Mystical and ancient green vistas and a rugged coastline characterise Somerset, and there’s much food-and-drink fun to be found among its rolling hills. The rich agricultural history of the English county makes it an excellent setting for seekers of artisan produce – restaurants, pubs and cider presses are full of the local good stuff. Daytime is for rosy-cheeked walks in fields and country estates, while come dusk, you’ll find locals holed up in cosy pubs or in trendy wine bars hidden down winding streets.
You’ll need to bring your most sensible shoes for much that Somerset has to offer – the lifestyle is active, and you never quite know what the weather’s going to bring. That being said, autumn months often mean sun, and a bumper harvest crop that shows up best in the county’s top restaurants. Autumn is also an ideal time to visit Burrow Hill’s cider house and cider brandy stills, and of course taste the fruits of its labour.
Somerset’s picturesque market towns make good starting points to explore the surrounds, and although parking in these locations is at a premium, the best way to see Somerset is by car. Local taxi companies come in handy for drink-related excursions, but book well ahead to avoid disappointment (or unwanted tee-totalling).
Of course, Somerset borders Bristol and Bath – capitals for those seeking good drink and good culture – but they both warrant their own guides, such are their offerings. Instead, read on to discover the delights of a more rural escape to Somerset.
Things to see and do in Somerset
You’ll find some of Somerset’s most dramatic vistas at Cheddar Gorge. Slicing through the Mendip Hills, the walking route isn’t for the faint-hearted, with steep ascents and breath-taking views. For a gentler terrain, a walk in the rolling Quantock Hills will provide ample natural beauty and nods to medieval Somerset, with the added bonus of the rocky shoreline of Kilve Beach, which reveals a network of jewel-like rockpools at low tide. Hug the ancient Jurassic coastline for a day of fossil hunting, heading inland at the most Westerly point to admire the St Audries Bay Waterfall.
For those looking for artistic titillation, a trip to Hauser & Wirth should do the trick. The modern art gallery occupies an old farmstead in Bruton and houses a selection of works from renowned international artists. Traverse the cobbled streets of nearby market town Frome on the first Sunday of every month for the Frome Independent market. Here you can browse wares from local artists, unique vintage finds and enough artisanal, locally produced foodstuffs – including bona-fide Cheddar and Somerset Brie – to fully stock your larder (and drinks collection). Country estates are two a penny in this rural county, but a trip to Tudor manor house Barrington Court will more than satisfy any need for historical enrichment.
Where to eat and drink in Somerset
The connection between local producers and restauranteurs is special in Somerset – with restaurants like South Petherton’s Holm sourcing seasonal vegetables from a grocer on the same street. It’s the fourth outpost from the restauranteurs behind London’s Levan (among other venues), serving a thoughtful, seasonal tasting menu – the Westcombe cheddar ‘fries’ with pickled walnut are not to be missed – alongside a wine list that takes a low-intervention slant.
Chichi Bruton’s Osip follows in a similar vein, with farm-to-table eating at the centre of its ethos, some of the menu’s produce grown in the restaurant’s own gardens. It features rooms too, should you fancy sampling its freshly baked brioche and homemade jams for breakfast. Then, head to the sleepy village of Lopen to have lunch in an old train carriage at Pip’s Railway Carriage Café – and pick up a few bottles of local wine and cider in the adjoining farm shop.
A good pub is the backbone of drinking life in Somerset and you’ll find it at The Sheppey Inn in Lower Godney, with its 16 ales on tap and a selection of cocktails and wine on the list. For a true local’s experience, it’s hard to beat The Prince of Wales in Stoke-sub-Hamdon, which serves regional ciders and sits atop the ancient roman hillfort Ham Hill Country Park.
If you prefer the wine scene, head to Frome, where you’ll find Eight Stony Street, stocking more than 350 wines. You can take a bottle from the shop into the bar for a small corkage fee. Truly sought-after tables are found at At The Chapel in Bruton, whose restaurant, wine store and terrace is the go-to place for stylish surrounds and a carefully curated wine list.
Where to stay in Somerset
Part hotel, part working country estate and gardens, The Newt in Somerset opened in a grand Georgian manor house in the summer of 2019. Since then, the luxe hotel has garnered attention from food-and-drink-focused guests. The hotel has a huge horticultural offering that suits its Somerset setting, including its own cyder press, bottling house and bar. The Newt applies modern winemaking methods to its apples, and has produced IWSC award-winning ‘fine’ still, sparkling, and rosé ciders. There’s also a mushroom house, and grazing livestock. The décor speaks to the building’s 17th Century history but features modern flourishes, with pale wooden beams, freestanding baths and lovingly restored local ham stone fireplaces, complete with woodburning fires.
The ultimate drinking destination
If you visit Pass Vale Farm from September to Christmas, you’ll see the yard of the cider house piled high with autumnal-hued apples. Burrow Hill is the home of both its namesake cider and Somerset Cider Brandy, and is open for guided tours and tastings Monday to Saturday.
Walk the orchards (bring a pair of wellies – a Somerset essential), take a peek at the 170-year-old vats in the cider house, and admire the ‘apple eau de vie’ trickling from the copper stills. Taste your way through aged cider brandies, refreshing Kingston Black apple aperitif, ‘ice cider’, sparkling perry and of course, proper Somerset cider.