There is no word better suited to the five star Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons than magical. It's almost as if Raymond Blanc, whose vision the hotel is, collaborated with a group of pixies to create gardens straight out of fairytales and a menu at home in any mythical palace.
But enough of the whimsical description, here are the facts: Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons is the only country house hotel in Britain to retain two Michelin stars for more than 35 years.
Centred around it's intimate restaurant and a kitchen garden that invites guests to wander around, the 15th-century house is a shrine to all things fine-dining. From rooms inspired by herbs and flowers, including our Lavender suite which was beautifully, and thoughtfully, adorned with the dainty purple shrub, to the ever-changing menu of meticulously concocted dishes, this property is a foodie's dream.
And luckily, we are such people, and so as we walked up to the honey-coloured house via the orchard (perfect for novel reading - and writing - as well as hide and seek), perfectly manicured flower beds and a croquet lawn, we couldn't help but feel anticipation for what was to come.
Before the food though, the pièce de résistance of any stay here, we had a chance to settle into our suite. Understated but comfortable and thoughtful in every way, from handmade chocolates and views out onto the grounds to a bathroom that caught a golden light as the sun set and made for one of the most idyllic baths I have ever had (and, sadly, probably will ever have).
Our foray into the gardens took us past the 15th-century pond with Lillie pads so perfect it looked as though the entire scene had jumped out of a historic portrait, framed by the slightly crumbling walls behind it. We moved from here over a bridge and into the Japanese Garden, again centred around a pond, and with a path that takes you all the way round and past a meditation hut perched just over the water. We made a pact to visit again in the morning before breakfast, agreeing that we couldn't think of anywhere more idyllic to start the day. Once we had explored the kitchen garden itself, various sculptures and the mushroom valley (seriously!) we made our way back up the lavender footpaths to the lawn by the house for our aperitifs.
We chinked glasses as the sun set and marvelled at our surroundings in a unison with the various other couples dotted around. Drinks were accompanied by a granite platter of vibrantly coloured amuse-bouche; bright, fresh and so meticulously put together that we felt guilty tucking into them.
A short while later we were seated at our table in the conservatory which houses the two Michelin-starred restaurant and so began our culinary journey: a seven course taster menu.
We worked our way through smoked haddock soup, Cornish crab with Kaffir lime, coconut and passion fruit, pumpkin ravioli, pan seared Dover sole with cauliflower, bacon and turkey jus and piglet with apples from the orchard and a walnut pesto. We delighted in each dish as it arrived as if we were children discovering some rare wonder and we reverted also to the childlike behaviour of making audible 'mmm' sounds as we tucked in.
Throughout our savoury dishes the staff around us topped up our water, served our wine pairing and noticed when we had run out of bread with unaffected attentiveness. At no point did we feel watched yet we clearly were being so as no sooner had we run out of butter, or anything else for that matter, were we being brought a fresh one.
The sweet ending to the meal consisted of a Fraîcheur cappuccino, a decadent chocolate mousse, and pear Almondine, caramel croustillant and ginger sauce. Plates cleared we were ordered teas and coffee and were lead to the intimate lounge space on the other side of the manor. Petite fours explained, we were left to soak up the dimly light space - dotted with cosy armchairs, a roaring fire and personal touches such as framed photos of Raymond Blanc with various meaningful figures, personal and professional.
We returned to our suite to find our bed turned down and a bottle of pillow mist, aptly named Nights in Provence, ready to ease us into a restful night's sleep.
And we did sleep. So well in fact that we almost missed breakfast and were only woken by a knock at the door to deliver (thankfully) fresh coffee.
Breakfast consisted of a continental buffet and hot dishes on order, much as you would expect but again with the added freshness, flair and finishing touches that we had come to expect from Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons.
We spent a happy day reading in the lounge, accompanied by copious cups of tea, watching as people came and went, chattering about the food, the atmosphere and their excitement at having visited such a coveted food-lovers haunt.
It was with great sadness that I cut up an iceberg lettuce later that evening back at home and even spraying our pillows with the pillow mist I brought home has never yet served to recreate the magic of Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons.
If you don't believe in magic, you soon will.
Of course, a few things have changed this year but Le Manoir assures guests that the safety and cleanliness within the kitchen, restaurant and hotel remains a priority.
The restaurant set up now allows for two metres between tables and the reservations are scheduled carefully. The hotel is running at limited occupancy in terms of suites for the time being, too – 22 suites as opposed to 32.
Rooms usually start from £595 per night but you can book Red Escapes' exclusive dining package, which includes an overnight stay, seven-course dinner, jam to take home and more from £455.50 per person.
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