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Down to earth elegance

PUBLISHED: 12:23 16 September 2014 | UPDATED: 12:23 16 September 2014




Gravetye Manor offers an ideal escape for a short break in the Sussex countryside. Sybilla Hart enjoys the manor house and its famous gardens

Gravetye Manor sits nestled above a lake at West Hoathly in Sussex and is surrounded by its world famous gardens. The most well-known owner of Gravetye, William Robinson, was something of a Victorian garden pioneer. He did away with the gardening rules and regulations of his time and introduced the delight of mixed borders and wild gardening. Gravetye Manor, a member of the prestigious Relais and Chateau hotel group, is set within 1,000 acres of parkland and gardens in East Sussex.

The house itself is 450 years old, dating all the way back to the 16th century. It was Robinson who panelled the interior of the house in wood from the estate and had the rooms sympathetically fitted with chimneypieces and fireplaces. The hotel was given a much-needed restoration and refurbishment in 2010 by the new owner. There is plenty of tartan in the communal areas and for a moment you could be forgiven for mistaking the interiors of Gravetye for those of a grand Scottish lodge. There is a choice of three sitting areas and when we stayed at the hotel these were never crowded. In fact, we had the bar all to ourselves after dinner.

Our room, a large deluxe double, is modelled on a smart guest room you might find at a country house. The room was decorated with elegant brown furniture, lots of comfy armchairs and a beautifully upholstered headboard. The curtains and blinds are perfectly coordinated to complement the ancient mullioned windows. Those behind the design of the room and bathroom were spot on. There is even a subtle night light system beneath the bath, which is just the sort of thing I would love to have at home. It is good to see that Gravetye has prioritised its bathrooms; too often overlooked by expensive county house hotels. There is a mini bar stocked with every fruit juice under the sun at no extra charge. I also loved the fact that there was lots of bottled water dotted about the room saving you a late night call to reception for rehydration.

Being a substantial house, there are 17 bedrooms in total, precluding any sort of modern additional wing or spa suite. Gravetye is traditional and charming to the core, it hasn’t ‘gone modern’ in this way. As for the restaurant, it offers a daily menu, an a la carte menu and a tasting menu. The garden soup with truffle oil was my absolute favourite. It brought a new meaning to the concept of a soup, all light and frothy, and not an inch of stodge in sight. Guests are assured that during the summer months 95% of the fruit and vegetables hail from the manor’s one-acre oval walled garden. Wandering round the gardens you are likely to see gardening aficionados on a designated tour. But it seemed that just as soon as they were there, they were gone again and all returns to peace and quiet.

The sommelier was extremely helpful in finding just the right medium glass of white wine for a fussy pregnant lady — and on the third attempt we found the perfect tipple. He also provides a tasting menu of wines to complement the daily dinner menu and takes great pride in doing so. All members of staff seem utterly enraptured with Gravetye; they cannot help but ooze enthusiasm about the history of the place. Unsurprisingly, this zeal is sort of catching. n

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