I do love a great British staycation and Whatley Manor in Wiltshire had long been on my list of places to visit but I’d never quite made it there. When the opportunity arose it was the perfect chance to meet Theresa half way for a girls night away, taking me about two hours door to door from London by train and her forty minutes from Bristol.
Originally built in the 19th century, this gorgeous country house makes you feel every bit the lady of the manor. Once the estate and farm of an admiral, the manor was converted into a luxury hotel, first opening in 1987 but later purchased by Marco and Alix Landolt and reopening as it is today in 2003 after a meticulous restoration, with an intimate 23 individuals designed rooms and suites.
For me the most beautiful elements of Whatley Manor are the exteriors made of this pastoral stone and the gorgeous gardens. The hotel actually sits on twelve acres of land with twenty-six different distinct garden areas.
From beautiful the leafy terrace to enjoy a cocktail on a sunny day.
To floral borders…
And water features. Here in the Loggia garden, Simon Allison, a sculptor and pool designer, was commissioned to create a this stunning sculpture.
With a stunning pond in the centre of the lawn.
Having seen so many images of Whatley Manor, it’s always been this one that stuck on my head of the pretty little gazebo made of Cotswold stone at the end of the lawn.
Perfect for a tete a tete with a loved one.
Just as golden hour sets in.
It’s classic mixed with contemporary here as modern sculptures are set against a backdrop of rose gardens and natural elements are combined with more formal ones.
Food is a big deal at Whatley Manor – more on that later – and there’s a kitchen garden here too with herbs and and vegetables used in the restaurant’s cuisine.
The food geek in me loves seeing where the ingredients come from and knowing they’re all fresh and very local.
It’s this beautiful setting, great service and attention to detail when it comes to food that means Whatley Manor was welcomed into the prestigious Relais & Châteaux group in 2004 which encompasses 500 of the world’s finest hotels. As a family owned hotel, Whatley Manor is also a proud member of Pride of Britain, a group of 50 hotels that emphasise the importance of beautiful location and great hospitality. `
Inside the hotel is best of British too. Think snuggly red rugs, fire places, wood-lined walls and deep sofas to lounge in.
Places to remove muddy boots after country walks.
Or while your time away with a board game.
There’s a few renovations going on at Whatley Manor including a restyling of Grey’s Brasserie, the more informal restaurant, formerly known as Le Mazot. There are also plans afoot to update the rooms as although they were wonderful spacious with a gorgeous view of the grounds, they are a little dated.
We had plenty of room for us to share the bed room but the tartan wallpaper wasn’t quite my cup tea.
Similarly we our lounge area was huge and comfortable with a big screen TV by Bang & Olufsen but it did look in need of a an update.
But like everywhere else at Whatley Manor, the welcome was warm with champagne, fruit and chocolate there to greet us.
A round wooden bath was perfect for a relaxing soak to compliment those long countryside walks.
And we had gorgeous selection of luxurious L’Occitane products too – one of my favourite brands. Theresa and I popped open that bottle of champagne and started getting ready for our night in the hotel’s gourmet restaurant, The Dining Room. It had only been about two weeks since we’d last seen each other for a wedding in Cambridge but that’s pretty rare as it’s usually about every six months. Thing are going really well with her new events planning business and we’re both looking forward to celebrating our birthdays together in November.
We started the night chatting on the sofa in the hotel’s bar both opting for a bubbly cocktail. The Whatley Manor Fizz contains English sparkling wine, gin and raspberry puree while The Rose Garden is made up of rosé champagne, rhubarb vodka, sugar and rose. Whilst relaxing here the head waiter showed us the fourteen course tasting menu, whetting our appetite for what was to come.
The Dining Room at Whatley Manor has held two Michelin stars since 2010 and is now undergoing an exciting period of change as chef Niall Keating takes the helm replacing Martin Burge who’d been in charge of the kitchen for 13 years. Despite only being 25, Niall has already worked in many starry kitchens including three Michelin star Benu in San Francisco and one star Kong Hans Kaelder in Copenhagen. Needless to say, we were very much looking forward to sampling the menu and wine pairings which kicked off with a glass of sparkling wine.
Starting off with a few snacks, our favourite was the spiced cracker with sesame and crispy shrimp which was had a delicious light dusting of parmesan. Though a huge shellfish fan, I’ve never been too into oysters, but always will to try again and this one dressed with a delicious salty seaweed mignonette went down well as did a light, crisp eel wrapped in tempura with a citrus tang.
Unfortunately the egg white custard with salmon roe and tamari wasn’t for us as it was very overpoweringly fishy (and that’s coming from two big fish lovers!) we actually left most of it.
More successful was the sourdough loaf served with buttermilk brown butter and rather than a wine, it was paired with a local ale. Firm and chewy on the outside and light and fluffy inside – obviously we asked for a second one!
Next up was a raw mackerel with preserved raspberry and greens – a lovely light and fresh dish to follow the bread. I’ve had some great mackerel recently and this dish was no exception.
The tortellini made with squid ink was our next dish – and another favourite. Stuffed with different types of pork and a heady flavour of garlic, a touch of vinegar in the dressing gave it a more Asian flavour just one example of Chef Nial’s influence from Japan and Korea.
Scallops can often be a little bland but this one, served raw was well and truly lifted with chorizo and sat on a bed of risotto – which was actually made using sushi rice to give a different texture.
Another fantastic course was salmon with a decadent heap of exmoor caviar and a drizzle of beurre blanc sat on some broad beans. As you can see this is a tasting menu for fish lovers but the team are happy to make substitutions for those who are less keen on seafood.
Bucking the fish trend, a perfectly cooked Wiltshire lamb with dill pickle and and a good whack of horseradish.
There’s an optional cheese course (though when I’m with Theresa cheese is never optional) but we were a little disappointed not to see a cheese trolley as we’d had at Ocean in Jersey or Steirereck in Vienna. Instead we were presented with a slice of roquefort and the brie came so covered in truffle that we actually sent it back.
A scoop of white peach sorbet with rosemary and olive oil cleansed our palates in anticipation of dessert.
Which was a twist on a tartin, a delicate balance of apple, caramel and passion fruit before the most perfect matcha choux buns and chocolate treats. Fortunately we didn’t have far to good after such an extensive meal, heading up to our suite to sleep off such an epic dinner.
Despite a heavy dinner we definitely weren’t going to skip a hotel breakfast again served in the Dining Room and then it was spa time!
The spa is just of the Stable courtyard which itself boasts a perfectly manicured lawn and three bronze donkey sculptures by European sculptor Edouard-Marcel Sandoz the great grandfather of the owner of Whatley Manor.
Also just off the Courtyard lies the Cinema room which can be hired out – pop corn included!
The Aquarius Spa is just heavenly, there’s a tepidarium with heated stone recliners, experience showers and thermal cabins, there’s even a Wave Dream Sensory Room for the ultimate in relaxation.
And indoor / outdoor hydrotherapy pool gives you that feeling of being on holiday whilst still in the UK and there are massage jets on both sides.
In terms of treatments Theresa chose the ila Kundalini that’s ideal for relaxation and balance. Using Chakras and sound healing, tension is lifted from the spine and any negative energy is released – she absolutely loved her treatment and left feeling refreshed and restored.
For me, something I’d never had before and an experience unique to the Aquarius spa. The Natura Bisse Treatment Bubble contains air that is 99.995% for complete purity and detoxication.
I stepped inside the bubble which is quite large, so fellow claustrophobics need not worry, and enjoyed the Natura Bissé D-stress. This oxygen therapy hydrates and detoxifies, starting with a relaxing back massage and finishing up with a cleansing facial. It was a fab treatment and I loved trying something new and different.
All too quickly, and that’s the problem with a one night stay, it was time to pack our bags up to go our separate ways and say goodbye to Whatley Manor.