Gravetye Manor Hotel, Sussex, Uk

A visit to Gravetye Manor Hotel in West-Sussex in 2020

Reading time : 8 minutes
The year 2010 was a special one for Elizabeth Hosking. She never thought that her long forgotten dream of owning a small country hotel would finally come true.

Therefore there will be a special celebration in the Gravetye Manor Hotel on 5th March 2020.

That’s when Elizabeth and Jeremy Hosking will personally pop the corks to celebrate their ten-year ownership of Gravetye Manor Country House Hotel.

For Elizabeth, the dream was fulfilled ten years ago - in March 2010. Although she is a trained cook, Elisabeth never worked in a restaurant, but since then she kept the dream of owning such a little country house hotel.

Her husband Jeremy has known Gravetye Manor since he was a teenager in the nineteen-seventies. He grew up quite nearby, and his parents often took him with them to this place steeped in history, which already had a reputation as a culinary destination in the nineteen-sixties and was an excursion destination for many gourmets and garden-lovers. A house with centuries of history …..

Gravetye Manor was built as a labour of love more than 400 years ago – by Richard Infield in 1598 for his bride Katherine. As a private hideout for the young couple.

The property has remained a private sanctuary during all the decades and centuries.

William Robinson, the legendary Irish gardener and writer, bought the house 1884 out of love - for nature. Together with almost 4.000.000 m2 - 1000 acres – of land around it.

There he laid out a so-called “Wild Garden”, which today - 140 years later and thanks to Jeremy and Elizabeth Hosking’s investments – is considered to be one of England’s most beautiful and most important gardens.

Finally, Mr. Peter Herbert – the son of a hotelier and himself a qualified hotel specialist, talented PR and event manager and a hotel director - discovered the property in 1958, fell in love with it and achieved a long-cherished plan there. He wanted to open a luxury hotel on the land. One in which one could also eat and drink very well. In nineteen-fifties and -sixties, no-one made a special journey from London out here in the country for lunch or dinner. All his friends, acquaintances and business partners declared him – the “Jack of all trades” and a food and wine lover – to be completely crazy. But Peter Herbert turned his plan into a reality – contrary to all the advice – and made Gravetye Manor one of the world’s top five 5 country hotels.

He transformed the forgotten enchanted nature garden into a jewel as William Robinson would have understood the word.

Having rediscovered Robinson’s lost treasure, Herbert resolved to restore it, and he was helped in his work by an elderly man who had been one of Robinson’s gardeners, and was able to remember what had been planted where.

So Mr. Herbert employed a high-ranking chef, and as early as the nineteen-sixties he thereby turned Gravetye Manor into a top culinary address in the country and a member of the Relais & Châteaux Association. His plan worked, and the dream of a small luxury hotel in the country had become a reality. Guests came from far and wide, and were impressed. It was a complete success, and Peter Herbert with his excellent Gravetye Manor in West Sussex, one hour south of London, became famous far beyond the boundaries of England.

Forty years later, after Peter Herbert sold Gravetye Manor and retired in 2004, quietness descended around this beautiful country house hotel.

It remained in the Relais & Châteaux Association and offered comfortable rooms and outstandingly good cuisine for many years, but the running costs were overwhelming for the subsequent operator.

I was there for the first time myself in 1989, and stayed in this jewel overnight a number of times during several years. Although I was impressed by the house’s charm and the beauty of its garden, I sensed and saw quite clearly that nothing had been invested in it for a long time. Threadbare carpets, worn cushion covers and faded wallpaper. The English expression is: “This place has been run down.”

In the end, the final day arrived. Gravetye Manor was put up for sale – the owners had run out of money. Gravetye Manor, the famous country house hotel that had won so many awards, was on the market.

Jeremy Hosking and his wife Elizabeth 1993 spend their wedding night there, and this delightful property with its natural garden immediately gained a place in the hearts of the newly-married couple. The Hosking couple live about a one-and-a-half-hour drive from Gravetye Manor, but they often came - and still come – for lunches, dinners with family and friends, or just for short visits.

When Jeremy and Elizabeth Hosking heard that the property was to be liquidated, they just looked at one another for a moment and said “Let’s save it”.

They bought it 2010, in the middle of the British financial crisis.

In our conversation, Elizabeth told me that “It was a philanthropic decision to buy it.” To maintain and preserve it.

Whether that meant her longterm dream of owning her own country house hotel one day would become a reality? After the negotiations had been completed, her husband just said: “It’s not YOURS”!

Then the work began. Refurbishing, renovating, redeveloping - in the seventeen rooms and in the whole building. Renewing the roof, all the sanitary installations, pipes, pumps and the kitchen. Awarding contracts for upholstery work, employing painters, hiring electricians… Elizabeth Hosking took on the interior design with the support of a well known London based Interior Design Studio.

Jeremy’s comment was: “It changed without a change!”

And then – THE GARDEN.
As in Peter Herbert’s time, the intention was to restore the natural garden as William Robinson imagined it. An enormous expense, and so successful!

The separate 7,000 m2 kitchen garden – the biggest of its kind in England – was laid out again and rejuvenated according to the old plans. Today’s Michelin Star chef George Blogg and his team obtain 80% of the ingredients from it - herbs, vegetables, salad or fruit - to prepare their dishes.

I’m really not a vegetarian – but I could become one here!

My personal TIP: if you ever plan a lunch or dinner there, be sure to ask about the vegetarian menu – as well as the current menu! It’s worthwhile trying the delicious culinary experiences George Blogg and his team can conjure up from potatoes, peas (2019 was an outstandingly good year for peas!) or mushrooms!

Elizabeth and Jeremy appointed Tom Coward from the world-famous “Great Dixter” British garden as head gardener. Today, Tom is assisted by seven gardeners to keep in good shape the total of eleven legendary garden areas and the centuries-old bushes and trees. Whether in summer or winter, you can see hard-working gardeners digging, replanting, weeding and sowing. An you will see Vera, Tom’s black-and-white mixed-race lady dog. Wherever she is, he’s not far away!

As they stroll through the garden, the Hosking couple stop to exchange a few words with Tom, the head gardener, and dog-lover Elizabeth strokes his dog Vera, from whom I also receive a friendly greeting every time.

And if you’re lucky, Tom will give you a couple of special flower bulbs from the Gravetye Manor greenhouse.

Gravetye Manor is a feast for the eyes in every season of the year, and could justifiably be named the “Four Seasons”.

At least this description can be found in the menu which, changing according to the seasons, spring, summer, autumn or winter salad is a great pleasure not only for the palate but also for the eyes!

Elizabeth Hosking and her husband Jeremy visit Gravetye Manor from time to time, and each time their overnight accommodation is in a different room – which they also do to discover small details that could be optimised. She says “I see everything.” She has an eye for details, light, colours and fabrics - in another life she will probably be an interior designer.

They are both collectors (Jeremy collects locomotives! Real ones, not little toy steam engines! Historic ones! Enormous steam engines!), and they are both fascinated by art.

Jeremy’s collection includes two paintings by Sir Winston Churchill, and had them hung in Gravetye Manor’s bar and sitting room.

Amateur photographer Elizabeth has displayed four of her own photographic works in the house. When I asked her where they are hung, she said: “In the ladies’ room” (in the ladies’ toilet).

Paintings by Henry George Moon (1857 - 1905), Sir Peter Lely (1618-1680), Alfred Parsons (1847 - 1920) or Ivon Hitchens, part of the “London Group” (1893 - 1979), can be found in the guestrooms and everywhere in the house on the wood-panelled walls under picture lights.

More than a year ago, in January 2019, the house was completely closed for four months. A new restaurant was to be built in the garden, and a few other furnishings renovated. Many of the regular guests were very worried that this would excessively change the house’s style. Most of them could not imagine in any way what such a modern extension to such a historic building would look. They feared being disappointed. Expectations were correspondingly high when the doors were opened again in May 2019.

Regular guest Sir Charles Knowles, himself an architect and already a regular guest at the hotel since the nineteen-eighties was, so to speak, able to observe Gravetye Manor’s career development and changes live on the spot. Therefore he was the ideal contact when it was a question of planning designs for this new restaurant. He had rather specific ideas about what the new restaurant for his favourite country hotel should look like. And Elizabeth Hosking’s brief to him was short and simple:

“It’s got to look WOW!”

We were all the more excited as we drove to West Hoathly in early May 2019 and drew near to Gravetye Manor filled with curiosity. Everything inside was unchanged. Here a new Pierre Frey upholstery cover fabric on armchairs and sofas, fresh wallpapers from Osborne & Little, there a new Zoffany curtain. And then – as we turned the corner at the reception desk towards the former dining room – it opened up.

The view into the new “gourmet temple”.

Architect Sir Charles had more than implemented Elizabeth’s brief.

It didn’t look WOW - It looked double WOW!

The left-hand wall had been opened up and offered inquisitive guests a really breath-taking view through the glass-walled room and into the garden. The light flooding in from all sides created an astonishing transparency.

The furnishings were colour-coordinated to the green of the plants and grasses.

The paintings on the walls also corresponded to the garden’s flora and fauna – commissioned works painted by the French Claire Basler.

In front of each, elegantly positioned, was a simple glass vase with a long flower from the “Flower Garden”, looking as if it had just jumped out of the painting.

Thus the garden was gently integrated into the area in which guests can enjoy George Blogg’  Michelin star cuisine. The overall impression: visual homage to William Robinson, “founding father” of this natural garden nearly 140 years ago.

Regular guest Sir Charles has really succeeded in creating a masterpiece. Not directly attached to the main building, but separated by narrow glass roofs. The room is constantly flooded with light through the big glass roof in the ceiling. The floor-length glass doors can be opened (sliding glass doors), so in summer one is virtually sitting in the open air. The view sweeps uninterrupted into the depth of the garden. Mies van der Rohe would have enjoyed it!

A truly magic place has been created here. Everyone was positively astonished and boundlessly enthusiastic. Not only the Hosking couple and the Gravetye Manor team, but also all the regular guests and visitors. I think Sir Charles Knowles is also satisfied with his work.

The restaurant has been fully-booked every day since then. Lunchtime, evenings, seven days a week.

Reservations should therefore be booked early!

My culinary highlights were the seasonal garden salad, the langoustines as starter and – if offered – porcini risotto with truffles from the Périgord and “Baron Bigot truffle cheese”. This Brie-style cheese with a crumbly texture at the core and a silky breakdown at the rind, with a flavour balancing a clean lactic brightness with a mushroomy, vegetable taste, blends just perfectly with the porcini risotto and truffles. This risotto is George’s special creation, and deserves a bow!

For my sweet tooth, the house’s “signature dessert” is unquestionably the soufflé! A surprise and a MUST!

Anyone who is able should definitely treat themselves to the eight-course “Tasting Menu”! Also popular as a vegetarian variant – once through the kitchen garden and back… accompanied by a glass of Malbec from Argentina or a Bacchus from the region. You will be astonished. The sommeliers Lucas, Anthony and Freddy have treasures in the wine-cellar and – in addition to astonishing recommendations – one or two rare sips to taste as well!

Afterwards with a Lagavulin malt in front of the crackling hearth in the sitting room, browsing through William Robinson’s bestsellers “The Wild Garden” or “The English Flower Garden”. First published in 1870, both books are still considered to be gardening bibles for all garden-lovers today. Classic publications on naturalistic gardens that blend hardy native and exotic plants in groupings which mimic wild landscapes, they incorporate modern explanations of the original author's vision and its relevance to today's world. Nature - pure and wild – but carefully planted and laid out nonetheless!

The following morning, one can decide to put on a pair of rubber boots (Wellingtons) – all sizes are ready and waiting for guests – and explore the nearby wood and its small lakes with all their wild flowers and grasses. Or a stroll to the apple orchards and the numerous greenhouses.

Afterwards - inspired by the literary garden wisdom, fine wines and culinary delicacies – sink into the pillows of a four-poster bed and sleep blissfully until you are teased awake next morning by the sunbeams between the gaps in the Colefax & Fowler curtains. The view into the garden in the morning is stunning. The light makes the colours of the countless blossoms and flowers glow, almost like a painting by John Constable or Thomas Gainsborough. There is a temptation to make a morning walk before the daily hurly-burly starts and one is enticed to breakfast by the fragrance of freshly-baked bread, croissants and coffee.

What a breakfast... the vanilla quark is home-made, of course, and the almond flakes are rolled in egg-white and vanilla sugar before being roasted in the oven. As an accompaniment: berries and other fresh fruits from the hotel’s own garden... The honeycombs are from its own beehives. Yes. The bees are still here, and plenty of them! They buzz in the garden, in bushes and in the wood! And their honey is simply a poem.

Then - another MUST - eggs Benedict Royale! I won’t give away anything more. Simply book, drive there, order and enjoy.

I expect you will also fall in love with it. In George Blogg’s delicious meals. In Gravetye Manor with its unique garden. The seventeen comfortable rooms, every one of them nicer than the other, many wood-panelled and furnished like Downton Abbey’s guestrooms. They make you feel you don’t want to leave again.

And you’ll fall in love with them all - the Gravetye Manor team!

As you arrive, and when the lively and humorous Brian from Liverpool and Gareth, a giant of a man and former British Airways steward, take your bags and give you an exuberant description of the house. Or as you stand in front of the small wood-panelled reception desk, and Emma, Alison, Yvonne or Trian welcome you as warmly as though you were a returning friend not seen for a long time. Emma! Emma Greenwood. Front Office Manager and for 25 years the “good-hearted soul” of the house. Her professionalism and cheerfulness win over every guest, and anyone who hears her laugh simply cannot be in a bad mood. Or Andrew Thomason. This charming gentleman, always elegantly dressed, has not only been the Director of Gravetye Manor for eight years, but also pitches in wherever something needs doing. Occasionally clearing away a glass or helping in the service area when the restaurant is again fully booked, every private dining room is occupied, and the ladies from the neighbourhood have agreed to meet at the fireside at teatime …… and in spring and summer, guests also like to enjoy their Champagne or Lapsang souchong tea in the garden.

The service team always has a lot of work, but nevertheless they remain relaxed, happy and good-humoured. One notices that there is an optimum atmosphere in the team. And that is transmitted to the guests. Whether it’s Peter, Loic, the charming French lady Roxanne, Beverly from breakfast service, Katja, Eduardo and Paula, Juliette, Aurelia and - Charles Coulombeau, Head Chef under George Blogg at the Michelin-starred Gravetye Manor. Last year - 2019 - he won the International Culinary Prize, and this year he represented the UK in the international Taittinger competition in Paris end of January 2020. The result: Charles Coulombeau has carried off one of the world's most lucrative and revered culinary titles, Le Taittinger Prix Culinaire. He scooped the €20,000 (£17,136) top prize after impressing the judges at the international final in Paris with two dishes! He creates - together with George  - the most amazing and creative dishes.” Foodies” come all the way to Gravetye Manor just to have lunch or dinner!

I fully understand why! After the Manor House and the fairy-tale Garden, the food experience is the third WOW for me!

Thanks to Elizabeth and Jeremy Hosking for having saved this fairy-tale “jewel” in the country.

Room with a VIEW: “Ash”, “Bay”, “Walnut”, “Chestnut”

For your informationThe hotel has now been reopend from July 4th and the restaurant will reopen to the public on August 1st, for the time being only for lunch – do check with the hotel what Covid-measures are in place.
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© Ingrid Roosen-Trinks
February 2020

Ingrid Roosen-Trinks stayed at the Gravetye Manor Hotel several times as a self-paying guest. Like all of our authors, she does not allow anyone to invite her and pays for every booking privately.