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Short stay: Hampton Manor, Hampton-in-Arden, West Midlands, UK

The country house party is stylishly back at the foodie estate of Hampton Manor. In the parlour, lavish books and board games sit invitingly on coffee tables. Wellies are ready for country rambles. The croquet lawn awaits. Guests gather for pre-dinner cocktails, gins or wine. After dinner Frazer guides guests through a tour of whiskies. History’s hand has always shaped Hampton Manor. Sir Robert Peel, a Victorian Prime Minister, bought the land. But after he fell from his horse and died in 1850, his son took on the task of designing the Neo Gothic pile. Now, lockdown has given the Hill family, who own and run the property, time to reinvent Hampton Manor. Twice a week, the family host a three day, two night foodie break. The welcome You’re welcomed like old friends arriving for a stay with the family. Immediately, there’s a tour of the property. Your host takes you to Peel’s restaurant, points out Fred’s Bar and introduces you to the light-filled Courtyard atrium where breakfast is served, light lunches enjoyed, afternoon tea taken. The room The high-ceilinged Lord Mowbray room, at the top of the stately oak-panelled staircase, beings a light contemporary touch to the Arts and Crafts theme. Brer Rabbit wallpaper, from a William Morris design, is lit by a vast modernist cylinder of light. This may be a Victorian mansion but there is also quietly effective air-conditioning. Hampton Manor takes coffee seriously providing a hand-grinder and beans. An upmarket beverage point offers home made cookies. Fresh milk is in the mini fridge. The bathroom Abundant 100 Acres toiletries are provided for a large bathroom with wide bath and separate walk-in power shower. Grey tiles contrast with a colour burst of three vibrant African portraits. Again there’s a restrained feature wall of designer wallpaper. Facilities One evening guests dine at Smoke. Steve, the gardener, had 60 tomato plants ready to plant when the decision was taken, during lockdown, to convert the greenhouse into a restaurant. Now a solitary row of tomato plants run through a magical dining space. Cooks prepare food in what was once the furnace house heating the greenhouse. For us, it was a set three course menu beginning with a carrot soup poured over a sour dough bread crumb and carrot-top pesto. Two rare potato varieties, Violeta and Pink Fir, served as Dijon potatoes, paired well with neck of lamb. Vegan and chicken/fish options are available too. For dessert, Artichoke ice-cream seems an eclectic, almost Heston Blumenthal choice until you taste it’s spectacular marriage with ginger sponge. On the second evening a five course tasting menu is served in the Michelin starred Peel Restaurant. Though, if you wish, you could make it nine courses with additional dessert selections and finishing with an English cheeseboard served back in the parlour. Chef Rob Palmer focuses on high quality seasonal sourcing, appropriately beginning with beetroot, Driftwood goats cheese, pear and sorrel. For the second course “Potato” seems a bland offering until you pour over the rich XO seafood sauce. With every course, the recommended wine pairing enhances the dish. At the heart of the menu there is a choice between wild duck or turbot. Slices of rich sausage and brown sauce work well with the duck whilst a kingly turbot is decadently served with leek, Jerusalem artichoke and champagne. Breakfast is served in the Courtyard, seasonally decorated with hops and wheat. Throughout the day drinks, light dishes and afternoon tea are available there. Within the grounds, Hampton Clinic and pamper rooms run by Dr Lorraine Hill, offer anti-ageing and weight reduction treatments as well as prescription based skincare. Location With easy access from the M42, Hampton Manor is well-placed for Birmingham and Stratford-upon-Avon. Guests are offered use of a Lexus car to drive round local attractions. Other nice touches Fjona Hill has created an illustrated field guide to local walks complete with protective lanyard. Pre-dinner guests are invited to the parlour for drinks. Hampton Manor have designed their own gin – Wasted. Eco consciously, it is distilled from the cascara waste of ground coffee beans, with an alluring taste lingering somewhere between between a classy black tea and a hint of Kahlúa. Also in the parlour an old-fashioned record player is ready for the neighbouring vinyl collection or any LPs that guests bring. Soulful Amy Winehouse seemed to hit the right notes for the clientele. Dom, who really ought to have his own TV baking show, runs a morning’s bread making course. Later, James Hill and sommelier Ross, run a wine-tasting session, favouring wines where “nothing is added and nothing is taken away”. Increasingly, Hampton Manor is looking towards sourcing from organic and regenerative farming. As a farewell gift guests are given are given a pack of the cookie dough to recreate the gourmet cookies provided in the rooms. The cost Two nights with meals at this foodie heaven begin from £365 per person. The best bit It’s a relaxed country house weekend where you drift from breakfast to bread making to lunch to wine-tasting to cocktails to dinner. And then, if you wish, whisky tasting. Hand-grinding your coffee beans, talking to gardener Steve about the organic development of the walled garden, toasting marshmallows over the fire pit – the world slows down. It’s an idyllic escape from everyday frenetic. The final verdict Hampton Manor has a sense of place, it’s roots running through the heart of England. After all, this is Shakespeare’s mystical, magical Forest of Arden. The Hills champion the slow movement: celebrating artists, carpenters, chefs, gardeners and sommeliers who take time to master their craft. An oak slab had sat in the carpenter’s workshop for 80 years before James Hill commissioned the carpenter to hand-plane the Maker’s Table which sits at the heart of Peel’s Restaurant. For the Hill family, Hampton Manor is a contemporary take on the original Arts and Crafts movement’s reaction against soulless mass production. As Frazer Hill says, “We take a long term view knowing we need to help forge a different kind of future for our children.” Disclosure: Our stay was sponsored by Hampton Manor.

Michael Edwards

Michael Edwards is a travel writer from Oxfordshire, UK. Although Michael had his first travel pieces published nearly four decades ago, he is still finding new luxury destinations to visit and write on.

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  1. Definitely like the idea of taking a Lexus for a drive. Probably a lot more comfortable than the car that I will arrive in.

  2. I think this sort of reaction to characterless digitalisation was inevitable. People want to talk to the barman about where their whisky comes from, see the gardener digging up veg for their dinner and get flour on their hands making bread. I love the detail of the makers table. Especially after the isolation of this year I expect that family and friends are desperate to gather together around the table just like in olden times.

  3. It sounds to me as this is a lot more social than an average weekend break. I know it’s difficult with social distancing at the moment but I think we all want to get out and talk to people. This year’s been very isolating.I bet guests would relax and have a good jaw over the whiskies!

  4. Interesting that they offer a bread making session. That has to be one of the boom interests of this year. After all the baking that went on during lockdown-down you have to question whether some of the pupils had a few good tips to pass on to the tutor?

  5. The lockdown has certainly put some of our creative juices to good use. It’s not like we can do anything about what is happening around the world, we just need to be able to adapt to it. Whether we work as employed individuals or have our own business, adjustments need to be made. And it’s good to see that a hospitality owner, such as the Hill family, is able to innovate and create an enticing getaway that’s both socially immersive and contemplative. It’s a gorgeous place for that matter, and they very well and something productive during the lockdown.

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