With a population of 3,000 and a considerable sheep-to-person ratio, the small Somerset town of Bruton might seem sleepy at first glance–but this rural area of rolling hills and rustic storefronts is anything but tired. Housing a stunning outpost of contemporary art gallery Hauser and Wirth, country-chic lodgings, and several artisanal boutiques, Bruton is thriving with creativity and culture.
Two-and-a-half-hours by car or train from Central London, the countryside destination makes for an uncomplicated add-on to a trip across the pond. Charming even in the pouring rain, as I discovered, there’s a distinguishable sense of community here amongst a slew of regal country estates. A calm yet eclectic rural oasis awaits creative types, nature enthusiasts and those in search of something off-the-beaten path in Bruton. Here, a guide to the must-sees and hidden gems in this truly lovely countryside town.
Hauser & Wirth Somerset
When gallerists Iwan and Manuela Wirth discovered Durslade Farm six years ago—which was then just a series of dilapidated farmhouse buildings near the prospective boarding schools they were visiting for their children, the Wirths knew they had come upon a special place. Following two years of extensive renovations, the resulting Hauser & Wirth outpost is a stunning space where the Wirths’ interests in art, nature, community, philanthropy and family have been brought together.
Bruton’s most renowned attraction, Hauser & Wirth Somerset, features five galleries, an eclectic bar and restaurant, and a ravishing garden designed by Dutch landscape designer Piet Oudolf, the architect behind New York City’s High Line. Housed on a cattle farm that dates back to 1760, the alternative environment lends itself to an intimate experience. Instead of the florescent lights and hallow commercial spaces signature to urban galleries, this place features big windows overlooking sprawling greenery and cozy options to settle down with a book or cozy up with friends.
Making the space all the more immersive is the education program that Manuela and Iwan have championed, where events range from theater performances to annual parties and are frequented by the likes of famous artists and local artisans. Exhibitions curated by some of the art world’s finest change three times year, and there’s also a highly-esteemed artist residency program.
Playful flourishes decorate every turn at Hauser and Wirth’s on-site, six-bedroom guest house. A contemporary art lover’s dream lodging, the guest house features site-specific installations by Hauser and Wirth artists such as Paul McCarthy, Pipilotti Rist, and Guillermo Kuitca. Durslade Farmhouse also maintains its authenticity with locally sourced vintage wallpaper (used partially as many walls have been stripped to their bare beginnings) and antique furnishings—all the genius of French interior designer Luis Laplace.
If you’re looking for 24-hour butler service, Durslade Farmhouse (and the countryside in general) might not suit you. But, if the idea of cozying up in a big eggshell-shaped tub with a view of pieces from Iwan and Manuela’s private collection strikes your fancy, then come prepared to be swept away.
An 18th century church-turned-restaurant, bakery, wine store, and hotel, At the Chapel fully masters cozy-chic. The “feels-like-home” vibes are nonstop at this quaint property. A neatly arranged supply of wellies greets visitors at the entrance (in case you arrive ill-prepared for countryside conditions) and homemade croissants made overnight in the bakery are placed outside your door each morning. Every last detail here is simply lovely.
Purchased on impulse by ex-London couple restaurateur Catherine Butler and designer Ahmed Sidki in the early 2000’s, At the Chapel has evolved into the town’s hub. The space’s crown jewel is the restaurant–adorned with enormous ceilings, stunning light, and art on loan from Hauser and Wirth. At any given time, locals and visitors can be found here gathering for drinks, coffee, or farm-to-table comfort food.
With their clean white walls and onyx black plank floors, At the Chapel’s eight guest rooms are at once modern and brilliantly old school at the same time. Accented with cowhide rugs and mid-century leather chairs, the rooms are refreshingly non-commercial feeling. We stayed in Room 3, which offered stunning windows and a marble bathroom the size of a New York City bedroom.
The creation of Interior Designer Natalie Jones, Caro is a concept shop straight from your Scandinavian-design Pinterest dreams. Located on Bruton High Street, the store carries chicly minimalist home furnishings, women’s apparel and jewelry, and chocolates that are as beautiful as they are tasty. Having began her career in London for a branding agency, Jones’ expertly curated shop is a testament to her sharp vision and boundless creativity.
Caro also boasts splendid accommodations with its micro hotel, Caro B&B. The original B&B is located inside Jones’ home and has a warm, immaculately clean Airbnb vibe. We stayed here for a night and felt spoiled by our room’s stunning bathroom, graced with a huge tub overlooking a view of Bruton’s dovetail and stocked with dreamy Aesop products. The new B&B is located inside the attic of a completely renovated farmhouse and features a private courtyard.
Less than a ten-minute drive from Hauser and Wirth lies Westcombe Dairy Farm, a delightfully charming cheese farm run by the equally lovely father-and-son duo Richard and Tom Calver. Tours of the premises are offered every day besides Sunday, as well as cheese and beer tastings—which make for an ideal foodie excursion or a quaint and laid-back date. Should you not have time for a tour, there’s also a charming shop on site with a fireplace. And, hypothetically speaking, should you lust for the dreamy artisan cheese if you finish everything you buy before you even get back to London, Neal’s Yard in Borough Market carries the Westcombe Dairy brand.
Designed by the son and grandson of German-Swiss conceptual artist Dieter Roth, Hauser and Wirth’s on-site restaurant and bar is a sensory experience before the food is even served. Decorated with brilliant art and eclectic materials, there isn’t a bar stool or a table without a view of something vibrant.
Open during gallery hours on weekdays and for dinner during the weekend, the menu here is diverse, fresh, and scrumptious. For something savory and guilt-free, go for the selection of salads and sea bass prepared with borlotti beans, fennel, and wild garlic. Roth Bar and Grill also features a playfully inventive drink menu, with drinks named after artists featured in the ongoing exhibitions.
For something smooth with punchy notes, go for the Giant Triple Mushrooms dill infused gin cocktail aptly named after Carsten Höller’s installation in the gallery’s ongoing exhibition ‘The Land We Live In – The Land We Left Behind,’ curated by Adam Sutherland.
From: Harper’s BAZAAR US