Story & photos by Dr. Michael Lim The Travelling Gourmet TM
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Food photos are of REAL food with NO photoshop
The inspiring and irreverent Travelling Gourmet is awestruck by the stately country home of …
MULTI-TALENTED Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild in the Vale of Aylesbury. This is prime farming country and when the Baron bought the estate, it was just bare farm land. He threw his heart and soul into building this Neo-Renaissance Chateau where he could house his growing collection of priceless objets d’art as well as entertain his high society friends. I suspect it was to try to forget the untimely demise of his wife and child in childbirth. My first glimpse of Waddesdon Manor immediately reminded me of the marvellous Chateaux of the Val de la Loire in the center of France.
Built in the style of a French chateau, it was not intended to shelter a spreading family, since Baron Ferdinand’s wife and baby both died during the birth, nor to entertain great Victorian shooting parties; the place was conceived as a showcase for the art collections, acquiring which provided the mainspring of Baron Ferdinand’s life. They are fabulous, opulent, well-chosen, gilded – a cardinal statement of a taste so associated with this one international family, which had 40 great houses across Europe in the 19th century, that it simply went by the name of “the Rothschild taste”. Waddesdon Manor is one of the last of the forty four 19th Century houses. The Baron built it from 1877 to 1883 and engaged the French architect, Gabriel-Hippolyte Destailleu. In 1957, James de Rothschild, having no descendants, and with the gradual end of the era of grand country house entertaining, he generously decided to leave the Manor with its collections of national importance plus 165 acres of garden and park to The National Trust! To maintain the bequest, he set up the largest endowment the Trust has ever received,. The family’s continued involvement was ensured by naming his wife, Dorothy, as the chairwoman of the management committee.
The opulence shows in the luxurious period French furniture combined with the very best British 18th-century portraits. One admires the playwright Beaumarchais’s de luxe writing desk and nearby is a jewel-encrusted miniature of James I. A pair of Sèvres parrots or an expensive agate vase decorates every shining marble surface. The admiring visitor will realise that even the collection of 18th-century buttons is memorable.
La Dolce Vita!
I spent many rewarding hours exploring the house from the ground floor to the 1st floor and the Bachelors’ Wing and 2nd floor. Such opulence and luxury showed how the Rothschilds and their guests, who were the creme de la creme of society, enjoyed “la dolce vita”! I was incredibly impressed by the Dining Table set precisely as it was in 1897. Beyond the West Gallery and Small Library are two rooms that were part of Baron Ferdinand’s exclusive private apartment. I saw the Baron’s Room, arranged exactly as it was in his day, and the Tower Drawing Room. They could be closed off from the rest of the house and were directly connected to his bedroom and dressing room, on the first floor directly above.
I ended my tour of the ground floor in the bright and cheery Morning Room, as the golden rays of the afternoon sun shone in. As part of the western extension finished in 1891, it was a large sitting room where Ferdinand’s guests could read newspapers and write letters. ‘The Pink Boy’ by Gainsborough (1782) is lovely as are the exquisite paintings of birds by French bird painter Francois-Joseph Aloncle.
My next destination was the Bachelors’ Wing which was the first part of the House to be completed in 1880. With eight bedrooms, and the Smoking and Billiard Rooms, it was designed to accommodate and entertain the male guests at Baron Ferdinand’s exclusive house parties. The arms and armour acquired by Miss Alice de Rothschild are displayed in the corridor. Swords, antique pistols and rapiers and more decorate the walls. You’ll be fascinated by Renaissance treasures, like the ones collected by Ferdinand in the Smoking Room. The original billiard table, cues and scoreboard remain in the Billiard Room. The style of the original bedrooms is splendid – each one has been recently decorated with printed cotton furnishings by David Mlinaric.
It also operated as the service wing, with the kitchen, servants’ hall and domestic offices for the running of the House on the ground floor. Bedrooms for male servants were on the second floor.
Lovely Lunch at the Manor…
The kitchen and servants’ hall are now the Manor Restaurant…which was where I had my lunch! The terrace of the spacious restaurant overlooks the grand avenue leading to the Manor.Scrumptious seasonal European and British dishes, including traditional favourites & many from Rothschild menu books are waiter-served, often using local produce. The restaurant boasts an award-winning wine list, and I like the fact that a large number of wines by the glass is on offer. Many of the wines are actually some of the finest Rothschild wines from around the world. Surrounded by framed prints of Mouton Rothschild wine labels, I ordered…
Cauliflower Cheese Soup with Lincolnshire Poacher Cheese & crunchy Chive Croutons served in a titanic tureen.
Pea Risotto with moist & fork tender Confit of Free-Range Chicken Leg, Pea Shoots & Locally Grown Baby Leaves of Green Frisee and Spinach
A terrific Tart of Almond and Fig with aromatic Cinnamon Ice Cream
A nice glass of Waddesdon Manor Cremant de Limoux with excellent perlage was my tasty tipple…
A yummie meal in the Manor restaurant, combined with an extended visit to Waddesdon Manor and its gorgeous gardens, now a National Trust property, makes for an absolutely memorable day out.
Stop at The Stables
After a spiffing lunch, I took a stroll to admire the landscaped gardens. I stopped at the the Stables. It was built and used to house the horses and carriages that brought Baron Ferdinand and his guests to his celebrated house parties. Ferdinand’s architect Destailleur designed the Stables in a French 18th Century style. On one side is the Coach House where Ferdinand’s carriages and Alice’s motorcars were kept. It is now an art gallery displaying changing exhibitions of contemporary art. In the Stables Shop, there are sweets, toffees and chocolates galore and lots of toys for the children.
An imposing life size statue of a bronze horse smack in the centre of the courtyard caught my eye. It is believe to be a study for the Duke of Wellington’s best charger, Copenhagen, intended for his monument in London at Hyde Park Corner. Some think it is Gorse, Ferdinand’s favourite hunter.
Do not go home until you visit the Wine Cellar where you can do a spot of tasting and also buy some wines for dinner or a special occasion! The Wine Director brought me on a VIP tour and told me, “The wines of Rothschild do not pander to any international style…but stay true to their terroirs…”
More people drink beer than Champagne…but when you have the chance, go for the Champagne! Enjoy! 🙂
Bicester Rd, Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire HP18 0JH,
Phone:+44 1296 653226
Closed on Tuesday
How to get to Waddesdon Manor
London Marylebone to Aylesbury
A regular train service runs from Marylebone to Aylesbury. You’ll need to take a taxi to Waddesdon – there are usually plenty outside the station.
Distance to Waddesdon: 12 miles
London Marylebone to Aylesbury Vale Parkway
As this station is located on the A41 north of Aylesbury, you won’t need to drive into Aylesbury. You’ll need to pre-book a taxi to bring you to Waddesdon.
Distance to Waddesdon: 6 miles
For times and fares please visit www.chilternrailways.co.uk or telephone 08456 005 165 Mon-Fri, 8.30am to 5.30pm.
From London (allow 1.5 hours from central London)
Take M40 to Junction 7. Turn right towards Thame. At first roundabout take second exit towards Aylesbury. At next roundabout take first exit towards Long Crendon. In Long Crendon turn right towards Chearsley and Waddesdon. In Chearsley, as the road swings to the right, go straight ahead into Winchendon Road towards Waddesdon. Continue until T-junction with A41. Turn left into Waddesdon Village.