This week’s travel dream: Savoring a culinary awakening in ‘Hardy country’

South West England’s embrace of the Slow Food movement has transformed the region.

Stonehenge used to get me down, said Kate Maxwell in Condé Nast Traveler. To a London teenager being hauled unwillingly to the country each weekend, those ancient monoliths marked the beginning of the West Country, a nowhereland of rolling green hills where a big night out was “a bag of potato chips and a pint of Strongbow cider” at a dark village pub. But miracles happen. I’ve grown older and wiser since the 1990s, and South West England’s embrace of the Slow Food movement, of all things, has transformed the region into a place where it’s no surprise to find oneself dining beside Madonna’s ex or random members of England’s “fashion royalty.” What’s unchanged is the landscape—a world so intensely green that “you can feel drunk” on the color alone.

Meals weren’t the only highlights on my itinerary when I ventured back to Somerset and Dorset for a recent recharge. I’m a sucker for the melodrama in Tess of the D’Urbervilles, so I made time to visit “the epicenter of Hardy country,” the author’s cottage in Higher Bockhampton. “If you were to ask a Hollywood location scout to find an English country cottage, this would be what you’d get—salmon pink walls and a thick thatched roof, framed by holly, yew, and cherry trees.” The bigger house Hardy later built nearby is much less pretty, but its dining room features a portrait of the beauty who inspired Tess. Dorset is “littered with stately homes.” Two that I visited—Kingston Lacy and Montacute House—featured “astounding” portrait collections.

In Lyme Regis, on the Dorset coast, chef Mark Hix welcomed us to the epicenter of the locavore movement that’s invigorated dining across the whole region. Hix Oyster & Fish House is located in a wonderfully unspoiled town, and “jolly bunting spanned the narrow streets” near its shaley but lively beach. Hix is an amicable wizard of offal, educating foodies about the delights of monkfish cheeks, for instance. But he also connected us to a cider master, who led us to a cheddar maker, who steered us toward yet more unforgettable meals. At last, life in the West Country matches its “magical and grave” soul. Launceston Farm (, an elegant B&B in Blandford Forum, Dorset, offers doubles from $128 a night.

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