Two women in the grounds of Estelle Manor

Estelle Manor
North Leigh, United Kingdom


 

In London circles, having ‘a place in the Cotswolds’ has long been a status symbol that carries with it much social currency. So, when Maison Estelle – the upscale Mayfair members club – announced its foray into the charming Oxfordshire countryside, it didn’t come as a surprise, with ‘town-and-country’ luxury pairings having become rather fashionable of late in the UK. But whilst the idyllic, immaculately presented country retreat that is Estelle Manor may have risen quickly to be an exemplar of this trend, it has also taken what we know of the English country house escape to a different level.

The Cotswolds, an Elysian field for many Londoners, is also a place where idyllic pastoral villages cosy up together like old friends in front of a country pub’s roaring fireplace. It’s where second homes (thatched of course, ‘as God intended’) and geranium-lined gardens whisper honey-hued gossip to each other; because even the quaintness here has quaintness envy. It’s a place where charming meets swanky, wrapped in a perception of refined agrestic living that is a world away, yet only a short hop, from the throng of Britain’s capital.

Whilst urbanity certainly faded away as we drove up the pristine gravel driveway of Estelle Manor, so did any notion of being in the Cotswolds. Set on sixty acres of private estate land and then some 3,000 acres of parkland and gardens, it was no wonder that merely entering the estate seemed like an escape in itself. And what was revealed at our journey’s end contrasted vastly with our expectations of the old Costwoldian farmhouses and chocolate-box coaching inns that have since turned into in-vogue places to stay, outside the gates.

Eynsham Hall – as it was once called – is a magnificent, imposing, handsome and mysterious edifice, built in a Jacobean (perhaps even Jacobethan) revival style. It may have a new alias in Estelle Manor, but the original qualities of the stately home endure… exclusivity, a nostalgic ode to genteel country living, steeped in grandeur and the relishing of life. A Grade II-listed heritage mansion, it was completed in 1908 to designs by architect Ernest George and stands proud at the epicentre of the estate that dates back to the 1770s. But while it may be hard to visualise how the house and gardens may have first looked in the 18th century as much of it has been demolished, rebuilt and added to over time, the place has a storied history. For example, the North Lodge, its walls and gate-piers (that appear relatively insignificant as compared to the grandiose main house) were built by Sir Charles Barry, the architect of the UK’s Houses of Parliament and the Palace of Westminster. And if we were archaeologically inclined, we could have searched out the foundations of an Iron Age fort, right here on the grounds.

Today, old Eynsham Hall is under the ownership of contemporary luxury hospitality poster-child, Sharan Pasricha and his partner in life and work, Eiesha Bharti Pasricha. Sharan is best known for founding and selling hotel conglomerate Ennismore. His other passion project is Gleneagles, Scotland’s ‘Glorious Playground’, where his expert touch and investment have turned the fortunes of the hotel and golf club. Suffice to say that if you’ve been to and enjoyed Gleneagles, you will notice and approve of the striking similarities in the way things are done at Estelle Manor. The DNA of this place is wholly different of course, so let’s just call them cousins for now, with the possibility we may in the future discover that they are, in fact, sisters.

Estelle Manor is peculiarly beautiful. We at first marvelled at its cusped arches, carved brickwork and balustrades, imposing porches and parapets, steep roof gables and towering chimneys. Then walking through huge wooden doors, we found impressive interior dimensions, dramatic windows looking out to the lawn, majestic fireplaces, vaulted passageways, wood-panelled walls and elaborate staircases that led from one jaw-dropping room into another. A bar, restaurant, living room, library, reading nook, and more… all begged discovery.

It’s hard to furnish a space already so opulent and allow the period features room to breathe, let alone fuse old-world glamour with the avant-garde. But here, thanks to interior designers Roman and Williams, Olivia Weström and the Ennismore Design Studio, under the watchful creative eye of owner Eiesha, there’s neither too much nor too little. Contemporary design, and great design at that, is applied liberally, tastefully and confidently.

Ornate ceiling? Well, let’s bolt on a sculptural, Bauhaus-esque coppertone light fitting. What goes beneath the giant crystal chandelier? Some colourful and flamboyant art, of course. Why leave a wooden floor exposed, when you can throw down an intricate neo-Persian rug? A little slither of empty wall space? Let’s give it some hand-painted wallpaper.

Estelle Manor’s interiors are purposefully sensorial (and that’s before you count the things that are done to create an atmosphere). Even while we were clinging on to the last days of summer, fireplaces were already crackling away, custom scents wafted through the air, and ambient music and theatrical lighting changed the mood throughout the day. Even the way the light radiated through the windows seemed planned, and the polished, new floorboards creaked in a particularly curated fashion.

Stepping outside to the back of the house revealed a magnificent, heated swimming pool, its turquoise blue complemented by a sandstone deck – accented by red Moorish-style parasols – that melted into an immaculate ‘infinity lawn’ that stretched to the horizon. The whole thing evoked a feeling of long, hot Saltburn-style summers, even when the weather wasn’t on our side.

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While you’re Out There
Estelle Manor is the sort of place that once you arrive, you won’t want to leave. So spending time enjoying the facilities is what we’d recommend visitors do here. The activities team at Estelle Manor offer up several ‘target sports’ including axe throwing, air-rifling (where we found out we were great shots) and archery on its 60-acre playground, with clay pigeon shooting soon to join the long list of things to do. There are also birds-of-prey and foraging experiences to feed your ‘country-mouse’ spirit.

Communal areas (remembering that only members or overnight guests can come onto the grounds) and members-only areas were portioned off carefully throughout the main house. Estelle Manor members have access to special perks, like guest chefs and work/meeting zones, but we mere hotel guests never felt short-changed.

There are currently 108 keys (and growing) across the grounds, spread across the Manor House, Walled Garden, Stables and the soon-to-come Woodland Cottages and even more opulent, standalone multi-bedroom cottages.

In our opinion, the best suites are in the main building; ours – an ‘Estelle Suite’ – was on the second floor, overlooking the pool. Our accommodation was a wonderful manifestation of period charm, mixed with British-accented ‘hygge’ in the form of extravagant designer furnishings: a sumptuous chaise, a supersized coffee table, eccentric pumpkin-like footstools and a large, wooden, four-poster bed. Pulling back some shutters, we found a decadent bathroom, with rust-coloured marble his-and-his sinks, white stone fireplace and a freestanding brass rolltop bath, all complemented by George Northwood and La Commune products and abstract artwork by the likes of Lucy Naughton.

Throughout our stay at Estelle Manor, we detected a penchant for celebrated living. There were always little reminders to do so: to indulge in delicious homemade fudge; to be sure to try a whole Peking Duck; to ensure we have a nightcap at the bar. Of course, we sampled as much as we could, including lunch at the Glass House in the estate’s walled garden, where we grazed on a bagna càuda with garden vegetables grown just outside and feasted on a whole chicken panzanella, chosen from a specials menu with far more options than the à la carte. If available, we recommend the fried sage and anchovy starter, a novel but moreish appetizer.

As night fell, candles were lit, the bar buzzed and the restaurant spaces packed full. We enjoyed an atmospheric dinner in the Billiards Room, with its imposing stone fireplace, emerald malachite fixtures, Chinoiserie crockery and inventive and delicately presented Cantonese-fusion cuisine, served up by ex-Hakkasan chef Ah Tat Ip and his host-with-the-most, restaurant director Ronald Yap.

We liked that they weren’t tempted to make the space feel overtly oriental (clever, as it allows an easy change in cuisine if needed, to keep things fresh). The other dining rooms are equally impressive, including the Brasserie right next door.

On the whole, the food at Estelle Manor was exemplary. Yet, at times, while friendly, the waiting staff came across as inexperienced. We also felt that the tables were positioned a little too closely together, and whilst this encouraged a communal spirit at mealtimes, it lacked somewhat in privacy. Our friendly American neighbours, visiting from Los Angeles, stopped just short of reaching over and sharing our food.

Our breakfast setting in the conservatory overlooking the garden was much more comfortable, which proved a good thing, as service that morning was slow. And when our food finally did arrive, it was cold, with items missing and our drink requests unheeded. The service issues we experienced here are not all that uncommon in the current hospitality environment where staffing is a challenge. We’re sure things can and will be whipped into shape over time. But the contrast to how we were treated by the front-of-house team – who were omnipresent and willing to help all the time – was stark. In any case, be prepared for a leisurely breakfast; no bad thing!

At the time of our visit, Estelle Manor was close to completing its Eynsham Baths, a Roman-spa-inspired, 3,000 sqm/32,300 sqft wellness complex with five pools and a tepidarium bathing hall. When completed, it will mean a whole new building the size of the main house again, located to its west. It will feature unique, signature treatments and a bespoke range of spa products, a first for the Pasrichan hospitality empire.

Who comes here? Well, Estelle is set up to attract a chic, young-at-heart community who ‘have plenty to say and nothing to prove’. Some elements may be a bit too trailblazing for legacy luxurians, but it will charm affluent millennials and Xennials immensely, or as Evelyn Waugh so poignantly penned, the ‘rich, beautiful and bored.’

We hope that with Asian owners, more international influences and a diverse approach, this property will democratise luxury hospitality in the Cotswolds and attract OutThere travellers who hadn’t traditionally thought of the Cotswolds experience – or ‘country pursuits’ anywhere for that matter – as for them. We feel that Estelle Manor is at the forefront of creating a new, inclusive sense of belonging, transforming that once old-world elitism and exclusivity into a new type of genteel living that’s still elevated but appealing to people of different backgrounds. When we visited, the clientele was still mostly made up ‘Henriettas and Henrys’ and their blonde-haired children, but we also spotted more diverse guests, including members of the ‘queer-istocracy’ – fashion designers, music artists and young professionals of different creeds – all enjoying a slice of country life.

One question remains unanswered. Who is the eponymous Estelle? After talking to several different people during our stay here at Estelle Manor, we’re no clearer. All we know is that in French, the name Estelle means ‘star’. And this Estelle is certainly rising.

www.estellemanor.com

Photography courtesy of Estelle Manor




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