The lowdown Just an hour’s drive from London, close to Gatwick airport and within minutes of the M25, Gravetye Manor really feels a million miles away from anywhere. Set in stunning historical gardens amongst the wooded hills of Sussex, this is the perfect escape for a peaceful weekend break. One of the UK’s original country house hotels, Gravetye (under new ownership since 2010 and relaunched in 2011) is a small Jacobean house originally built in 1598, with 17 rooms and suites named after trees found on the estate. The sumptuous, yet cosy, sitting areas and bar on the ground floor, with roaring fires and comfy sofas, wood paneling, rugs and deep carpets, make you feel as if you are staying in a private home rather than a hotel – but with all the luxury trappings you would expect from a five-star Relais & Chateaux property.
The rooms Each room is different in size and feel, and each is individually decorated and furnished with antiques. InStyle stayed in Walnut (described as an Exclusive Deluxe room), which had the most comfortable four-poster and mullioned windows, with views looking out onto the landscaped gardens. Bathrooms are extremely functional, the power showers are just that, and we loved the abundance of full-size South African products by Charlotte Rhys. All rooms have a complimentary mini bar, flat screen TV, iPod dock and free Wi-Fi.
The food This is fine dining at its best, and the small oak panelled dining room fills up with locals as well as hotel guests. For dinner, you can choose from the four-course menu (£40), the seasonal a la carte menu or, if you are up to it, the seven-course tasting menu. Executive chef Rupert Gleadow and team use organic and locally sourced ingredients, most of which come from Gravetye’s own walled garden.
Out and about Do not miss a tour of the magnificent gardens. In 1884, Gravetye was bought by the pioneering gardener and botanist William Robinson and to this day his experimental “wild garden” style is still in evidence. On a summer’s evening, this is the ideal setting to relax with a glass of bubbly and watch the sun go down. However, if you can tear yourself away from the hotel, a visit to Hever Castle is well worth it; the Bluebell Railway, a heritage steam train, which runs through the Sussex countryside and has a station on Gravetye’s doorstep is a fun outing; or take in an evening of opera at Glyndebourne – always a memorable event. Or just go for a long walk (wellies are available) in the surrounding countryside – the hotel can suggest various itineraries ranging from 30 minutes to four hours - you will feel as if your earned your dinner!
The details Gravetye Manor, Vowels Lane, West Hoathly, Sussex RH19 4LJ, tel 01342 810 567. Rooms start from £290 per night including full English or Continental breakfast. For further information or to book, visit gravetyemanor.co.uk
By Jeannette Arnold