elcome to Le Manoir!’’ – the first of many such greetings, but this one was voiced as soon as we pulled on to the car park and while the engine was still running! We should have realised, there and then, that this was going to be an experience unlike any before.
We visited Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons to research their claim that children are not simply tolerated but made truly welcome and can honestly confirm that the same degree of attention to detail in making your stay as comfortable and memorable as possible is applied to guests of all ages, whether old enough to share the dining-table or in need of early meals, high-chairs, cots and baby-sitters!
The culinary reputation of Raymond Blanc’s masterpiece, established 27 years ago in the village of Great Milton, 10 miles south of Oxford, is internationally acclaimed but what is less well-known is the exceptional quality of the accommodation on offer and the delightful country estate which is both its setting and the source of much of the kitchen’s requirements for vegetables, fruit and herbs.
So it was, with a growing sense of anticipation, that, after walking up the flagstone path, lined with lavender-scented borders in perfect harmony, we arrived at the oak-panelled reception desk in the 15th century manor-house from which this boutique gem derives its name. While our bags were delivered to our room, we were shown around this amazing place, with its unique charm and appeal. I was sad to find that we had arrived too late for the afternoon tea with scones and petit-fours – maybe next time.
You soon realise that all the many members of the hotel and restaurant staff are genuinely proud of being a part of a ‘family’ and are intent on sharing their pride with you, on behalf of Monsieur Blanc, who is obviously loved, worshipped and respected by all his team. It is abundantly clear that the comfort and enjoyment of each individual guest is uppermost in the minds of all staff members, whether working in the hotel or the twenty-seven acres of the estate.
Our accommodation, the sumptuous ‘Arabesque’ suite, was, simply, sensational. It was designed (as are all the rooms) by Raymond Blanc, inspired by the Art Deco period but with added ‘drama’. Romantic and relaxing, spacious and delightful, this is pure pleasure. Enjoy the luxury of its tastefully-appointed entrance hall and sitting-room, with plenty of space for cots or extra beds, the fabulous bathroom and an airy bedroom with all the frills. Our morning call even coincided with the delivery of a freshly-brewed pot of delicious coffee, the morning newspaper and a selection of homemade biscuits!
I fear I have neglected to mention the faultless food, up to now. From the aperitifs, accompanied by exquisite canapés, through the chef’s signature dish of risotto of wild mushrooms with truffle cream, via ravioli of Cornish lobster, and on to the sea bass and scallops, and roasted fillet of Waygu beef, the taste buds are tickled, teased and titillated to a culinary peak. Guided by the enthusiastic, and ever-knowledgeable, sommelier, we ordered various wines, by the glass, each appropriate to the chosen dish.
After a sublime breakfast of fresh, and preserved, fruit, cereal and pastries, fresh from the oven, we still had just enough time, before leaving, to tour the gardens. Some parts are productive, like the 1.5 acre walled garden, some are decorative, like the Japanese Tea Garden and the 15th century water-garden, and others, like the Fungi Valley, have been created to fill both functions. Throughout the grounds, you will come across unique statues, each of which has a story attached, whether it be a valued employee, a long-lost love or another satisfied customer. I really should have asked why there was a wicket-keeper on the croquet lawn!
Raymond Blanc sees it as the ‘fulfilment of a personal vision – a hotel where guests find perfection in food, comfort, service and welcome’. I saw it as a taste of Paradise – the Le Manoir experience comprises the highest quality of service, accommodation and culinary expertise, all placed in an idyllic country-house hotel setting. If you and your family have, for whatever reason, earned a very special treat, put this at the top of your list!
✽ For more information visit their website www.manoir.com