Celebrity chef Raymond Blanc once said: "Food is for life, for joy, for saying I love you".
And the Kitchen Secrets star certainly serves up the perfect recipe for romance at his two Michelin star Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons, a beautiful 15th century manor house converted into a hotel and restaurant in the picturesque Oxfordshire village of Great Milton.
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He may have made a name for himself with his TV series, cook books and stereotypical French charm – but before the fame, Le Manoir was, and always has been, Raymond’s pride and joy. He bought the property in 1984, and lovingly created one of the country’s finest hotels and restaurants. It is "the fulfillment of a personal vision", he says.
From the moment you pull up at Le Manoir and have your car valet parked, the staff offer a genuinely warm welcome to this charming country estate. There is nothing that hasn’t been thought of – from the English and French newspapers on offer to the umbrellas outside every door, should you be caught short in a downpour without one of your own.
And then there's the food. One glance at the famous tasting menu – there are six-course and nine-course options to choose from – is enough to see that the celebrated chef prides himself on providing a fine dining experience like no other.
From champagne and bite-sized, delicious aperitifs in the lounge, where pictures of Raymond throughout the years are hung on the walls, through to after-dinner coffee in front of a crackling fire, no stone is left unturned in the quest for attention to detail. There are helpful waiters on hand to fully explain every course and every wine - each course is individually paired with a complementing wine by the sommelier - but should you not want disturbing, there’s a personalized copy of the menu you’ve chosen (meals are selected prior to dinner) on the table, signed off "Bon Appetit! " by Raymond himself.
Even the dining room itself is exquisite – set in a beautifully-lit conservatory overlooking the garden. This magnificent room is also where the exceptional breakfasts are served, should you stay the night.
The celebrated French chef's stamp is on everything. He's even chosen how dim the lights should be before and after a meal in the hotel suites, to enhance the overall ambience of the dining experience from start to finish, and episodes of his hit TV shows are available on demand on every TV in the premises.
As Raymond is president of the Sustainable Restaurant Association, it's not surprising the focus is very much on locally-sourced produce. So locally-sourced, in fact, that much of it comes from the gardens of Le Manoir itself. There’s a two-acre vegetable and herb garden and a large orchard, and the 90 types of vegetable and 70 species of herb that grow here supply the restaurant and on-site cookery school with as-fresh-as-fresh-can-be produce.
Even without the lure of its famous restaurant, Le Manoir provides the perfect place for a romantic minibreak. With 32 individually-designed guest rooms and suites, an elegant, intimate cocktail bar, sprawling lawns and gardens to explore, and attentive-yet-discreet staff only too willing to cater to your every need, the hotel and its quintessentially English setting - peppered with hints of Raymond’s French heritage, of course – provides a wonderful country escape.
Why not say 'I love you' this Valentine's Day in the exquisite setting of Le Manoir? For those planning an extravagant gesture, the Garden Suite and the Superior Suite are still – at time of writing – available to book. Prices from £1345.
Or, new for this year is the Valentine’s Special at the cookery school. If you and your other half are foodies, learn how to create sumptuous chocolate-based treats on a day-long itinerary complete with a glass of Buck’s Fizz on arrival and a certificate of completion at the end. Prices from £720 per couple.
Visit www.manoir.com for further details.
It's a little princess!