One of the original country house hotels, the re-launched Gravetye Manor is still showing the rest how it’s done. In fact Gravetye could have been purpose-built to meet the fashion for boutique hotels, if it hadn’t been constructed rather before said fashion began, in 1598. Under new ownership since February 2010 (of fund manager Jeremy Hosking), the hotel benefits from remaining in private hands rather than being bought up as part of a chain, which helps it retain what made the house so special in the first place.
A beautiful Jacobean country house with a classic façade and historic gardens situated close to East Grinstead in Sussex, and surrounded by an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, Gravetye is easily reached from the M23, by train from London, and by air (Gatwick is just 12 miles away although the planes mercifully don’t fly over the hotel).
Gravetye Manor’s most famous owner was William Robinson, one of our best-loved gardeners. He bought the Manor and its 1000 acres in 1884, and lived there until he died. Robinson is a hallowed name in gardening history, and his theory, based very much on naturalising beauty and simplifying how gardens should look and feel, is a large part of what inspires the new owners at the hotel. After Robinson, Peter Herbert arrived at Gravetye in 1958. Captivated by Robinson’s house and its setting he converted the property into one of the first ever country house hotels and ran it until his retirement. Mr Herbert established Gravetye Manor as one of the leading country house hotels in the country and this new phase of the hotel, under Mr Hosking, is intended to build on that reputation.
There are just seventeen bedrooms and suites, all named after trees found on the estate. The interiors are also designed to reflect Mr Robinson’s own notion of bringing the beauty of nature inside. Wallpapers feature different plants, trees and flowers and each bedroom or suite has its own inimitable character and are individually furnished: guests all have their own personal favourites but the rooms with the views out over the lake and the countryside beyond, including my room, Holly, seemed to me to be the best.
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All the rooms downstairs – from the cosy bar to the pretty dining room, seamlessly blend the original Jacobean property with Mr Robinson’s later additions in the early 20th century. Throughout the hotel pieces have been combined – the wood panelled walls and wood floors, magnificent rugs and deep carpets – blending different eras to give an impression of unfussy luxury in this historic building.
The dining room is just the right size: guests dine in style while locals arrive for lunch, dinner and family parties – the reputation of the kitchen has spread by word-of-mouth. The service was cheerful and friendly, and the food, from a three course supper to a wonderful breakfast in the morning, was excellent: local food cooked beautifully, and served with a smile.
After a deep sleep in the hugely comfortable bed, I toured the gardens the following morning with Tom Coward, the Head Gardener responsible for the ongoing work to restore this irreplaceable piece of gardening history: it’s the only existing implementation of Robinson’s own gardening philosophy, and the team at Gravetye are committed to bringing his vision back to life. Robinson was dedicated creating naturalised habitats for plants and nature, and the wild garden at Gravetye is a fine example of how this might work. There is also a fabulous walled garden which Mr Coward is turning back into a fully-functioning kitchen garden. He has already installed hens and bees. The original apple trees in the orchard are being coaxed back to life, and the wildflower meadow, which used to run as far as the eye could see down to the lake and beyond, is another area for development in this five year project.
A pretty walk up the hill took us to The Cat Inn in West Hoathly for a fantastic lunch rounde off an all-too-brief stay in this brilliant small hotel. Hopefully the commitment at Gravetye Manor to great service, stylish and comfortable interiors, and their world-famous garden will draw guests, summer or winter, for many years to come.
For the weekend of the 6th- 9th April, Gravetye Manor is offering guests a two night stay which includes a luxurious chocolate Easter Egg made by Britain’s Best Chocolatier William Curley – filled with his award winning sea salt caramel – and complimentary tickets to Wakehurst Place, Kew Garden’s nearby country estate.
Gravetye Manor, Vowels Lane, West Hoathly, Sussex, RH19 4LJ; www.gravetyemanor.co.uk or call +44 (0) 1342 810 567.
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