My friend, Bruce Bolton, an accomplished cook now gone to the great hotel in the sky, often spoke of a cottage in the wilds of Connecticut that he called “The Quintessential Country House.” How often I see that phrase in the countless hotel brochures that pass over my desk. Unfortunately, most turn out to be pretentious parodies, especially when compared to Gravetye.
I discovered this lovely Elizabethan manor house many years ago after meeting its charming owner, Peter Herbert, in New York City. Since then, I’ve often enjoyed its many charms and the understated care provided to the few, always contented, house guests by the team, led by Peter and his wife Susan, together with Director, Andrew Russell.
Typical of every visit, on our arrival last time, Bruce and I were given copies of “The Times,” some home-baked biscuits and a pot of Lapsang to sip in front of the crackling fire. The lovely oak-paneled room was filled with flowers and comfy, slip covered furniture. Enraptured by the Turner-like view over the hazy meadow, I was almost reluctant to leave a few minutes later when told that our rooms were ready.
Reluctance, however, quickly vanishes when you enter any one of Gravetye’s warm and welcoming rooms. Named after trees, they are designed so as not to feel “decorated” -they are wonderfully roomy and wonderfully English without being either tatty or uncomfortable. The furniture and fabrics are simple yet sophisticated; the attention to detail, precise. Lights are at proper heights. Pens and writing paper are always within arm’s reach. Towels are plush and plentiful; there’s even a thermal carafe of chilled Gravetye Spring Water next to the bathroom basin. Some rooms have fireplaces, properly laid and stocked. All the rooms overlook views of Gravetye’s beautiful gardens that range from the pastoral Alpine Meadow bearded with a fringe of vibrant azaleas to the classic English natural garden designed by William Robinson.
Equally wonderful is the kitchen run by Chef de Cuisine, Mark Raffan. Mark uses produce from the manor’s own kitchen garden, and local fish and game to create delicious, truly memorable meals. Tender veal sweetbreads braised in a demi-glace sauce is a particular favorite though I admit a weakness for the restaurant’s superb sweets menu. Served in the warmly lit, paneled dining room, dinner is the delicious cap to each magical day.
A manor with manners indeed, Gravetye is a storybook house in a truly storybook setting and replaced Bruce’s Connecticut cottage as his “Quintessential Country House.”
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