This week, Mr E and I got to tick off one of our bucket list items when we were lucky enough to visit Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons in Great Milton, Oxfordshire. I make no apologies for the amount of photos you’re about to see – this is possibly the most beautiful hotel I’ve ever visited.
You’ll know the name, of course, because of its very famous owner, the frankly adorable Raymond Blanc (regular readers will remember that I was completely bowled over by him when I met him last year) and for its reputation for excellence. Sadly, RB wasn’t about this time we visited, but as we drove through the high walls in gorgeous sunshine, we were so excited it didn’t even matter.
The first thing we found out is that at Le Manoir, guests don’t lift a finger. Nope, nothing. You don’t park your car (it’s whisked away from you as soon as you drive in), or even carry a bag (the lovely, friendly staff insist on carrying everything). Every time you need anything, someone magically and unobtrusively appears to help you, before melting mysteriously away again.
After checking in, we were escorted up to our room, the gorgeous Lemongrass Suite. We were shown around, given instructions on how to work everything (Bose sound system, steam room, flat screen TV that appears from a little hatch in the ceiling…) and left alone to explore. The first thing we did was to stare, open mouthed at each other for several minutes in complete shock at the size of our room:
It even had a fish tank in the wall between the living area and the bathroom, for heaven’s sake!
The bathroom was bigger than anything I’d ever seen before, with a steam room and an enormous bathtub:
And lovely RB had left us gorgeous gifts too – some flowers, chocolates and a lovely present – a signed copy of his book:
After settling in, we decided to head out and explore. The sun had been hidden by clouds, but it was still warm enough to wander around the gardens. Le Manoir’s gardens were originally created by the monks who lived there in the 16th century – there are vegetable and herb gardens, greenhouses, orchards, a mushroom valley, a Japanese tea garden and beautiful ponds fed by natural springs:
Guests are free to wander and encouraged to pick, taste and smell anything they want to. We were happy to just relax and wander, but if you’re feeling adventurous, you can have a cycle around the area on one of the bikes provided, have a game of boules or croquet on the lawn, or the staff are happy to arrange clay pigeon shooting, golf or fishing. There is, of course, the wonderful cookery school, where you can join a course, or even take a private lesson, or you can head out to Bicester Village or Oxford town centre for a spot of shopping.
After trying out the steam room (with some lemongrass essential oil, kindly delivered by a helpful staff member), we got ready for dinner, knowing that the best was still to come. Le Manoir has, incredibly, held two Michelin stars since 1985, just a year after it first opened. We were stupidly excited about finally getting the opportunity to dine at the restaurant.
We were welcomed into a sumptuous lounge area and provided with a glass of champagne and some delicious canapés, then left to contemplate the menu and wine list:
And then it was time for dinner. The restaurant is just jaw-droppingly beautiful. We had a view out towards the gardens:
We chose the tasting menu (le menu découverte): seven delicious, delicate courses showing off the very best of Le Manoir’s two Michelin starred cuisine. We also chose an incredible bottle of Viognier. I’m not going to lie, the wine list is seriously daunting, but the sommelier was really friendly and helpful, helping us choose something that was to our taste and our budget – we ended up with a delicious, creamy, oaky wine with lots of vanilla. One thing that really resonated with us is that even though Le Manoir is obviously luxurious and up-market, there’s no snobbery at all. Everyone is sweet and friendly.
Obviously, you NEED to visit Le Manoir and discover this amazing experience for yourself, so I’m not going to ruin it by showing you pictures of every single dish, but here’s the terrine of garden beetroot with horseradish sorbet – pretty as a picture and a delicious mix of sweet, sour, fresh and creamy, with a hint of warmth from the horseradish:
Every single course is an delicate work of art, with so much attention to detail and a myriad of extraordinary flavours. This dessert of Gariguette strawberries with Szechuan pepper, fromage frais, a tiny cube of basil gelée and fresh mint was one of the highlights for me – the strawberries were just so fresh and, well STRAWBERRY-tasting, and the delicate cube of basil-infused jelly filled your whole mouth with flavour – there was crunch, and softness, and freshness and the background herby warmth of basil, all in one mouthful. So much clever stuff all in one bowl!
We loved every single course and lingered long into the night, first at the table and then back in the lounge in front of a crackling fire, before heading back to our comfy bed in our beautiful room. I’ve never felt so spoiled.
In the morning, the spoiling continued with the prettiest platter of fruit at breakfast:
But then obviously I had to try the traditional breakfast (and yes, it was incredible). It takes proper skill to make even a cooked breakfast look like a work of art:
Just as we were about to leave, we bumped into lovely Adam (Raymond’s Development Chef, Adam Johnson) who was telling us all about the filming of Kew on a Plate and also gave me a heads up about loads of new cookery courses at the Raymond Blanc Cookery School (I’m desperate to do the summer barbecue course).
Our verdict? Wow. Wow. Wow. It’s not cheap, obviously, but it’s luxurious, heavenly, indulgent and an absolutely wonderful experience. I won’t say ‘once in a lifetime’ because obviously I’m hoping to return.
The price for a superior room on a b&b basis is £555. Dinner is an additional price of £140 per person for a five course meal and £160 per person for a seven course meal. The price for the Lemongrass Suite is £1,185 on a dinner, bed and breakfast basis. For further information, or to book, visit www.belmond.com/lemanoir. Also, if you’re thinking of heading to Le Manoir, Raymond Blanc is shortly going to be welcoming back some of his old students in a series of Diner des Protégés at Le Manoir. Chefs such as Michael Caines MBE, Bruno Loubet and Ollie Dabbous started out their careers at Le Manoir and Monsieur Blanc will be teaming up with them to create some wonderful evenings which will include a champagne Laurent-Perrier reception with canapés and a signature dinner with accompanying wines, coffee and petits fours. The evenings are priced at £225 per person. Visit the website for details.