Hotel review: The Elmfield Hotel, Devon

This family-friendly Devon hotel is still a work in progress, but Sally Shalam is won over by its relaxed welcome

A hotel website is a vital marketing tool. The Elmfield's does a convincing job - fresh design, easy to use, owner's blog. Lively shots of parents and kids, too. Most hotel photography is devoid of human life, as though an outbreak of legionnaires' disease had caused all public areas to be abandoned.

This 10-bedroom hotel has a pool, restaurant, and professes to be family-friendly and contemporary. The rates are cheering. A family suite, of two adjoining bedrooms, costs £140 a night, that's £35 per person for a family of four.

Off to hilly Ilfracombe then. No kids in tow, just Tim with his swimming kit.

Housed in Victorian brick splendour, the hotel awaits at the bottom of a plunging driveway. The lobby carpet's a patterned dazzler (where was that on the website?) yet a ladies' room off the hall is white and modern. What's going on here, then?

Gradual refurbishment is what. "New carpet is due any day," says owner Zoe Brewer, showing us to our rooms and explaining that no sooner had she and husband Matt moved their young family down from London than the economy descended as sharply as the hotel's driveway, taking hopes of extra finance with it.

This could explain why our rooms - which are spotless, with wonderful terraced garden views - display not entirely consistent decor. The Brewers are, logically, working their way down from the upper floors (where the more contemporary rooms are). We are on the ground floor.

However, reupholstered chairs, new curtains, cushions and good cotton bed linen brighten up these enormous rooms, each dominated by giant four-poster beds. "More Henry VIII than Habitat," says Tim, whose flock wallpaper and avocado shower room are definitely Hall Carpet period.

Wonderful to have a swim after the long drive, but blow it, afterwards, my shower will only emit unbearably hot water. Shame, my bathroom is so much nicer than Tim's, but as the hotel's full, I have no option but to dash into the hallway in my bathrobe and bash on his door.

This comedy routine is, of course, repeated in the morning. "Fawlty Towers - the Sequel" Tim grins, letting me in with my toiletries. "I like it here though - look at this," he waves a guest info card. "Breakfast, check-out, everything I need to know at a glance."

The Elmfield has, in fact, completely won us over. Midday check-out, and guests may carry on using the pool after this. Things the hotel is "happy to provide" range from baby listening to nappy bins and booking trusted babysitters or in-room treatments. Evening meals run from 5.30pm to 7.30pm for children but you can also order from the adult menu after 6.30pm, so families may dine together.

The bar is relaxed and welcoming. The sitting room has a giant roll-down screen, just perfect for rainy afternoons on the family-sized sofas watching films with the kids, or enjoying a glass of wine while they amuse themselves in the adjoining playroom. Dinner is great value at £14.90, though some dishes tried too hard. Fresh bread, wild garlic soup, delicious. Ditto pan fried trout, but Tim wasn't so keen on the "brushstroke" of squid ink and surprise chicken skin "crisp" which accompanied it. The verdict on crème brulee though, was "Brilliant."

I'd like to see that hotel blog covering updates on new and planned improvements, so returning guests feel involved and new ones - like us - have a clearer picture of what to expect, which hotel photography frequently fails to convey.

Day tripper Meet Shaun Ellis (aka Mr Wolf) with his pack at Combe Martin Wildlife Park (

This article was updated on 10 May 2012


Sally Shalam

The GuardianTramp

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