I may enjoy a good skip along the King’s Road and a mooch around Mayfair, but at heart, I am a country gal. Born and bred on Norfolk’s rugged coast, I am comfier in Dubarrys than Choos and look far more at home in a Barbour than a Burberry. Maybe this is why, despite having been lucky enough to stay in some of the world’s ritziest hotels, it is the secluded, historic homes which I feel most at ease in. My favourite is Gravetye Manor, in West Sussex. Nestled within 1,000 acres of forests, fields, lakes and streams, the grand Grade I listed Elizabethan mansion is best known for its famous gardens, created by master horticulturalist William Robinson – although the hotel’s new restaurant has been stealing the limelight of late. Expect an elaborate warren of wood panelled lounges warmed by roaring log fires and graced with endless bucolic views. It is no wonder that it bagged the title of Pride of Britain Hotels’ prestigious ‘Hotel of the Year 2018’.
The grand stone mansion has 17-guestrooms – we were staying in ‘Pear’, one of the ‘Exclusive Deluxe Rooms’. Having had a revamp, the décor is far more modern than some of the other, more traditional rooms. It is west London’s very own Designers Guild which is to thank for the dreamy pale palate, which beautifully mirrors the garden’s blooms; plumped cloudy velvet cushions, a fresh spearmint green armchair and a tulip pink throw draped across the bed. The room was light and airy and actually felt more like a junior suite, with the comfortable lounge area facing the main garden’s ornate wild flower beds– which, during our March stay were chomping at the bit, about to reveal their full glory. The en-suite had a dangerously deep rolltop bath, which when combined with the aromatic Noble Isle amenities demanded a lengthy soak.
The pièce de résistance of staying at Gravetye used to be rambling around the world-famous gardens and grounds. Now, it is dinner in the hotel’s sparkly new restaurant, built less than a year ago. A little like my room, this is a modern addition in comparison with the rest of the manor, yet it blends in seamlessly with its apple green chairs and theatrically-lit tables, surrounded by botanically-inspired artworks by the talented Claire Basler. With a vast glass wall overlooking the gardens it all comes together to create a serene inside-outside dining experience. The eager to please (yet not at all overbearing) service matched the elegant surrounds. Whilst my partner ordered the traditional tasting menu, I went vegetarian – well, how could I not with one of the country’s most acclaimed kitchen gardens providing the bounty. Dating back to 1898, the Victorian creation is cocooned by 12-ft high Sussex sandstone walls. During our stay, Jerusalem artichokes and celeriac were thriving – both of which featured in the modern British tasting menus, concocted by Head Chef, George Blogg. In fact, my favourite dish was the smoked celeriac with citrus ash and curd, closely followed by the fluffy and ever so slightly crisp around the edge rhubarb souffle, which came with a tangy ginger ice cream. My other half favoured the Newhaven haddock with a shellfish stew and his Penny Bun risotto, which came with generous shavings of black truffle. Breakfast was also a triumph, partly because the sun illuminated the gardens for us to stare aimlessly out at over our steaming coffees, and partly because it has the most superb full English, with Dingley Dell back bacon and an intensely herby Stornoway black pudding, amid other goodies.
Out and About
Let’s not beat around the proverbial bush, this neck of the woods is bucolic bliss, with narrow country roads bypassing sweet weatherboarded cottages and misty vales, with bountiful farm shops around every bend. Within easy reach of Ashdown Forest, the Bluebell Railway, Glyndebourne, Sussex Polo Club and a bevvy of historic houses, Gravetye is a convenient base for those after a weekend filled with country fun and sightseeing. However, for me, a stay at Gravetye is about forgetting about anyone, anywhere and anything outside the 1,000-acre estate. The team are on hand to make picnic hampers, arrange al fresco afternoon teas or sort croquet games around the gardens and meadows. For those that want to sit back and take in the sights and sounds, one of the things that this hotel does really well is provide a plethora of charming private areas in which to lounge; from historic stone benches taking in views of the vale, to smart sunbeds and deck chairs hidden behind rambling clematises and tucked down secret paths. I spent the afternoon, map in hand, wandering around the wild gardens and the following morning I pulled on a pair of the hotel’s Hunter wellies and set off for the lake, which was bubbling at the edges with excitable toads, with reed beds swaying in the breeze.
The Worst Thing
We get a bit of a rollicking if we leave this bit blank, but frankly, our stay was 10/10 from start to finish, from the smiling door staff who dashed out to take all of my bags upon arrival, to the excitable waiter that insisted that I took a bottle of the hotel’s own grown apple juice home with me as I left.
The Best Thing
Oh, this bit I can fill easily. At Gravetye it is the little touches which make a stay here feel special; from the genuine and warm staff, whose smile makes it all the way to their eyes (a rarity in the luxury hotel trade), and the roaring log fires which greet you in the smoke-scented wood-panelled halls and cosy lounges, to the timeless, verdant setting, which changes with every visit.
Gravetye Manor is a member of the exclusive Pride of Britain Hotels collection, which never has more than 50 hotels in its portfolio, to guarantee quality and exclusivity. A one-night stay in a classic double room costs from £295 per room (based on two sharing) including full English breakfast. For more information, or to book, call Pride of Britain Hotels on 0800 089 3929 or visit prideofbritainhotels.com.