Travel // Belmond's Le Manoir, Oxfordshire

October 03, 2018

Do you remember back in July when we visited Belmond's Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons in Oxfordshire {which just got named The Sunday Times Best Hotel in the World {!!}} for a day at gardening school? We'd always wanted to come and eat dinner, and stay, at the two michelin starred restaurant {a restaurant high on our bucket lists!} but that day back in the summer confirmed it even more for us. Seeing that connection between the two acre kitchen gardens, the passion of the head gardeners who work so closely with the chefs, and of course it's all overseen with such fervor by Raymond Blanc. The way that everything is organically grown and for pure flavour and taste, the way that the menus are designed around what will be ready & at it's very best that day, let alone week. So on Sunday, it really was such a special treat to be able to go and stay at Le Manoir for the night with luxury & service like no other and have an unforgettable dinner in the restaurant which will be very hard to beat from now on. I'd love to share some snaps from our stay below, if you'd like to see.

Over the years, I'd heard only incredible things about this legendary, iconic 15th century manor set just outside Oxford in a picturesque little village called Great Milton. This was Great Milton Manor, bought by Raymond Blanc and transformed into, in his words, 'a fairytale' Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons, it was later taken over by the luxury Belmond hotel group but Blanc still regularly visits and oversees everything {which I love and I wish we'd got to spot him on Sunday!}.

Since it opened in 1984, Le Manoir have achieved the highest awards and accolades of any restaurant or country house across the whole of Great Britain {and most of Europe!}. So it was to be a very special trip indeed. There are thirty two individually designed rooms, and suites, to stay in. 

We arrived on Sunday afternoon, right in the middle of the Ryder Cup final which meant it was a little less relaxing than I'd have liked, my husband eager to jump from the car radio coverage to watching the last hour on Sky Sports in our room in which I probably rolled my eyes! But who was I to complain when I could wander freely around the kitchen gardens, camera in hand, taking it all in. 

We noticed the service started the minute we arrived, with a kind worker offering to take our photo just as we walked down the drive! Something I never turn down. My husband is really just smiling in this photo so he can get to the golf quicker 😂

A quince tree full to bursting next to reception.

Even if you're just here for lunch or dinner, the gardens and grounds are well worth a wander around. At this time of year I was surprised by how much beauty there still was, all of it complementing the spectacular old buildings and with a very British church in the background.

Our room, in fact a huge suite that we could have quite happily moved into, was called Provence. One of the one bedroom garden suites inspired by the French heritage, it had it's own foyer, courtyard garden with the most impressive grape vines laden with fruit and a very impressive walk in wardrobe that I would LOVE to have at home to fill with clothes. It had a real country, I guess Provencal feel with beams, a cosy fireplace and rich colours on the wall. But some rooms are very modern & contemporary, inspired by Asia. All have contrasting atmospheres but the same luxury throughout.

There are sweet details like little bags to take home your soap, an array of toiletries {we forgot our toothbrush!} and I suddenly realised I hadn't packed a usb plug so called reception. Within minutes, two had arrived at our door. Nothing would be too much trouble here.

Thick gowns to snuggle up in. One of my favourite parts of staying in a luxury hotel is just curling up for a while in a gown reading magazines or the papers in bed. Nothing beats it!

Fancy watching a movie whilst in that bath tub?! SO cool, I wish we'd have got a chance to soak in this!

We were greeted with a number of treats, my favourite being these handmade chocolates which I had more than my fair share of {sorry Ben!}, a book about Raymond <3, and the sweetest seasonal fruit platter that tasted better than anything else. My husband suspects that they probably hand select the very best figs, I'm sure everything is meticulously planned.

Those beams! And a suite like no other.

I wandered around the gardens, which like our own garden & allotment, had changed a lot in those past three months with the changing seasons.

Summer feels suddenly long-gone and instead of a mass of green, there were patches of impressive squash & pumpkin displays. 

This is one of my most favourite times of the year with all things apple and pumpkin so I was really glad we were visiting for this season with the menus to reflect that early autumn bounty of crops.

As I mentioned in the garden post from our last visit, everything here is organic and has been before it was even a trend. Raymond Blanc is so passionate about growing {did you ever see his Kew on a Plate series? Well worth a watch if you're into that kind of thing}.

You can read up on our day at the Raymond Blanc gardening school here. There's also a cookery school which I think would be amazing, and might have to go on a Christmas list sometime!

How cool is that warty, embellished pumpkin.

Over the years, Le Manoir have planted over five thousand trees including many heritage varieties in the orchard which don't exist anywhere else. 

We spotted some getting picked for the evening's dinner service. They're picked twice daily at the moment!

The afternoon went in a flash, and before we knew it it was time for the dinner experience. Something we couldn't wait for! 

The restaurant is the only British restaurant to have held two Michelin stars for more than three decades {just this week it was announced that it has kept them for another year}. I didn't realise that Blanc has trained more than thirty chefs who have then gone on to get Michelin stars themselves too, from here so it really is unlike anywhere else.

Here's a photo of what we ate during the evening. The experience starts with drinks in one of the two lounges where you can take a look at the menus and decide which you'd like to go for. At dinner, there are two set seven course menus {one vegetarian}, and one three course option with a few A la Carte options, along with wine pairing options. We decided to go for the seven course, I mean it's not everyday that you get to eat here right?! There's an option to substitute one of the courses for something from the A la Carte options if you really don't like it, we asked to change the first dessert 'Le Caffe' as we're not coffee lovers and the raspberry souffle had caught our eye. 

I must say how incredible the staff were at making sure we were happy with the menu. I'm not sure when, or indeed if I ever even mentioned the fact that pretty much the only two things I hugely dislike are goats cheese and fennel. But I must have put it in an email a while back, or maybe mentioned it at the Garden Course and they kept a note?! But on the night, the waiting team told me that they'd prepare special food without these two things for me which was incredible considering it was just a dislike and not an allergy. I actually felt like I was being a pain but it was no problem for them! Likewise, if you have any dietary requirements or allergies, you'll be very well taken care of to make sure you enjoy every single second, and mouthful. 

With our menu choices taken care of, we were presented with a plate of canapes each. Earlier in the day we'd seen a young chef picking apples from the orchard when we were having an explore, I asked him what they were using them for, and he said canapes. So when we were presented with a slice of apple, so perfectly cooked and seasoned with lemon verbena to start our dinner, it made us smile. I really appreciated the two autumn leaves on the plate, everything like a piece of art.

We had one of the first sittings in the dining room but it soon filled up around us to create a nice atmosphere {something I've found is often lacking at other michelin starred restaurants}. The service was incredibly formal and very proper, it had been a while since we'd eaten anywhere like this. The waiting staff all wearing bow-ties {including the waitress who had a very nice pink bow-tie! Maybe it could be a new trend for women?} 

I don't eat bread all that often but when there's a huge basket for you to select from, with both homemade French & English butter, how could you not?! I enjoyed every bite of it too!

I won't pretend to be a food critic or food writer but boy, that dinner blew us away. Every dish so carefully curated. I'd have loved to have seen the processes behind it all. 

I think this crab dish was one of my favourites from the night with flavours that flew me to Bali in that mouthful. And how beautiful does each plate look?

This was the pumpkin ravioli. SO delicious.

I was pleased that there was a mixture of fish and meat on the seven course menu. But I'm sure the vegetarian menu would have been just as incredible.

I'm sure you know what a huge sweet tooth I have so puddings are always the best part. This pear, caramel and ginger delight was insane. Followed by the raspberry souffle! We were SO fit to bursting afterwards, such an amazing dinner.

I loved all the French references, like this sweet little mat at turn-down which says Bonne Nuit as you get into bed, and Bonjour as you get up.

We awoke to bright sunshine and the 1st of October. What a morning.

Breakfast, as you'd expect, is an honourable feast.

I'd remembered just how good the pastries were from our gardening course. There's a buffet table as well as a menu to order from. I was impressed by the big display of really healthy options too {croissants aside!} that still tasted delicious. Like the apple compote to add to bircher museli, the huge amount of breads available to toast and lots of fresh fruit.

If only every day could start with a breakfast like this.

Ben's vegetarian full English was presented so beautifully.

Spinach and the most perfectly poached, golden yolked eggs for me.

After we'd filled our boots, the sunshine, and the countryside outside was calling so we decided to go for a walk around the village. The hotel used to have bikes, which they'll be getting back again soon, but we were happy with one of their maps for the local area. 

It's such a beautiful, oldy-woldy part of the world. And if we'd have had more time, we would have gone into Oxford as part of the trip too. 

Hello Autumn!

Upon leaving, you're presented with a goody bag to say goodbye with water for your journey and a little bag of treats, which when we ate them in the car later that day {freshly baked madelines} I announced that they were like little bites of heaven.

I really don't know if that level of food and service can ever be matched. Have we ruined ourselves for good now?! I had to laugh as I served dinner the next night, world's away from that seven course, Michelin starred feast the night before, a Kirsty's healthy chicken & rice dinner that pinged in the microwave...  

I think I have to mention just how special this place is but how the price definitely reflects that. Dinner, and accommodation, certainly isn't cheap. It's a truly special occasion kind of place, a big Birthday, a minimoon, an anniversary, or maybe just because! 

Oh Le Manoir. What we'd give for another dinner there! I'm planning the next special occasion already...

Have you been?

You can find out more here.

R <3 x

{We were guests of Belmond but as always all opinions are 100% my own. And I would never share anywhere that I didn't truly love}

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  1. I have only been once and that was for afternoon tea with cousins that were staying there. It was definitely the best afternoon tea I'd ever had. Just wish I'd taken my camera. It was back in the late 1990's and I felt it wasn't the done thing to do - until I turned up and everyone had cameras! I clearly need to revisit just to take pics. ;-)

    1. Haha love that. Definitely worth going back for more tea, and photos! I wonder how much it's changed since then. R xx

  2. Hello Rebecca,

    It’s lovely to read your positive account of your stay at Le Manoir. Sadly for me it dredges up a memory I’d rather forget.

    I booked Le Manoir as a surprise for my husbands 40th Birthday (14 years ago this November) - a big deal for us as we left our four children with grandparents with the expectation we would enjoy quality adult time together.

    Our first disappointment was that our dining table for the evening wasn’t even in the formal dining room, more an anti-room to the dining room, though in fact it felt more like the heavily trodden walkway of the servers to the main dining room. The food I couldn’t fault.

    Then to bed - well it was as though the occupants of the room above spent the entire night shifting furniture - on reflection I know we should have complained there and then, instead I waited until the morning to report how little sleep we had due to the disturbance from the room above. I received a shrug of the shoulders from the receptionist and a look of ‘so what’.

    I can only say we left the place feeling very disappointed, let down and robbed.

    1. Oh no! That's not what you want at all and I'm always SO fuming on the rare occasions that we can't sleep in a hotel. You just want it to be the best nights sleep ever don't you! In the past few years Le Manoir have been taken over by the Belmond group who are definitely 100% focused on customer service. But sorry to hear about your experience xx

  3. Rebecca your photos are amazing! What a beautiful house and gardens, I have all the hearty eyes for this xx


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