After the journey of a lifetime aboard Belmond’s Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, we made our way to Oxford, north of London. We briefly stopped through Oxford to meet our friends Tiffany and Robin for dinner at The Perch back in August and knew we’d be back. I just cannot get enough of the English countryside and knew we wanted to return to spend more time with our friends, explore the famous university town, as well as stay at Belmond’s beautiful Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons estate – which has been on my bucket list for some time!
As we approached Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons the estate was revealed bit by bit, glimpsed through a hedgerow here, an open gate there, until we arrived at the elegant 15th century manor house with acres of gardens. Le Manoir is one part English (a gorgeous 15th century manor house) and one part French (owned by one of the best French chefs out there, Raymond Blanc) – the best of both worlds in my book! (It is also a member of two of my favorite collections: Belmond and Relais & Châteaux!) We settled into our charming cottage suite decorated in cheerful French provincial patterns in reds, yellow and blues before pulling on our wellies to explore the grounds. Raymond Blanc sources most of his produce for his menus from the manor house grounds and guests are welcome to wander through his organic vegetable and herb gardens, as well as the 17th century Water Garden and Japanese Tea Gardens which are all simply beautiful.
Oxford has so much to offer beyond being a beautiful university town, and we loved a morning spent strolling the streets with my friend Tiffany and her son. Of course we had to visit some of the colleges and stopped by Balliol College, which has educated generations of scholars at its present Broad Street site since 1263. It claims to be the oldest college in Oxford, and in the English-speaking world. I always love visiting the dining halls at these great old universities, and we were lucky enough to peek into Balliol’s dining hall when it was mostly empty to snap a few pictures.
Nearby, I recommend paying a few pounds to climb the bell tower of University Church of St. Mary the Virgin for stunning views of Oxford’s best-known building: the library known as Radcliff Camera. We had beautiful weather and the carvings just shone in the afternoon light. Behind the church, you can fuel up with some delicious coffee at Jericho Coffee Roasters, then stroll through two of my favorite stores in Oxford: Sander’s of Oxford’s Antique Map Shop which is an elegant place to find a souvenir, and Shepherd and Woodward which carries classic countryside apparel and has an especially good selection for men. We got a beautiful fair isle sweater for David but would have happily purchased one of each item in the shop if luggage constraints weren’t a concern! For casual dinners, we loved and recommend al-Andalus, a cozy tapas place in the town center that we found through our friend Christian, and The Perch, which is about a mile outside the city, but offers a fresh take on traditional English pub food. Of course drinks at the Eagle and Child, made famous by the Inklings literary group regulars C.S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien, are a must. But the best meal of our time in Oxford was undoubtedly back at Le Manoir…
With grounds as grand as those at Le Manoir, and a two Michelin star restaurant, it was the perfect excuse to pull out our black tie for dinner on the final night in Oxford. The dining room buzzed with the excitement of couples and friends celebrating special occasions and it’s easy to understand why – this meal is an event – and I documented each course fastidiously on Instagram stories to share with those of you who love to cook because the flavor profiles were so imaginative and delicious! (You can find me on Instagram here.) Beetroot and Horseradish! Wasabi and Trout! Mushroom Tea! (Have you every heard of such a thing?) Raymond Blanc’s menus have been likened to “culinary fairy tales” and I couldn’t think of a better way to describe our night. Each of the 7 courses arrived like little works of art before us, and we savored every last bite. Complimented with a new wine recommendation for each course, you can see from the photos I couldn’t finish their generous pours!
Thank you Belmond Le Manoir for an unforgettable experience!
All photos by David and Stacie Flinner for stacieflinner.com