There are few gardens in the UK that come with a vineyard, wallaby enclosure and Michelin-starred restaurant, but then Leonardslee has always been special.
Found just outside Horsham in West Sussex, this creation of Victorian plant-collector Sir Edmund Loder was closed to the public in 2010, then allowed to run wild – until South African entrepreneur Penny Streeter bought it in 2017 with the aim of restoring both the landscaped gardens and its 19th Century country house to their former glory.
The UK’s first commercial Pinotage vineyard was planted here in 2018, and in 2019 the gardens were reopened. Streeter then persuaded renowned South African chef Jean Delport to set up Restaurant Interlude, which promptly won a Michelin star.
Annabelle Thorpe checked in to the 19th Century country house at Leonardslee, pictured above, which is set near Horsham
Properly comfy: Pictured is one of the lodge’s rooms – which boast ‘soft as marshmallow’ beds, according to Annabelle
One of the wallabies and her joey at the Leonardslee enclosure
Her latest addition to the estate is ten sumptuous bedrooms in the renovated Victorian lodge, almost all with glorious views across the gardens and rolling countryside.
It’s carefully marketed as a restaurant with rooms, and checking in feels more like arriving for a weekend at Downton Abbey than at a hotel.
Striking sculptural figures and a gleaming grand piano dominate the elegant central space, with pristine white doors leading into light, airy rooms given over to afternoon tea, a small residents’ bar and the Interlude restaurant.
Upstairs, rooms once used as offices have been converted into contemporary boudoirs with statement wallpapers, brushed velvet sofas and palatial bathrooms with seductive, claw-footed tubs.
Everything is ruinously comfortable – the robes are butter-soft, the bed like a giant marshmallow cocoon and there’s a clear sense of ‘doing things properly’ – even the welcome letter comes with a hand-stamped wax seal.
The restaurant is arguably the biggest draw.
Delport’s multi-course, hunter-gatherer experience places Leonardslee’s gardens front and centre, with many ingredients grown, gathered or foraged on the 240-acre estate.
Ripe for relaxation: Pictured is one of the bathrooms, featuring a Victorian-inspired sink and freestanding bath
Striking sculptural figures and a gleaming grand piano dominate the hotel’s elegant central space, pictured on the left. South African chef Jean Delport set up the Restaurant Interlude, pictured on the right. Annabelle says that the restaurant is ‘arguably the biggest draw’ at the estate
Every course comes with an explanation card and small map of the garden, pinpointing where each ingredient was harvested.
We ate nettle and wild garlic, powdered pine needle and autumn radishes, hazelnuts and elderflower, along with locally sourced venison, beef and parmesan. Each course was artfully presented, until we arrived at the petits four and had to ask, weakly, if we could take them away.
It was an extraordinary meal, and it felt delightfully smug to slip upstairs while other guests waited for taxis.
Describing her meal at Interlude, pictured, Annabelle says: ‘Every course comes with an explanation card and small map of the garden, pinpointing where each ingredient was harvested’
A night at Leonardslee gives access to the gardens (pictured) before they open to the public, Annabelle reveals
‘At 8am the shimmering lakes and flame-hued trees were ours alone,’ says Annabelle
Serene: Double rooms at the estate, pictured, cost from £350 a night
But there was one final treat. A night at Leonardslee gives access to the gardens before they open to the public.
At 8am the shimmering lakes and flame-hued trees were ours alone, and we walked among the sculptures and billowing rhododendron bushes that blaze with colour in the spring, and prepared to indulge in the goodies tucked into the breakfast basket that had been left outside our door.
By the time we drove away, the estate had families peering through the fence at the wallabies and the cafe was open for business. It was just an ordinary day at Leonardslee – after a truly extraordinary night.
Leonardslee Lakes and Gardens, West Sussex. Double rooms cost from £350 a night, including a breakfast basket. Dinner at Interlude costs £145pp (leonardsleegardens.co.uk).