The Newt is a chic kind of Arcadia. A 300-acre Somerset estate transformed into nature pristine, the English landscape given a contemporary makeover. From the walk along a wooden platform that takes you up through the woods from the car park, through to the stunning Threshing Barn that marks its entrance (note the waving ceiling sculpture), to the open courtyard dotted with apple press, Cyder Bar (which serves 6 different varieties of ciders produced on the estate) and Farm Shop, you are cossetted in a dreamy version of the natural world.
That’s before you even get to the gardens themselves, which is the real reason you are here – though you might think that’s lunch at the stunningly situated Garden Café where you get to enjoy food created from the bounty of what’s around you and in-house charcuterie, breads and pastries (also check the covetable chef notebook style menus).
But it is the landscaping that is supposed to be the main draw – the 30 acres of finely crafted gardens that recently opened to the public after years of work. They serve as a serene escape from it all, as well as taking you through a carefully constructed horticultural history that reaches back two thousand years (and The Newt shows this through the plants, trees and design itself rather than any non-immersive signage).
Highlights include the walled Parabola gardens conceived to function as a maze once it gets going and that also contains apples from every county in England and the sensory delight of a walkway made of crushed sea shells. We had soft spots for the fantasy of a Victorian greenhouse dotted with ferns and the joy inducing woven egg sculptures that the kids curled up in by South African designer Porky Hefer. The woodland walks contain hidden interventions in nature, including a spiral pathed heap of a hill, with views down the valley from its perfectly placed telescope. And there is an abundance of apple motifs - one ambition of the place is the have the best apple collection in the UK. It’s worth booking a daily tour by one of the estate’s gardeners to get a true understanding of the complexity contained with it.
The startling thing is this is oh but Phase 1 of The Newt, which only just opened to the public earlier this year. This August saw the opening of the country house at the center of the estate, Hadspen House, restored into an inviting hotel with all its Georgian glory in tact, The Stable Yard to bed down in similar luxury, and a stunning, ‘garden-scented’ Spa for soaking away worries. Later phases include a gardening college and museum, a succulent garden, as well as a lake inspired by King Arthur (!) amongst other ambitions for the site
The Newt—named after the four-legged amphibious creatures who cross the estate—is the lavish imagining of South African billionaire Koos Bekker and his wife Karen Roos. From the moment they bought the estate in 2013, they have used their means and have found the ways—enlisting French architect Patrice Taravella and gardeners and chefs of a similar pedigree—to make real their ambitious vision for the place, and then share it with us.
But the key here, and we kept forgetting this as we wandered around and the kids played in the fountains, is that this is a working farm and a sustainable enterprise in which much of the produce grown here is served here, even the deer provide venison for the restaurants, the roaming hens eggs and the grazing water buffalo mozzarella. The Newt prides itself on careful cultivation, not just of craftsmanship and artisan practices, but across the whole project. It’s a finely conceived ecosystem of its own. And they have designed a place for you in it.
Lose yourself at The Newt for a day. Slow down here. And lean into the magazine spread beauty that is England, utopian.
Top tip: The Newt can be a little pricey - when we were there, we were able to convert our day pass into a season pass through the app Candide – it’s worth asking if this offer is still current.