We need little convincing that a weekend out of the city is a good idea. As great as urban life is, nothing beats fresh air and country walks, especially when there’s fine dining, plush 4-poster beds and dreamy bubble baths in the vicinity too. Welcome to West Sussex, where lies Gravetye Manor: the ultimate weekend retreat.
Hitting the road (and traffic!) after work on a Friday, my partner and I head south of London in our MINI, which we’ve hired especially for the occasion. Granted we could have probably taken an Uber as West Sussex really isn’t as far — just 50 minutes or so down the motorway — but this way is far more fun, bookending the trip in style, and giving us the chance to take the wheel, which is something as public transport commuters, we rarely get to do. And anyway, every country bumpkin drives a MINI so we’re just doing things as they should be done…
After winding through a web of tiny country lanes we pull up on to Gravetye Manor’s gravel drive. It’s not until morning we realise just how beautiful the outside of the manor is but inside, there’s a roaring fire in the historical timber lobby, and wonderfully lovely staff who show us up to our room. Each of the 17 rooms and suites are named after plant species on the grounds; we’re in Holly, a corner room on the first floor. It’s home for the weekend and it’s bliss. Thick drapes hang from the high ceiling, an elegant 4-poster bed with plush pillows and thick white sheets is asking to be wriggled into, luxurious striped wallpaper wraps the room, and there’s a lounge area complete with table and chairs, and a comfy love-seat sofa. A large plasma screen TV on the wall is in a prime ‘in-bed watching’ spot, a pile of well-thumbed thick coffee table books showcase the best of the local countryside and offer walking routes, and there’s a desk for studious guests.
After freshening up in the bathroom (which has His and Her sinks and under-floor heating), we head down to the wooden-panelled dining room for dinner, which, by looking at the immaculately dressed waiters and shining silver tableware, we can immediately tell is going to be a posh affair. It is, and course after course is brought out, interspersed with delicate amuse bouches and refined palette cleansers. I start with the hand-dived Orkney scallops, which are wonderfully succulent and fresh, served on a bed of sauted vegetables, before moving onto a main of seared sea bass, which comes with a light serve of squid ink pasta and wilted pak choi. My partner opts for the Guinea fowl – a classic country choice – which is wonderful, served with Jerusalem artichokes and truffle flakes, before we share a divine rhubarb soufflé for dessert.
Wined, dined and finished off by the petit-fours, we waddle back up to our room, admiring the complete silence country life offers before climbing into the sheets of our 4-poster bed and sleeping like logs ‘til morning.
After a blissful sleep, we rise bright and early, opening the curtains to impressive views of rolling hills and undisturbed countryside, before enjoying Nespresso lattes, orange juice and biscuits in bed, courtesy of the complimentary mini bar (because when else do you get to eat biscuits in bed). Clever connected speakers in the bathroom mean you can shower whilst listening to the TV, which is on in bedroom, which if nothing else, is an excuse to enjoy an extra long shower.
Back down in the dining room, the breakfast menu has endless options of eggs, along with breads, pastries, fruit, yoghurts and juices. Couples read the newspaper over coffees and parents help impressively well-behaved children crack their boiled eggs. Now energised for the day, the obvious thing to do is to go exploring. Gravetye Manor was built in 1598 by Richard Infield for his bride, Katharine Compton — you can still see the carved R and K above the fireplace in the lobby — but in 1884 it was bought by William Robinson, one of the greatest gardeners in history. This explains why the 1000-acre grounds and gardens are beautiful, making our first port of call a walk around the vegetable garden, which, in the summer provides 95% of the kitchen’s fruit and veg. It has everything from purple sprouting broccoli, to Cavolo Nero and row after row of Brussels sprouts. Here, there are even the chickens that laid our eggs this morning.
It’s pretty dry when we visit in February but the staff won’t let us leave the manor grounds without kitting us out with Hunter wellies and thick socks first. We’re given a map too and now that we really look the part, we head for the hills and enjoy roaming for a couple of hours, bumping into the occasional country fellow who wishes us well, before stumbling on The Cat Inn — a beautiful country pub.
Whilst a pub is a pub and a pint is a pint, it’s fair to say it’s far more idyllic here in the countryside, sat outside on a bench in the sun with nothing but nature noises, than cramming into a pub in London Fields. This is why you come to the country: for fresh air, space, and quality R&R.
We circle back on ourselves and can see the manor in all its glory now across the small valley. Sadly once we arrive back it’s time to head home. We drop off our wellies and load the car, and the staff — told you they were lovely — give us a snack pack for the journey with biscuits and juice.
Back in London we feel refreshed and revived. Country air does wonders and Gravetye Manor is the perfect place to soak it up and enjoy utter relaxation. Whether you choose to visit on a romantic retreat with a partner or on a country bumpkin break with a friend, we have no doubt you’ll leave feeling like you’ve been on Cloud 9.
Gravetye Manor, Vowels Lane, West Hoathly, Sussex, RH19 4LJ; 01342 810 567
The ‘Green Wellie Boot Package’ includes two nights in a Deluxe category room, Tasting menu dinner for 2 on the first evening and a la carter dinner for two on the second evening, al fresco picnic lunch and Full English breakfasts on both days. And of course wellies for your walks! £1050 for two nights or one night package available at £525. Quote Grazia when you book to receive a complimentary bottle of Tattinger champagne on arrival.