It's not every day you can swap gardening notes with a famous chef. Kate Simon's mother made the most of it

I'm not very good at occasions, am I?" my mother asked, rhetorically. "No, you're not," I grumped. The event in question – or rather the non-event, as she was refusing to go – was a birthday meal in the local posh restaurant. It's not that she doesn't appreciate the finer things in life, it's just that she isn't terribly impressed by them.

I'm not very good at occasions, am I?" my mother asked, rhetorically. "No, you're not," I grumped. The event in question – or rather the non-event, as she was refusing to go – was a birthday meal in the local posh restaurant. It's not that she doesn't appreciate the finer things in life, it's just that she isn't terribly impressed by them.

She also belongs to that maddening wartime generation who compare the price of everything: who squirrel away string, cut up old vests for dusters and keep cereal packets to write shopping lists on. A cup of tea on a shopping trip is not an opportunity to rest her legs, but a chance to rail at its price: "One pound fifty for a cup of tea! A cup. Not even a pot!"

How can you possibly give someone like that a treat for Mother's Day? Well, the trick is to call it a "chore" (my mother's favourite word). So when I told her that I had to write an article for the occasion, and that my two-year-old son, Quincy, the very apple of her eye, would be coming along, too, how could she possibly refuse?

"And where is this hotel?" asked Mum in a worried tone as we sped along the A40, HGVs thundering by. We were heading for Le Manoir aux Quat' Saisons near Oxford, but I didn't want to be too specific; she's not very fond of car journeys and she positively hates motorways. "Oh, just north-west of London," I answered, dropping into the lane for non-motorway traffic. After all, this was supposed to be her treat. The sun was vying with the rain as we pulled up outside Le Manoir. Across the way a porter was helping an elderly couple decant bags from a car boot before the next shower came down. "Let's wait a moment and let them go first," said Mum, always careful not to cause a fuss. I wanted to tell her that there was sure to be more than one porter, but I bit my tongue, something that becomes easier the further you get from your teenage years.

The Manoir exceeded my expectations. Built in the 15th century from that gorgeous honey-coloured stone you find all over this part of the country, the house is surrounded by lawns bordered with blue and cream blossoms in the spring – so they tell me, because only the snowdrops were out when we visited. There's a gable on the front and tall Tudor chimneys, draped here and there with wisteria, trumpet vines and Californian lilac. Inside, the owner, Raymond Blanc, has furnished the place with exquisite objets d'art picked up on his travels around the world, and given the place a fresh, modern makeover.

Every comfort is offered, from deep-filled sofas to umbrella baskets at every main entrance (this was a big hit with Mum, who lives in Cheshire, where it never stops raining). But most impressive was the welcoming atmosphere. No fawning, no obsequiousness, the staff were effortlessly friendly, from the bellhops to the general manager. To be frank, I was relieved. I knew Mum would have hated the stiffness you often come across in smart hotels. And with rooms going from £225 to £850 per night this is one swanky hotel. It certainly helped that Quincy was fussed over constantly in the most Continental fashion, which, of course, made Grandma bristle with pride. And not once did she suggest that I brush my hair, so she must have been feeling relaxed.

Our suite, Opium, seemed to be a hit, too. Decorated in creams, browns and deep reds it is a sensual moody space, not the kind of light, airy room my Mum usually likes. But there were lots of witty little references to the Far East to distract her: an opium pipe on the wall, a pot of incense sticks to burn, lampshades shaped like the pod of a dried poppy, a veritable boudoir for a bedroom behind heavy silk curtains and our very own Zen Buddhist garden. M Blanc likes to think of a name of a room and then "create". Each bedroom has a theme. The "Silk" room is filled with nothing but. The sexy "Rouge et Noire" room is daubed in the Scarlet and Black of Stendhal's novel. But nothing made quite as much of an impression on my Mum as the bidet. "Do you know, Kate," she announced, "this is the nearest I've ever been to a bidet." We stood and looked at it together for a moment in silence. It seemed a strange sort of thing to say and I really didn't have an answer.

Dinner was a sublime affair: a seven-course Menu Gourmand. Each dish arrived with a full description and a glass of wine to complement it and was of proportions that left us feeling just satisfied, not bloated. We scoffed the ravioli of herb purée with truffle ("I bet that sliver of truffle was about £5 worth," exclaimed Mum). We marvelled at the roasted loin of venison that cut like butter. And we lapped up the exotic fruit soup with a Kalamansi sorbet. But top marks went to the fact that Quincy was allowed to dine with us in this two Michelin-starred restaurant (in his own designer high-chair).

Suddenly, M Blanc arrived at Mum's elbow. To be honest, I was a bit taken aback. You don't really expect celebrity chefs to be hanging about their hotel still 18 years after it first opened. My mother, who wouldn't know a celebrity if she fell over one, was quick enough to realise who he was and they were soon embroiled in a conversation about whether or not parsnips "like the frost".

Now, my mum's vegetable garden is sizeable, but M Blanc's organic potager is a little bigger and has a Soil Association accreditation, too. We took a walk around it the following morning, past the wonderful bronze sculptures of a Scarecrow and a Flower Seller, stopping momentarily to identify the few shrubs that dared to peep through in the drizzle. Winding our way through the Japanese tea garden, we crossed a wooden bridge, and passed more sculptures of children playing ring o' roses until we arrived at the vast 17th-century pond. "I could get used to all this," said Mum. My Mum get used to a spot of luxury? Never.

Le Manoir aux Quat' Saison (01844 278881; www.manoir.co.uk) is offering a midweek one-night break for £225 per person, based on two sharing, including Menu Gourmand and French breakfast.

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