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Thursday 29 May 2014

Sluttery Travels: The Old Manor Hotel, Bradford upon Avon

On that ridiculously sunny weekend we had a few weeks ago, my new husband and I went on a weekend 'mini-moon' trip to The Old Manor Hotel in Bradford upon Avon, just outside Bath. Bath is one of my favourite British towns - it's an absolute delight for all Jane Austen enthusiasts with the annual festival taking over the town every September. The thermal spa baths are also worth a visit, as is the beautiful fashion museum.

The Old Manor Hotel is just one train stop or a short drive from Bath, but suddenly you feel a million miles from the bustle of the town. I could totally imagine the Lizzie Bennets of yore living here! We occupied what used to be the main bedroom of the oldest part of the hotel - having a flag flying outside your window is a delightful novelty. The room was spacious and full of little treats like Neal's Yard toiletries, and - more importantly, the room 'tuck shop' which featured a bottle of wine, pork scratchings, honeycomb and fudge. All the major food groups.

The hotel has only recently changed hands and you can see all the personal touches the new owners have made an effort with: in the room there's this lovely hand-drawn map of the site including the rooms that are situated where the old farm's pigsties and cowsheds used to be.

The house is full of beautiful decor: walls of antique pictures, vintage alarm clocks and phones in the bedrooms and original Singer sewing machines in the corridors all add to the charm of the place.

How cosy is this little nook, in the communal drawing room? Again, I can instantly imagine a Jane Austen heroine sitting here to read or sew or watch for visitors coming up the garden path.

The garden is really the hotel's crowning glory. There's a stunning front garden which includes the kitchen garden, but there's also a nature trail thought the field behind the hotel. Much of the food served at the hotel comes from the kitchen garden and the wild land surrounding it - there are wild mushrooms, herbs and berries from the hedgerows which are used for jam.

There are also plenty of herbs grown in the garden - I had great fun walking around and seeing what I could identify with my eyes, or more often, my nose. Whole beds of mint and wild strawberries (sadly not quite ready yet) had my mouth watering.

They grow over six types of both carrots and beetroots as well as all sorts of other vegetables and fruit including pears, cherries and figs. They also have their own smokery where they hay-smoke salmon, ham, sausages and cheese.

We got to taste some of the delicacies from the garden in chef Matthew Briddon's five course tasting menu. If you're in the Bath area, I'd absolutely recommend popping out to the Old Manor Hotel restaurant, The Milking Parlour to dine, even if you don't need somewhere to stay for the night. Starters included marinated pears with whipped truffle goats cheese and pickled beetroot with nuts. We got to sample the hay-smoked salmon which was exceptional - and that's coming from someone who's not generally a big 'smoked' fan.

The main course was slow cooked belly pork with crispy pigs head and a wasabi and lime dressing. The best testament to how delicious all the courses were is perhaps the fact that I have no photographic evidence of any of them. We just didn't have the will power to fiddle around with cameras before tucking in!

The hotel is looking to become even more self sufficient in the coming years, with their own animals as well as fruit and vegetables. They already have their own bees, so honey will hopefully come soon.

I have a real sweet tooth, and the desserts didn't disappoint. We had a cinnamon coated banana bread doughnut, a treacle tart made according to the chef's grandma's recipe and - my favourite - a dark chocolate crème brûlée. I am now totally spoilt and don't think a regular crème brûlée will ever quite hit the spot again.

After a very comfortable night's sleep ( I sleep very badly at night in general so am a fierce judge of beds and mattresses as I spend longer lying there awake than most people do - this one passed with flying colours ) came breakfast - my favourite meal of the day. If the hotel hadn't already won me over, their homemade muesli would have done the trick. Thick with chunks of dried figs and rich with both oats and bran flakes, it was served with delicious yoghurt and homemade berry compote - that's a splash of berry compote on the table in the photo below, not the remnants of a crime scene. But the food really was to die for.

The Old Manor Hotel is truly beautiful and a very relaxing place to spend the weekend. You might even get to meet Camber and take him for a walk - he's moved from The Gallivant in Sussex and is making himself at home here. You should do the same.

We were guests of The Old Manor Hotel. Standard rooms start at around £95 a night, while deluxe rooms start at around £135.

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