from £360 per night) keeps children busy while parents swim or dine. In the Mendips, The Litton (rooms from £140 per night) has child-friendly menus, interlinking rooms and outdoor games.
Best for foodies
Behind a yellow door, Number One Bruton (rooms from £160 per night) has detailed interiors and Michelin-starred, farm-to-table restaurant Osip. Or Margot Henderson’s pub The Three Horseshoes (rooms from £220 per night), offers hip country living and outdoor seating beside a church.
What to bring home
Along with heritage cheddar and cider, pick up some smoked fish or meat from Brown and Forrest, a local smokery that sells its fish to Fortnum & Mason.
Cider brandy is also a good buy. The Somerset Cider Brandy Company distills cider and ages its brandy in Somerset oak barrels. Its Ice Cider and a digestif, Pomona, are ideal dessert tipples to accompany cheese.
When to go
Somerset has a wet but mild climate, so a visit at any time is feasible. There is something special about springtime though, when orchards disappear under clouds of pink blossom. Visiting a cider press while the air is sweet with the scent of crushed apples is also a treat, as are the wooded combes of Exmoor in autumn. Purple heather makes a pretty sight on the Quantocks in late summer, while on the Levels, you can catch starling murmurations in winter. Avoid Pilton and Glastonbury during the last week of June (unless you have tickets to Glastonbury Festival).
Natalie lives on Somerset’s border and enjoys browsing its artisan markets, messing about on rivers, cheese tasting and picnicking in orchards with a flagon of cider. She loves Somerset for its independent spirit.