The Cavendish's Titled Owners Create a Laid-Back Ambience

By Dinah A. Spritzer

Reed Travel Features

BASLOW, England -- How many inns ask you for your title when you check in? Despite the pomp, the Cavendish, a stone cottage owned by the Duchess and Duke of Devonshire on Chatsworth Estate is a low-key retreat where jeans and T-shirts are as welcomed as nobility.

The Cavendish may be in titled hands, but its management has been the nearly lifelong pursuit of Eric Marsh, manager, airplane pilot and host extraordinaire. The host welcomes each guest and chats them up during dinner but not before he has donned a rather flamboyant tuxedo. Marsh's collection of 300 works of art is displayed in the grand hall and ranges from antique sketches of the countryside to bawdy graffiti. He also is partial to photos of himself with family and airplanes.

The 23-room Cavendish is located in an idyllic, rolling green park, which is best viewed from one of the property's many nearly floor-to-ceiling windows. The environment is so laid back that if a guest chooses to climb out the window to romp in the fields, the breach of etiquette goes unpunished. (I confess.)

Such activities contrast with the property's regal heritage, which dates to 1830 when it was purchased by a Devonshire duke. It was rebuilt as an inn in 1970, and the decor and furnishings were selected by the Duchess of Devonshire, who donated some original Chatsworth pieces to the property. Rooms have a tasteful, rural elegance, some with poster beds and antiques, all with the feeling of a bygone era of aristocracy. Pictures or paintings of the duke and duchess' family hang in each bedroom. There is a cozy yellow parlor with overstuffed blue-and-yellow chairs, perfect for sipping brandy and telling tales. Exposed oak beams and fireplaces also add a warm feeling to the public spaces.

But there is no question why so many locals come to the Cavendish: the food. The main restaurant serves gourmet fare, the likes of which you might expect at a five-star hotel in Paris. The menu is constantly changing, but a typical dinner begins with five kinds of bread, continues with succulent lamb and a tart side sauce, then concludes with a pastry of delicate, flaky perfection. It is no wonder that the Cavendish offers an in-kitchen dining option for two people who would like to feast and see a master chef at work. For those who wish to remain casual in the evening, there is the glass-enclosed garden dining room, where the food is lighter but still pleasing to the palate.

The diversity of guests' ages and attire is one more reason the Cavendish is a comfortable getaway. Room rates range from $150 to $171, double. There are several bargain packages, such as a free Sunday night in winter for a minimum two-night stay and the Romantic Break, which includes two nights, flowers and champagne, a Peak District itinerary, full breakfasts, supper for two in the garden room and a three-course meal in the dining room for $450 per couple. (Prices above are approximate due to currency fluctuations). For more information, fax the hotel's toll-free line at (800) 235-5845 or call (011) 44-1246 582-311.

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