Yearning for Michelin cuisine in Provence? Teutonic grandeur in a Saxon castle? Desperate to get away from it all in a West Coast treehouse? Or does a dirty stop-out on a real-life film set float your boat? Whether you want to languish in Art Deco splendour, or wallow in the treetops of Zambia, we’ve found something better—right on your doorstep!
Olivia Allwood-Mollon plays Lady of the Manor in Raymond Blanc’s Cotswolds outpost Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons, tries out the ‘biggest bed in Britain’ at Thornbury Castle, whilst Claridge’s in Mayfair earns its place as her ultimate pied-à-terre.
She explores Chewton Glen‘s large, tranquil grounds, succulent food, state-of-the-art spa and lavish, history-drenched interiors, and finds solace at Luton Hoo—a gem near the somewhat less glamorous airport.
Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons
If you’re thinking: La Bastide Saint Antoine for its lavender fields and Michelin-starred cuisine… Head over to Raymond Blanc’s idyllic Cotswolds outpost.
With its two Michelin-starred restaurant and absurdly beautiful grounds, Le Manoir is the perfect getaway for discerning Londoners. There are lavender and vegetable gardens, herb gardens, an Asian garden for Oriental plants, a beautiful and calming Japanese garden, and best of all, several stunning untouched 15th century stone-edged ponds.
Le Manoir is all about the food. A gastronome’s heaven, a foodie’s paradise, an anorexic’s anathema. The working vegetable and herb gardens provide the kitchen with ultra-fresh, totally organic produce. There’s something gratifyingly earthy in strolling through the rows of soil and bulbs knowing they’ll soon be transformed into a Michelin-starred chef-d’oeuvre.
Dinner consisted of 12 courses; the nine-course tasting menu plus three tasters from the main menu. The real high point was the roasted loin of Shropshire venison with Alsace bacon, chicory, celeriac and Grand Veneur sauce, and for Mr Man, the squab pigeon baked in a salted crust. Although the very literal sommelier was confused by my request to match wines to our courses; bringing a separate glass for each of the 12 courses. Gulp.
This vast banquet was followed by breakfast in our suite, a selection of fresh juices, Eggs Royale, champagne, and an omelette and fruit salad for Mr Man.
We were given the Blanc de Blanc, Le Manoir’s pièce de résistance — the crème de la crème of suites. In all my years as a critic, I can say with absolute confidence that these are the finest digs I’ve ever been tasked with reviewing. All the rooms are beautiful, and each has its own character, but the newer Blanc de Blanc and garden suites are on another level. Cream opulence as far as the eye can see. Spectacular bathrooms with double rainforest showers, a deep and opulent bathtub with frothing letterbox fountain (in lieu of anything so pedestrian as a tap), double basins set in marble, and more space than my reasonably large west London apartment. The suite also has three loos (everyone knows the secret to a successful relationship…), a large cloakroom/walk-in wardrobe, additional sitting room, four-poster in the gilded bedroom, and its own private garden with pond.
And all this came replete with a carafe of fine Madeira wine. Welcome, if awkward in an all-white suite.
Le Manoir attracts foodies, families, society couples on romantic minibreaks alongside locals enjoying a celebratory meal. A dream setting for a wedding, we saw several florists emerge from the hall laden with huge blooms, cuttings and wedding bouquets.
The Cotswolds is a distended mass of charming and quaint villages. Immediately next-door lies a magnificent grand and archaic stone church. Great Milton village is as close to untouched Cotswold Idyll as you get. There are picture-perfect postboxes resting on hedgerows, and a village shop run by a convivial classic car enthusiast who could, for all I could tell, have leapt straight from the pages of a Wodehouse novel. But when you’re somewhere quite as magnificent as Le Manoir, there’s little reason to even leave the grounds.
Although dogs aren’t welcome in the hotel proper, leaving Puppy in a kennel as lavish as our suite put my mind at rest. With organic dog food and under-floor heating, I was free to forget all trace of responsibility for the weekend. Or at least until morning where we bounded through bracken-strewn meadows, a hound in her element.
The calibre of food is a given. Re-hashing this is waste of the ink it is written in. But bonum cibum aside, the ultimate high-point was a solitary stroll around the lawns, flower borders, orchards and 15th century ponds. In a brief flight of fancy one might possibly imagine oneself as Lady of the Manor in a period drama. Or a pre-Raphaelite reclining in a Millais painting. Don’t ask me, I couldn’t possibly comment.
The Blanc de Blanc suite starts at £1,400 a night. Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons
Church Road, Great Milton, Oxford, OX44 7PD; www.manoir.com; 018 4427 8881
If you fancy: Lismore Castle Ireland, or Schoenberg Castle in Germany… Pop along to Henry VIII’s favourite hangout.
A couple of hours’ drive from London, Thornbury Castle is the only Tudor castle to open as a hotel. Part of the prestigious Von Essen collection, it boasts historic parkland, a vineyard, privy gardens, the largest bed in Britain, and a helipad. Henry VIII once flirted with Anne Boleyn within its ancient walls, and secret panels and tales of hauntings are rife.
The supper menu was fantastic. We feasted on roast breast of quail and braised leg with pickled vegetables, game froth and pancetta, followed by a selection of aged beef; fillet, featherblade and bone marrow. I rounded off the meal with baked pumpkin cheesecake, and an off-menu order of sorbet for the Actor. The waiter expertly matched our wines to each course, and we were not disappointed.
There are two oak-panelled dining rooms serving a selection of game-heavy cuisine. There is also a mezzanine gallery with a large single table overlooking the main dining hall. Lit with candelabras and surrounded by tapestries, Henry VIII’s table of choice failed to disappoint. It was remarkably easy to imagine oneself casually sentencing an uncooperative manservant, whist feasting on copious quantities of ale, boar’s head and roast peacock.
We were given the Tower Room, 77 ancient spiral steps up and the penthouse of the tower, with views across untouched parkland, of doves, steeples and spires.
Our room boasted the largest bed in Britain, 10 feet wide with a huge patterned frame. At the foot of the bed a TV rose out of a painted wooden box, rendering the second wall-mounted TV redundant. There was also a third smaller TV mounted in the bathroom. Although these superfluous modernities felt like an afterthought at odds with period features, tales of hauntings and silk wall hangings.
The library and drawing rooms were impeccably styled. Distressed armchairs, settles and Knole sofas were complemented by oak panelling, oil paintings and grand fireplaces. The food was fantastic and the kitchen staff exemplary. Mr Man’s dairy allergy was effortlessly accommodated, and champagne breakfast in our suite was an exemplary farewell.
A Memorable Experience package is £495 and includes one night’s stay in the Tower Suite, three-course dinner and full English breakfast for two.
Thornbury Castle and Tudor Gardens, Castle Street, Thornbury, South Gloucestershire, BS35 1HHA; www.thornburycastle.co.uk; 01454 281 182
Thornbury Castle is a member of the von Essen hotel group; www.vonessenhotels.com; 0844 809 2540.
For West Coast cool you could go native in Treebones Resort Big Sur. Or if Africa’s more your thing, Tongabezi Lodge Zambia. But if you really want to go all out, join Kate Moss and Gwyneth Paltrow in England’s hippest treetop village.
A country house hotel and spa set in 130 acres of rolling Hampshire countryside. A member of the Relais & Châteaux group, it has been voted ‘Best Hotel for Service in the UK’ and one of the ‘World’s Best Hotels’ by Conde Nast Traveller.
With large, tranquil grounds there’s a relaxing family feel to the place; there was at once an octogenarian enjoying the piano while small children squeal with delight, swinging from ancient oaks outside. The vast grounds feel still and timeless, not unlike A.A Milne’s 100-acre wood.
Head Chefs Luke Matthews and Andrew Du Bourg make the most of the hotel’s expansive kitchen garden; all ingredients are fresh and local, the plates healthy yet filling.
The main house and its more traditional chintzy luxe is complemented by the newer treehouse suites offering the ultimate in romantic seclusion. Nestling metres up in the forest canopy, each Hideaway Suite has an outdoor hot tub, while the Loft Suite has a secret galleried bunk for children. Lying in bed, there’s little more relaxing than gazing out through a glass balcony to nothing but the ancient trees surrounding you. If accidentally stumbling into Hyde Park gives you a panic attack, this is the ‘back to nature’ retreat for you – city-break luxury with scout-camp views.
And for the ultimate relaxing experience why not enjoy a spa treatment high in your treetop abode. Each treehouse comprises two suites, which can be booked both together for the real Crusoe experience. And if you’re as misanthropic as us, make use of their rope pulley system for staff to deliver meals from the ground. You needn’t interact with a soul.
Double rooms start from £325 per night, including breakfast, dinner in Chewton Glen’s new Vetiver Restaurant; starters from £13.50; main courses from £19.50 and desserts from £7.50, excluding wines or the five-course tasting menu £79.50. The Treehouse Suites range from £850 to £1,500 a night, including breakfast.
Chewton Glen Hotel & Spa, New Milton, New Forest, Hampshire, BH25; visit www.chewtonglen.com for details of special offers and promotions; 014 2527 5341
Fancy yourself as Pretty Woman in Beverley Wilshire? Want to live out Sofia Coppola’s Somewhere at Chateau Marmont? Save your air-miles. Luton Hoo has featured in more blockbusters than you can shake a stick at.
From succulent food to state-of-the-art spa and lavish, history-drenched interiors, Luton Hoo is an unexpected gem.
So the hotel is in Luton. Or thereabouts. But despite its less than glamorous location, a taxi from Luton Parkway doesn’t take you anywhere near the town itself. And once there, one of the grandest and most impressive country houses I’d ever stayed in sits atop a mass of rolling hills, beacons and valleys.
But if the journey to Luton really gives you the shudders, it’s only 20 minutes from London in a chopper and there’s a helipad onsite.
We supped on tea-smoked duck breast, followed by roast rump of English lamb with sautéed girolles mushrooms, fondant potato, carrot puree, and braised red cabbage in a red wine jus. The pre-prandial cocktails were somewhat lacklustre—tepid and sickly—but succulent lamb and decent Malbec to follow more than compensated.
Dinner was served in the spectacular Wernher restaurant, a dining room whose remodel cost more than the 228-room mansion itself. With its exotic marble panelwork and richly coloured tapestries, the room is an almost exact replica of the dining room at The Ritz, with The Ritz architects drafted in for the task by diamond magnate, resident show-off and then owner, Sir Julius Wernher.
The room was chintzy, but not horribly so, and the views, oh the views… We overlooked a courtyard, with formal gardens just beyond and valleys stretching as far as the eye could see. The beds were improbably comfortable, and the large bathroom, with its Jacuzzi tub and large circular window was the perfect place to unwind.
Not only was a large part of Four Weddings and a Funeral filmed there, but Luton Hoo has appeared in several other films including A Shot in the Dark, Never Say Never Again, Eyes Wide Shut, The Secret Garden, Princess Caraboo, Wilde, The World Is Not Enough, Quills, Enigma, De-Lovely and Bright Young Things. And if that doesn’t impress you, Fabergé, Pushkin, Sir Winston Churchill and HRH the Queen are among Luton Hoo’s more esteemed guests.
The capacious estate can be explored in the hotel’s quirky fleet of converted (and free) London taxis, and further from the main house, clay pigeon shooting and boating on the lake can both be arranged. The grounds are so extensive, and the facilities so spectacular, I imagine several weeks could be passed quite happily with no inclination to leave.
After Eggs Royale in bed, I enjoyed an Espa facial and massage before spending the morning in a hydro-pool flooded with glistening natural light. It was one of those beautiful bright, crisp, spring days and with its glass walls and vaulted, beamed ceiling, the pool was absolutely state-of-the-art.
The stained glass windows and frescoed ceilings of the converted Russian Orthodox chapel are also worth writing home about. The chapel no longer has a marriage license but is just one more magnificent piece of history hiding within the estate.
Rooms in the mansion from £380 and suites from £540 per night. Rooms in the country club or Parkland from £320 and suites from £540 per night.
Luton Hoo Hotel, Golf & Spa, The Mansion House, Luton, Bedfordshire, LU1 3TQ; 01582 734437; www.lutonhoo.co.uk
For fine examples of Art-Deco architecture you could visit Imperial Hotel Prague, or the Peace Hotel Shanghai. Or if you’re craving heritage hotels you could jump on the red-eye to Raffles Singapore or NYC’s Waldorf Astoria. Or, you could simply pop over to London’s finest..
Tucked away behind the madding crowds of Oxford Street, in the heart of Mayfair, Claridge’s is synonymous with old-school service, heritage and discretion.
Considered by many to be London’s most prestigious hotel, Claridge’s has won a whole host of prestigious international awards. Most notably Condé Nast Traveller Gold List, Tatler Travel Guide 2013, Telegraph Travel Awards, and Forbes TRAVELER.
We feasted on the finest rare sirloin I’ve tasted. Dinner was faultless. Starting with lobster ceviche, and ending with elderflower and rhubarb trifle with vanilla chantilly cream. The food was exquisite, staff exemplary — attentive, yet unobtrusive; the ideal wait staff, invisibly pre-empting our every need.
We were given the Claridge’s Suite. High ceilings, neo-classical décor, tonal wall fabrics, balconettes overlooking Mayfair’s Brook Street, and the tour de force, a vast, plump, feather mountain of a bed sat alone in the centre of an opulent bedroom. Ideal for anything from a dirty stop-out to an anniversary, to a romantic getaway; million thread-count sheets stretched as far as the eye could see. Everything from the prints on the wall to the double-door vaulted corridors oozed old-school glamour, sex, and expensive, timeless seduction.
There was an equally sizeable sitting room. A polished walnut lobby led to our marble-strewn bathroom, which in turn led onto a Willy-Wonka-glass-elevator-double-sized-waterfall-shower of a wet room. Across the room, a vast Italian marble tub sat aside a quaint latch window, while Bamford products lay in wait on every surface.
Televisions were superfluous — their presence an afterthought in an environment that exquisite. Had we stayed longer, the subtle glow from hidden corners may have been yet another bonus, but with a suite that beautiful, a bar, a fumoir, and a restaurant fit to eat your own overdraft, who’s concerned with setting the Sky box? We could have languished in our suite for days, uninterested and unmarred by the outside world. The ultimate pied-à-terre for harried Londoners; as a getaway, a million miles more effective than a country jaunt.
Suites even come replete with their own private butler to cater to your every whim. The Victorian wrought-iron gated lift enjoys velvet seats and a jovial lift-attendant.
Guests comprise the Chelsea contingent in need of a late night cocktail, cool kids dropping in for a nightcap, anyone who’s heard of Claridge’s incredible reputation, international jet-setters, aristos, and regular stalwarts who’ve been haunting its grand walls since time immemorial. Claridge’s has a rare ability to retain its dignity whilst holding court as one of the most established Mayfair hotspots.
Mayfair needs little introduction, but there are few places that share the understated elegance of Claridge’s Fumoir bar. There are myriad west end clubs, members’ bars and illicit soho watering holes in close proximity, but Claridge’s is a destination in itself. Only a 15-minute cab ride from west London proper, nothing as close is more transporting than its historic confines. I felt rejuvenated in a way most commonly achieved with a week-long jaunt to Antigua.