In a previous article about Le Manoir Aux Quat’Saison, The Vintage Magazine alerted our readers to Raymond Blanc’s annual Festival of Music held over three nights at his sublime hotel which is made for celebrations.
This was their 23rd festival so they have really got the hang of it by now, and it showed. Over the years many of the most established artists from the worlds of opera, classical music and jazz have been welcomed and allowed the guests the rare chance to get ‘up close and personal’ with some of the greatest artists in the world.
It was definitely an evening not to be missed, so we did our duty and chose to attend the Friday night performance by Dame Kiri Te Kanawa. The previous night the guests were entertained by Russell Watson, one of the world’s greatest classical singers and on the Saturday night by Tasmin Little who is firmly established as one of today’s leading international violinists.
We arrived full of eager anticipation on the Friday. A visit to Le Manoir is always a treat but on this particular evening as we drove into the courtyard the hotel was a delight to behold with flambeaux lining the entrance creating a magical atmosphere. And of course our entrance was further enhanced by the magnificent car we were driving which was a Rolls Royce Phantom Coupe which seemed perfectly suited for such an outing. After all, we were bringing probably the finest car in the world to probably the finest hotel in the country, which is a marriage made in heaven.
The evening began with a Laurent Perrier champagne Reception which gave us the opportunity to mingle with fellow guests. We learned that this Music Festival has a very loyal following with some fortunate guests coming year after year and others who even attended all three performances, staying each night in one of Le Manoir’s stunning suites.
When it was time to leave for the performance we were led through the hotel grounds to the neighbouring 12th century parish church of Great Milton, St. Mary’s, our route lined with flambeaux which created the most magical scene.
The performance which followed was wonderful. Dame Kiri Te Kanawa was relaxed and spoke to the audience in this intimate setting, and her still beautiful voice floated out of her and filled the church so that one was enveloped by the heavenly sound. She sang a selection of music from different countries, but the two pieces which stand out in my mind, sending our senses soaring, was O mio babbino caro from Puccini’s opera, Gianni Schicchi and Dame Kiri’s unexpected interpretation of Luther Vandross’s, Dance With My Father – not a dry eye in the house!
All too soon we were heading back to the Le Manoir for more sensual delights, this time to enjoy a menu created by Raymond Blanc and Gary Jones with selected wines from Le Manoir’s extensive cellar.
At dinner we were lucky enough to sit at a table with Gary Matthewman, the pianist who accompanied Dame Kiri, and by Robert and Scilla, and Miss Isabella O’Dowd (Robert is the stage manager for the Festival.
I was seated beside Kiri Te Kanawa’s Agent, Mrs Gillian Newsoin, and opposite was her daughter, Veronica and we heard some fascinating stories about her client’s distinguished career. Other guests at our table included Alex, and Jose McKay; Alex is a professional chef and great friend of Raymond Blanc.
The evening over we drove off to spend the night in nearby Oxford at the Malmaison Hotel, our journey made effortless in our Rolls Royce Phantom Coupé with Dame Kiris’s voice echoing in our ears.
The Malmaison Hotel in Oxford is a stroke of genius and an imaginative use of what was once a building of misery being the city’s gaol. It is now a luxury hotel but they have retained its historical integrity. The bedrooms lead off the central staircases and corridors as one would remember seeing in Ronnie Barker’s, Porridge. Thankfully there is more space for the paying guests than a cramped cell probably shared by several prisoners. The bedrooms were created from two cells, retaining the domed ceilings and the well designed bathroom from a single cell. We could only image what the original occupants would have made of it!
We had a very enjoyable night at Malmaison and were impressed with the standard of comfort and lunched in their Brasserie on the Sunday before returning home, our journey enhanced by driving probably the finest car in the world.
This elegant two-tone Coupé turned heads wherever we took it. There is no need for her to roar into life, as with more flashy cars, her quiet dignity is all that is required to draw admiring glances. This particular model had £30,845 of extras on it, on top of the basic price of £279,900, making it an eye-watering £309,945, so we drove it very gingerly for the few days we had it, aware of the great responsibility we had at our fingertips.
With its V12 engine the Rolls-Royce Phantom Coupé goes from zero to 60mph in 5.6 seconds, and has a maximum speed of 155 mph but this is ‘governed’ so that it cannot demonstrate how much faster it will go but I can assure you that it will go considerably faster.
It is the most extraordinary piece of precision engineering, but with oodles of ‘soul’, and it a real joy to drive, and be driven in. We are most grateful to Rolls-Royce Motor Cars, at Goodwood, who are experiencing a boom in their car sales around the world, and have extended their factory yet again to meet demand.
This is a car that you could really get to love and handing it back on the Monday was a real wrench. What a weekend of superlatives! You may not be able to drive to the 2015 Festival of Music at Le Manoir aux Quat’Saison in a Rolls-Royce Phantom Coupé but The Vintage Magazine can thoroughly recommend attending one of these superb evenings – in fact Rolls Royce is to cars, what Raymond Blanc is to food.
Chrissy Jarman, Features Editor of The Vintage Magazine