The Best Countryside Escapes: Gravetye Manor, Sussex

Gravetye Manor and gardens in West SussexPaul Allen/Andfotography

We had high expectations for our mini-break at Gravetye Manor in West Sussex. The Grade I listed Elizabethan mansion had just won “Small Hotel of the Year” for 2018 at the Beautiful South Awards and it has a Michelin-starred restaurant. Not only that but Gravetye is a Relais & Châteaux country house hotel and a member of Pride of Britain Hotels, an exclusive collection of hotels with a maximum of 50 hotels in the group. Gravetye is also known as having the country’s first “wild gardens” thanks to its nineteenth- century owner, the garden writer William Robinson. We knew we were in for a treat and we were certainly not disappointed.

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One of the many lovely views from the bedrooms at Gravetye Manor, West SussexPaul Allen/Andfotography

The 17-bedroom Grade I listed Elizabethan sandstone mansion is built on a steep slope within 1,100 acres of wooded parkland and gardens. It’s tucked away down a private country lane and feels completely secluded even though it’s within easy reach of London, at just 30 miles away. The house was built in 1598 by Richard Infield, a wealthy Elizabethan landowner. In 1884, writer William Robinson, known as the father of English wild gardening, purchased Gravetye and created the beautiful gardens you can see today. The manor house has been a hotel since 1958 when opened by hotelier and restaurateur Peter Herbert, who is credited with founding the “country house hotel” concept. In 2010, former guests Jeremy and Elizabeth Hosking bought the hotel which celebrated its 60th anniversary last year.

A suite at Gravetye Manor, West SussexGravetye Manor

Each bedroom at Gravetye has been individually decorated and all have garden views. Kevin Davies from Designers Guild worked with the owner Elizabeth Hosking on each room to create a calming, relaxing atmosphere, decorated in florals and soft colors.  And throughout the property, the common areas, complete with wood panelling and crackling log fires, make guests feel like they’re staying in a charming country house.

William Robinson’s famous gardens at Gravetye ManorGravetye Manor

Outside, guests will enjoy strolling in the gardens created by William Robinson who introduced Victorians to the idea of “wild gardening,” a radical departure from the standard geometrical gardening of the day. His ideas first appeared in The Wild Garden and were further developed in The English Flower Garden, the world’s best-selling garden book, still in print today.  At Gravetye, Robinson put his ideas into practice because he felt that gardening should respect nature and that gardens had been too formal. He suggested that “a garden should encourage natural development and have respect for plant form, colour, growing habits and foliage, rather than adhere strictly to a layout.” As Robinson’s fame grew, so did the number of noteworthy visitors, including Gertrude Jekyll, another leading British horticulturalist and Queen Mary, wife of George V.

The entrance to Gravetye Manor, West SussexPaul Allen/Andfotography

In addition to his spectacular wild gardens, William Robinson also created a walled kitchen garden, once very common throughout the UK but today this is one of the only few that remain in production. The unique elliptical sandstone wall encloses 1.5 acres fruit, vegetables and flowers for use in the hotel and restaurant. The elliptical shape forces cold air to fall down and escape through the frost gates to prevent frost damage.

The Michelin-starred restaurant at Gravetye ManorPaul Allen/Andfotography

For the 60th anniversary in 2018, Gravetye launched a lovely new dining room designed by architect Charles Knowles, in collaboration with interior designer Claire Nelson and owner Elizabeth Hosking. They wanted the dining room to be a continuation of the gardens, with a color scheme that merged with the gardens. To this end, floor to ceiling glass windows were installed to overlook the gardens so that every diner would have a view of the gardens.

The restaurant at Gravetye ManorPaul Allen/Andfotography

The dining room features gorgeous green velvet banquette seating and specially commissioned paintings of Gravetye’s gardens by the French artist Claire Basler.  The restaurant itself has an admirable reputation and over the years some of the country’s most eminent chefs, among them Marcus Wareing, have worked there. Today, Head Chef George Blogg who was shortlisted for the prestigious National Chef of the Year in 2018, serves up a sensational Modern British menu that secured a Michelin star for the restaurant. Seasonal food is key and what isn’t grown in Gravetye’s gardens, they try to buy locally with the game, beef and lamb all coming from nearby farms. There’s also a smokehouse on the grounds for smoking salmon and venison.

The exterior of the new glass fronted restaurant at Gravetye ManorPaul Allen/Andfotography

The food was indeed superb and worth a drive, even if you’re not staying overnight, with creative canapés that included cauliflower tempura with truffle and one of the best dishes I’ve eaten in a while, white turnip with mussels and white fish. The excellent wine list includes a wide selection of English wines, and a quarter of the wines are organic, biodynamic and vegan, all ably chosen by Head Sommelier Alexis Jamin.

An original painting by Winston Churchill “Villa on the Nivelle, France” hangs in the bar at Gravetye ManorJoanne Shurvell

Gravetye has a lovely, relaxing family feel to it, like you’re staying in someone’s private country manor house. This is partly down to the excellent service and often long-serving staff. Hall Porter Brian Hunter has worked at Gravetye for 30 years while House Manager Emma Greenwood has been there for 23 years. We finished our visit with a drink in the bar which features an original oil painting by Winston Churchill of his French country house. Our drink was made by the head bartender Chris Menning who created the 60th Anniversary Cocktail with the following ingredients, for those who’d like to make it at home: 25ml Greensand gin, 10ml Sacred Amber vermouth,10 ml Chase elderflower, 25ml lemon juice, 12.5 ml sugar syrup, egg white. Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker and give a dry shake (without ice). Then shake with ice and double strain into a coupette glass.

Gravetye Manor,Vowels Lane, West Hoathly, Sussex RH19 4LJ Tel: 0800 089 3929 A one-night stay in a classic double room costs from £275 per room (two sharing), including full English breakfast.


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