England

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Le Manoir aux Quat' Saisons

Address: Church Rd.

Neighborhood:

City: Oxford

Phone: 800-237-1236

Website: www.manoir.com

Expert Review

Hidden away in Great Milton, Oxford, Le Manoir has been the center of Raymond Blanc's culinary and hotel universe, and the basis of his two Michelin stars, since 1984. The manor's history stretches back to the 13th century, while the stone manor house dates from a few centuries later (its earliest residents were Norman, giving Blanc a French heritage to summon in the midst of a very English countryside).

Le Manoir is best known for its stellar restaurant, and since 1991 has offered the opportunity to learn culinary technique from the masters of the manor's kitchens, including bread artisan Dan Degustibus and Blanc himself. L'Ecole de Cuisine hosts classes - from one-day basics to four-day intensive programs - covering everything from how to filet a fish to avant-garde herb combinations. Out on the sprawling, walkable grounds you'll find Blanc's 2-acre organic garden, its neat rows marked with chalkboard labels. A linchpin of Blanc's devotion to fresh, organic ingredients, it contains 90 types of vegetables and 70 types of herbs.

Blanc collaborated with designer Emily Todhunter and others on the 32 guest rooms, each with a special theme. There's Rouge et Noir's black floors and deep-red accessories, and conceptual Anaïs (after writer Anaïs Nin), with mirrored furnishings and risqué paintings. Modern amenities are discreetly arrayed, so your flat-screen TV doesn't overshadow the charming pillows, while others are dispensed with altogether; instead of a minibar, the hotel offers complimentary mineral water, a decanter of Madeira, and plenty of fresh fruit. Blanc himself checks up on the rooms weekly and can be seen wandering the grounds taking notes. Best season for value: spring. 2008 Smart Luxury Award winner

Great Value Alternative: Ravenna, Italy's Mamma Agata has cooked for Liz Taylor and Jackie O and now hosts students from around the world. www.mammaagata.com

Tags: luxury | smart splurge | smart luxury winner | cooking class

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