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Iford Manor Estate: your passport to Italy

This Italianate garden on the Somerset-Wiltshire border is a little slice of heaven, with a gorgeous cafe, holiday cottage – and a fabulous summer jazz festival! Bellissimo!

WHAT? WHERE?

photo: Marianne Cartwright-Hignett

Set in 2.5 acres of terraced hillside overlooking an unspoilt valley on the Somerset-Wiltshire border, this romantic, award-winning Grade 1 listed garden, will, we swear, transport you to another world. Designed by Edwardian architect-designer Harold Peto when it was his home between 1899-1933, this magical little corner really is something very special.

photo: Marianne Cartwright-Hignett

Totally insta-tastic, you’ll wander past colonnades and pools with stunning views in every direction. Antiquities are framed with an expert eye, and Peto’s love for beauty and history is palpable. It’s a dreamy mix of Roman ruin and English country garden with a dose of Japanese zen that left us relaxed and inspired.

photo: Marianne Cartwright-HIgnett

This is not a massive garden for a hearty walk, a picnic or a game of football. This is somewhere intimate to take your time and appreciate the peace and the detail. Take your date, your partner, your mates, your Mum; even go on your own (we’re considering a sole season ticket!), but don’t take the kids (except to the cafe).

There is an amazing sense of place here; the garden is full of unexpected treats and surprises, and is fascinating as much for those with (erm) no knowledge of or particular interest in gardens. Even if this is as far as you get from home this year, you’ll feel like you’ve been away.

photo: Simon Knight

WHEN?

In the summer the gardens are open to the public 11am-4pm Weds – Sunday and Bank Holiday Mondays. Booking advisable. No under-tens admitted.

ARRIVAL

You’ll know you’ve arrived in this secret spot when you descend a steep stone-walled lane and see Britannia looking down on you from the ancient bridge. Alternatively get the train to Freshford Station (one stop from Bath) for a picturesque half-hour walk to the estate, or take a ten-minute cab ride from Bradford-on-Avon train station.

SCOFF & QUAFF

You’re in for a treat in the Iford Manor Restaurant & Cafe. Head Chef Matthew Briddon, who came 11th in the prestigious National Chef of the Year competition, cooks up a delicious, wholesome menu using super fresh locally sourced ingredients, much of which comes from the Iford farm and estate and includes homemade pastries, pizza, sausage Wellingtons and cake.

We say afternoon tea, which includes Mediterranean bruschetta instead of traditional finger sarnies, on the south facing cafe terrace after visiting the garden is a pretty perfect combo.

photo: Marianne Cartwright-Hignett

Their themed supper club evenings, often preceded by a Champagne tour of the gardens, book up quickly (just saying).

STAY OVER

Can’t drag yourself away? Stay over in the holiday rental Rowley Cottage. This historic house, adjacent to the manor, is a dream come true for anyone interested in architecture or gardens (or just luxuriously lazy holidays) – check out that wood panelling; the thickness of the walls! Parts date back to the twelfth century.

The sympathetic refurb is spot-on, and echoes the gorgeous design of the restaurant (same designers). Somehow the stylish update manages to shine a light on Iford, rather than overshadow it with fashion.

There are three double bedrooms, some with roll top baths, French beds with luxury mattresses, waterfall showers – we say yes please, when can we check in? It’s a peaceful spot, perfect for a retreat or civilised get-together; possibly not the best choice for kids. The location (deceptively near the A30) is a really handy base for exploring the south west, a short drive to Bath, Avebury, Frome and Longleat. There’s privileged access to those exquisite gardens – first thing before visitors arrive. Book ahead and you could combine with a Friday night supper club next door – what a weekend that would be. We just know booking is going to be competitive when word gets out, so get in there while you can.

Champagne Garden Tours

photo: Marianne Cartwright-Hignett

These are led by resident William Cartwright-Hignett – both he and wife Marianne are incredibly knowledgable and have a totally infectious enthusiasm for the place. The tours, which run throughout the summer, sell-out super-fast, so fingers on the button.

photo: Marianne Cartwright-Hignett

Iford Manor Jazz Festival

The Cartwright-Hignetts combine their belief in Iford as restorative and healing (especially post-Covid) with their passion for live music and their support for artists by bringing world-class classical and jazz musicians to Iford Manor. This July sees the very first Iford Manor Jazz Festival 2022, curated by jazz legend Claire Martin OBE.

photo: William Cartright-Hignett

By day, follow a jazz trail around the gardens to the sound of young, up and coming jazz musicians or enjoy a three-course lunch accompanied by acclaimed pianist Rebecca Nash and her trio. By night, wander around the gardens, have a glass of fizz at the Champagne bar, bring a picnic and your dancing shoes: Joe Stilgoe & his trio are in concert on Fri 22 July; the ‘King of Swing’ Ray Gelato & the Giants on Sat 23 July. The Grammy Award nominated Dr Martin Taylor MBE is playing virtuoso guitar in the candlelit cloisters on Sun 24 July. Sends a tingle down the spine just thinking about it. Book here.

Joe Stilgo

Iford Manor Estate, Nr Bradford-on-Avon, Wiltshire BA15 2BA

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