Nothing makes a working week fly by more quickly than the prospect of a delicious little holiday at the end of it – even better if it involves taking a Friday or Monday off. There are plenty of bolt-holes outside London, but if it’s roaring fireplaces, extensive gardens and manor house charm that you’re after you could do much worse than a quick trip to Gravetye Manor in Sussex.
After some over-generous tipping of taxi drivers (much to the chagrin of my credit-crunch minded partner), and a bit of confusion over the trains (apparently I took us to the wrong station), we arrived – and immediately all gripes and grumbles disappeared. Gravetye is a large-ish brick manor surrounded by gardens and rolling countryside as far as you can see. It isn’t enormous, which is a bonus in my books, and if you ignore the other guests it’s quite easy to pretend its your own home, trust me…
We started off by exploring our room: pretty large, window seat, two big armchairs, a breakfast table and a sizeable bathroom. I especially liked the double sink, it made me feel rather decadent, a sensation amplified by a generous application of Molton Brown goodies by the bathtub. Before we walked down the wide staircase we took a few sneak peeks into open doors along the hallway. They all shared a very traditional design: think heavy curtains, floral fabrics and dark wood furniture. No flat screen TVs, iPods or sleek Scandanavian style here. We were very much in the heart of Country Life style design.
The sense of country charm continued downstairs, and out into the gardens. We visited in winter, so I’ll hazard a guess that that’s not the best month to admire the horticulture, which is rumored to be rather impressive. However, don’t let that put you off, as there are still plenty of pleasant walks through secluded pathways, past fish-filled lakes and on into the fields beyond. If you can only take a limited amount of flora, there are opportunities for horse riding, fishing, shooting and lots of country drives: perfect mini-break material. When the warmer weather finally arrives, there’s also a games lawn, although the croquet set looked in need of a good spring clean on our visit.
As any country squire will tell you, the only way to prepare oneself for dinner is with a cocktail. Any excuse will see me in an evening dress, so after slipping into a little black number, I settled into lounge area number two and supped on one of the house delicacies, while he ordered a Martini (adventurous, I know). To liven things up, we took a bet over how many foams and savoury jellies we would encounter in the Michelin-starred dinner. Suprisingly, and rather refreshingly, the final total was only one, a smoked salmon jelly with the starter, which was actually quite nice. Moving on, I felt that my main course of sea bass, scallops and crab was a little bland, and on this occasion didn’t match up to other similarly rated restaurants. However, I am fussy, and I did very much enjoy my dessert of rhubarb mille feuille.
The evening was wrapped up in lounge room number three: petit-fours, more hot chocolate and Scrabble (final score: 80 to 130. I was robbed). A sedate way to end a Saturday night, but in deepest Sussex there’s not much choice. Plus, one champagne cocktail, a three-course meal and half a bottle of white Burgundy down, I wasn’t really looking for the nearest dance floor. No, what I was looking for was a big comfy bed, and that is exactly where we found ourselves. Totally sleepable – so much so that we missed breakfast. Not to worry, the friendly folks downstairs answered our plea and had stewed fruit, smoked salmon and freshly squeezed orange juice brought up, leaving just enough time for a quick wander around the lake before we reluctantly had to hand in our keys and head home.
Nr East Grinstead, West Sussex, RH19 4LJ, United Kingdom +44 (0)1342 810567