Simon Wittenberg speaks to Jo Peters, Estate Director at Pennsylvania Castle Estate on the UNESCO World Heritage Jurassic Coast, about what makes this location so unique, as well as the launch of the new luxury Clifftops development.
Luxurious Magazine: Pennsylvania Castle Estate is situated on the cliffs of Portland in Dorset overlooking the English Channel, therefore providing spectacular views for visitors. Who is your main clientele?
Jo Peters: We always have a wonderfully eclectic mix of guests on the Estate. Everyone from keen weekenders, visiting Portland for its wealth of outdoor activities and water sports, to couples enjoying a luxury hideaway and families getting together for their holidays or to celebrate those big life events. We’ve hosted some rather amazing birthday celebrations, and of course, many wonderful wedding weekends at the Castle over the past ten years.
LM: You have just announced the opening of your new luxury Clifftops development, consisting of five self-catering apartments. Why was the decision taken to build them?
JP: Well, the idea came about because we often needed additional luxury accommodation for Castle guests. We host weddings and events for up to 150 guests at Pennsylvania Castle (known as The Penn), but the Castle itself only sleeps, 20 people.
Over the years we’ve hired out neighbouring holiday cottages, provided shuttle services to hotels on the mainland, and even purchased and renovated a five-bedroomed property a mile down the road for guests to hire in addition to the Castle.
Six years ago, we had the chance to purchase the holiday home business next door. It was an opportunity we felt we couldn’t turn down, as the grounds had originally belonged to the Castle Estate – so it felt right to bring them back together again. We invested in the new business but, by joining the two, we had created this impressive space right above the sea and just below the Castle grounds, with the most incredible view.
We stood there one day and just thought why not build something extra special that sits right within the cliff and doesn’t interrupt the views from the Castle.
LM: Was the use of stone from Portland’s Albion Stone Mines to allow the new lodges to blend in seamlessly with their surroundings?
JP: Yes, absolutely, we are so mindful of our surroundings. It’s not lost on us that guests are here just as much for the view as they are for the architecture and interiors, so we obviously wanted to protect that for the whole Estate and also when looking back at the cliffs from the sea. The stone itself was cut just minutes away from the Castle and had fossilised sea creatures captured within the variety of stone used both inside and out.
The copper cladding wrapped around the top of the lodges will sustainably age from copper red to green over time, accelerated by the seawater below. The sedum roof, full of wildflowers, really helps the lodges retreat into the natural landscape around us.
LM: What facilities do the lodges offer guests?
JP: Every lodge has its own iPad providing guest information at the touch of a button. A Bose portable Bluetooth sound system and Samsung smart TV keep guests entertained, whilst bespoke fires and underfloor heating ensure the lodges keep cosy over the winter. Impressive outdoor kitchens and hot tub hire are also available in the larger lodges with space for 20 guests to dine together, as soon as groups of guests are able to hire all five lodges exclusively.
LM: How did you decide which fixtures and fittings to use?
JP: Each of the lodges is named after a natural component of the build, so we wanted everything inside to reflect that and to be incredibly tactile and aesthetically pleasing. ‘Ope’ is named after Church Ope Cove, the small pebble cove that the lodges overlook. ‘Silva’, Latin for forest, celebrates the only historic woodland on the Island which is located within the Estate.
‘Copper’ found on the Island in the neighbouring quarries, has been an integral part of the build, whilst ‘Stone’ showcases the worked stone that has been sourced for generations from the Isle of Portland. ‘Blue’ was named to simply reflect the sea and sky all around the lodges which create their mesmeric views.
LM: What is the cost per night for staying at Clifftops?
JP: The lodges do vary, but prices start from £630 for a two-night stay.
LM: With weddings now restricted to just 15 people, what impact has COVID-19 has on your business and private hire bookings?
JP: It goes without saying that it has been an incredibly difficult time for the hospitality industry this year. Like every other venue, we were very busy during lockdown working with clients and suppliers postponing an entire season of weddings which was not easy, particularly as our wedding celebrations tend to be more of a two or three-day affair with guests staying right across the Estate.
That said, we have been very fortunate, we managed to postpone all but two of our weddings, and since we were able to reopen the Estate, we have been inundated with family holidays and group rentals. So, whilst it’s been an unrecognisable season for us this year, we have been busier than ever and count ourselves very lucky.
We still managed to host two small and beautiful weddings this summer which was wonderful – I don’t think I could have gone through an entire season without at least one!
LM: What’s next for Pennsylvania Castle Estate?
JP: We’ve waited a long time for Clifftops to come to completion and couldn’t be prouder of the finished lodges – we’re so excited to have guests finally enjoying them! We do have some smaller projects lined up, and 2021 is already set to be very busy as we fit two seasons into one.
We have a great little seasonal café bar on the Estate which we would love to do more with to enable us to provide more high-end catering for guests – that view is crying out for a beautiful restaurant!!!
We are often asked about turning the Castle into a hotel, and whilst our guests love the exclusivity of hiring The Penn, it would be fun to create some pop-up B&B experiences between those bigger get-togethers.
LM: What are your personal luxuries in life when you’re not at Pennsylvania Castle Estate?
JP: Anything cosy from The White Company that I can wear, bathe in, or sleep on, always makes me very happy!
LM: Thank you for your time Jo, and it has been a pleasure talking to you.
Pennsylvania Castle Estate – Where and How?
Address: Pennsylvania Road, Portland, Dorset DT5 1HZ United Kingdom.
Telephone: +44 (0)1305 820918.
For more information on Pennsylvania Castle Estate and to get in contact with Jo Peters, visit www.thepennestate.co.uk.
Photo credits: Jonathan Gooding and Laura Dean.
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