The pair of bicycles that greet us at the door of our Garden Room at Babington House look so sweet and friendly I feel like asking their names. We were half-expecting this Somerset slice of urbe in rus to feel a little, y'know, exclusive – its reputation and pedigree are downright stellar – but we quickly realise its popularity among fashion and film folk is owed as much to its warmth and homeliness as to its hip Ilse Crawford design. (Having a Cowshed spa, indoor and outdoor pools as well as a cinema doesn't do any harm to its luminary-luring cred either.)
Arriving on a drizzly English day, we're delighted to find our room has a good deal more to offer than just a place to rest our weary heads for the night. We could probably live here, to be honest – at least for a few weeks, until the craving to cook our own breakfast and do our own chores got too much for us. A five-minute walk from the main house, it has its own front door (guarded by our pet bikes), which leads, ingeniously, into the bathroom. We wouldn't try this at home, but it works beautifully here. No space is wasted on an entrance hall, and it's where we leave boots and coats, and dump our bags on a central oversized padded bench. A tin bath stands at one end, a single, simple embroidered artwork hanging over it; there's a big walk-in shower, and a loo in its own handsome privy, done out hunting-lodge look in exposed stone and wood. The moment when Mr Smith discovers a copy of the Beano in there is one to treasure.
The comfortable, wholemeal-deluxe style of this countryside outpost of the private members club reminds us of the Scandinavian homes we love to envy in design mags. Our huge, double-height sitting room, easily big enough for a family of five to amuse themselves without a fight, has stone flooring, a big pinky-beige sisal rug and a giant woolly pouffe, its fronds like the dreadlocks of a very clean sheepdog. The only ornaments as such are a few bits of enamelled cookware, lovely ceramic bowls and old R White lemonade bottles. Light pours in through a glass wall, easy to obscure at bedtime or if you're feeling private. The terrace outside gives access to Babington's kitchen garden, with its red-brick walls, box hedge, neater-than-neat raised beds, rows of lettuce à la Peter Rabbit, espaliered fruit-trees and a dovecot. (Talking of children's book heroes, this is a parents' paradise: the Little House crèche is open daily to members and guests.)
So, we've got it all: the view, the just-cut garden flowers, a woven basket full of fresh style magazines, the Bose stereo and Sony telly, a tweedy-soft sofa and a cream-coloured cast-iron wood-burning stove. (There's no chance of being cold, we find later on, with our bed draped in enough quilts and tartan blankets to pin down the fidgetiest sleeper.) We discover a kettle, Clipper teas and high-quality, penny chocolate in the dresser. Stepping onto the terrace, having styled myself up in topknot, bikini, flip-flops and thick Babington robe, I embark on a spot of hot-tub action. It's absurdly big and luxurious to loll in, a great steaming dish in the English chill, and… I don't want to spoil your future fun so I'll leave you to discover the red button for yourselves.
Over in the main house before dinner, we take aperitifs in the bar, where olive and aubergine colours, sculptural artworks and scraps of telltale conversation make for a distinctly 'London-on-sea' feel. We very much enjoy the uniquely Babington moment when an asymmetrically maned barman leans in to tend the fire. In here, in the billiards room and library at the front, we never feel remotely crowded; there are four club sofas in the bar alone, overlooking the gardens and the duck pond. And the plentiful staff, confident and laidback to a man, play their significant yet unobtrusive part perfectly.
We do sense the occasional whiff of Atonement or A Handful of Dust, such as the two flat-capped lads we see doing something to a tree stump by the drive. This is, after all, an historic property with acres of grounds, a croquet lawn and an 18th-century chapel. There are wellies to borrow, panelled walls and hunting trophies in the library – though, come 11am, it is full of laptop-scratchers, their other halves galloping along on exercise bikes in the gym or getting their stress seen to in the Cowshed spa.
You walk through an open kitchen to get to dinner in the slate-floored orangery, where we take one of a dozen tables for two set round the edge of the room. It's not at all sceney, rather informal, with Nineties chill-out playing in the background, and a seasonal, gastropubbish menu of crispy squid, beef carpaccio, seabass and ribeye. We talk of many things, making the most of being in instant-holiday mode. After some terrific English cheese, we take the boring road – the one leading to beauty sleep, rather than pudding-wine dementia – and walk back arm-in-arm to watch the beginning of a DVD. It's not long before we're fast asleep in our Rolls-Royce of a bed.
It isn't until long after our stay, when I meet one of the designers responsible for the luxy rusticity of the Garden Rooms, that I learn that those welcoming pushbikes, so honest and nostalgic, cost the best part of a grand each. It makes me laugh to hear that, but I'm not really surprised. Everything you see, touch or eat here is the best. The artworks are original, the wellingtons are Hunter, the eggs Benedict is superlative. We've only stayed one night, but we've had serious fun. We didn't have time to explore the acres of grounds, but we had Cowshed spa treatments (superb), and can proudly say that we had a swim and sauna before breakfast. It's as romantic as it is family-friendly, and, as out-and-out townies, we felt more at home in the countryside than ever before (clip-clopping along the cobbled path in impractical heeled sandals is practically de rigueur). For low-key luxury and style, far from the madding police sirens, we know where to come.