If I had to compile a list of the most memorable places I have spent a Monday evening, top of my list would be the maternity unit at Thomas’s hospital – but only because eight years ago I came away from there carrying a beautiful baby boy.
A very close second (and the clear winner in every aspect bar the obvious one) is Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons, Raymond Blanc’s two Michelin star restaurant and hotel in the picturesque Oxfordshire village of Great Milton.
It was here last week I was fortunate enough to be invited to present our new summer range to a small group of journalists – and to get first-hand experience of one of the great places to eat and to stay in this or any other country.
So, please forgive me if what follows is a bit gushy, but treats are by their very nature rare – and this was a really special treat.
It’s often the small touches that you remember (which is something we at hush are always very conscious of); like being greeted individually by a member of staff and shown to our rooms or being followed on a tour of the beautiful kitchen garden by a man with an umbrella just in case it rained.
(If that makes it sound formal or stuffy, it couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s friendly, informal and somewhere you can truly relax.)
And the people. Like Kevin, the French (truly!) sommelier, who oversaw my first ever wine tasting in Le Manoir’s capacious wine cellar, and Mark and Michael, the two chefs at the cookery school, who not only taught us how to prepare our dinner but thankfully for all of us also did the actual cooking.
(Michael could hardly keep a smile off his face – he had just found out his wife is expecting twins, but hasn’t had time yet to realise that cooking in a is a walk in Le Manoir’s beautiful garden compared with looking after not one but two little babies!)
I’m not much of a cook, so most of Mark and Michael’s knowledge was wasted on me – I did explain to them when they were telling me how easy it all was that the effort they put in to preparing the ramekin for our soufflé was about how much I put in to a whole meal – but the Raymond Blanc Cookery School attached to his two Michelin-star restaurant is something quite special.
And in amongst it all, I not only showed off the new beachwear and swimwear range that we’re launching at the end of April to (I’m glad to say) an enthusiastic audience of journalists from the likes of Harpers Bazaar, Elle, Conde Nast Traveller and Stella, but also got to have a good girlie chat with them all in the pleasantest surroundings I can think of.
I felt very privileged. Le Manoir is certainly not cheap, but there are plenty of things in life that you pay a lot for and come away with little but an empty wallet. This is not of them.
I left last Tuesday morning with amazing memories of a place that genuinely exceeds expectations…and a stomach that felt like it would never need food again.
So this is a very public thank you to everyone who helped make it so special. The lucky customer who won our January competition to win a stay there, plus dinner and a lesson at the Cookery School is in for quite a treat.