Raymond Blanc’s Le Manoir needs no introduction. On a much longed for mini-break through Oxfordshire, swerving off the motorway into Great Milton, my senses are on high alert. Even Husband, who has been known to look at me blankly as I extolled the virtues of chefs unknown – to him that is – instantly recognised Blanc as the man who taught him how to spatchcock a chicken. Via the telly that is, sadly not in real life.
Arriving at the entrance of the honey stone manor house, we’re instantly greeted like family, bags taken out of our hands and we are immediately invited to simply relax. I’m actually wondering if they’ve mistaken us for someone famous but as we proceed through check-in, you realise that this is no special treatment, the staff are just this nice to everyone. They genuinely want you to have a wonderful time from the moment you drive through the gates. By the time we’re walking over to our rooms, we’ve already forgotten about the car, the luggage and anything even vaguely important.
Our suite (one of 32 guestrooms and suites) is set separate to the main house, what used to be part of the old stables, offering glimpses of a majestic old tree and the kind of tranquillity that someone really should try and bottle and sell – seriously, they’d make a killing.
Ours is called Anais and a double entrance leads the way to a delicately pretty set of rooms, decorated in the palest greens, Venetian glass ornaments and masks casually dotted around the mod-cons, modern art on the walls and a bathroom so wonderful I’d be happy camping out just in there. A double entrance leads the way to a delicately pretty set of rooms, done in the palest greens, Venetian glass ornaments and masks casually dotted around the mod-cons, modern art on the walls and a bathroom so wonderful I’d be happy camping out just in there.
Like the staff, they’ve really thought of everything, there are mini touches of brilliance everywhere, a fruit platter that boasts the best cherries I’ve ever tasted, fresh flowers and a flagon of Madeira.
Le Manoir, or to use its full name, Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons is part of the collection of Belmond hotels, a company with a luxurious portfolio of equally fabulous hotel, rail and river experiences around the world. I could have remained in the suite forever, going through the Belmond selection of experiences in the big guide book, eyes agog with wanderlust, flipping through the selection of magazines or even installed in the large bath, watching one of the flat screen TV’s at one end, but the grounds are beckoning us to explore.
Making our way to the house, flowers in bloom everywhere, the hum of lazy bees, I’m surprised at the elegant informality of this Relais & Chateaux hotel. Squishy couches in the lounge are calling out for a game of scrabble (sadly my scrabble skills are well below par) but on a rare day of glorious sunshine, we head out onto the lawn and within minutes find ourselves ensconced on a bench with olives, nuts and ice-cold Gin & Tonics.
This feels like home. A couple are playing Croquet on the lawn in front of us, failing to hit anything, but having a glorious ol time, waiters are gliding amongst us unobtrusively but with some sort of sixth sense, knowing exactly when somebody needs assistance, even if just to move some of the furniture around to catch the rays.
I’ve got so much more to tell you, incredible dining experiences courtesy of the two-Michelin star restaurant, gluttonous breakfasts and strolling through the gardens. Check out Part 2 of my tales, experiencing the indulgence of the nine course tasting menu.