Funnily enough a year later - almost to the day - we both found ourselves soaking in the sunshine between rain showers and learning how to play croquet on the perfectly manicured lawns of Raymond Blanc's 2 Michelin starred Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons.
Life has a funny way of taking us down paths we don't quite expect, sometimes quite literally.
Found in the rolling hills of Oxfordshire, tucked between a beautiful grey stone church and close to a picturesque windmill, Le Manoir is found down winding little countryside roads in the village of Great Milton. Despite my best efforts to talk my friend into a quick recce at the windmill, we rolled into the car park with time to simply soak in the beautiful atmosphere properly (and actually in retrospect with coffee in hand it was definitely the right choice...)
Le Manoir is English beauty meets French cuisine at the very best.
We were welcomed with a smile from the moment we arrived (and my friend and I found ourselves giggling as one of the gardeners passed us and offered to take our photo in front of the beautiful manor house) before being seated with coffee and biscotti in one of the many drawing rooms.
We were lucky enough between rain showers to be treated to a garden tour, taken by one of their passionate gardeners. From the certified organic vegetable gardens supplying the kitchens (beset by pests like rabbits, snails and mischievous chefs) overlooked by the manor house, we were taken through the carefully the arranged Japanese garden to the gloriously chaotic wildflower meadow dotted with quirky statues and it took all of my will not to settle in on one of the benches for an afternoon of relaxing and reading.
A rather large part of my heart simply wanted to move in. Permanently.
The flower beds were in full glorious bloom, Provence lavender pruned to make pathside hedgeways and trees heavy with unfurled leaves soaking in the sunshine.
Even the ladies bathrooms are a study in understated beauty. And yes, I am that person occasionally lurking around corners and waiting for people to leave so I can take photos. #bloglife
After champagne and canapes on the lawn, we were called in for lunch in one of the beautiful conservatories. Simply given a little namecard, my gluten intolerance was treated without any kind of fuss (one day we'll get one of those amazing little tablets lactose intolerant people can have, one day) with a very slightly different menu, and they popped lightly toasted cornbread at my elbow whilst everyone else buttered their beautiful bread buns.
We all had our cameras out as the dishes were served to each table, naturally one of the joys of modern life I guess. The pasta course, Ricotta and Honey Agnolotti, was the biggest menu difference, but as I tucked into my beautiful beetroot served with a variety of wildflowers - selected for their taste paramount to any prettiness - and a counterpuntal creamy sorbet, I didn't mind for the world.
Our next course was an exquisite crab-stuffed courgette flower served with ginger and a ludicrously delicate foam. As we pottered around the room to catch up between courses, we watched the rain hammer down outside as we sipped our delightfully nutty and savoury glasses of Caroline Morey St-Aubin 1er Cru Les Champlots 2013 from Bourgogne, France.
Then, my favourite. Oxfordshire lamb served gloriously pink, on a bed of tender baby artichokes, seasonal vegetables and an olive jus to tie the plate together. Heaven.
Dessert was reminiscent somehow of a favourite childhood pudding - a confection construction of apricot almondine, caramel croustillant and almond ice cream. We savoured every single bite.
Sadly too full to take advantage of the cheeses and port array, I wandered back into the gardens to enjoy one last look at the beautiful buildings and to pop into the pretty church next door, only to return to coffee and petit fours. Life, it was good.
How does one find the words to describe such a beautiful experience in the Oxfordshire countryside?
That, that was our luxurious lunch at Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons. It's no wonder the hotel kitchens have held 2 Michelin stars since 1984. What a beautiful place to find ourselves.