Scientists and romantics have locked horns for years over the debate about falling in love, is it chemistry or serendipity? Whilst they’ll probably never agree, it’s been mooted it’s a mix of the two….the smell, feel and look of someone is the start and to seal it those dazzling points in the night sky sprinkle their magic. It’s no different when finding a wedding venue, the jewel to enjoy with your guests….all your senses will be working overtime.
When finding the perfect location an important factor is the sense of sight. On the way to Hilles House your eyes are treated to gently winding hills and arches of flittering trees, slightly obscuring the paradisal view beyond. It is reminiscent of an Italian trail, modest and yet confident with a wink to something enticing at the end of it.
As you tentatively rumble up the road, a sign – with an arts and craft font – directs you to Hilles’ driveway, but no photo could ever prepare you for the exhilaration one feels on the very first glimpse of this spectacular place, teetering like a ziggurat on the edge of one of the most glorious views the world has to offer.
Taking in an expanse of green lawn and impressive yew hedges, you come to the house and drive through its arch and, for a split second, you feel as if you are part of its structure. So too, I imagine, have previous guests including Alexander McQueen, Tracey Emin and Bryan Ferry. At Hilles, the home of Detmar Blow, you’ll be warmly greeted by him and Lucie Tay, its wedding coordinator who herself has a sixth sense when it comes to showing the bride and groom brilliant ways to use the space.
Along with sight, one of the most important things to take note of is good ol’ olfactory. The waft of cut grass is the first to hit you, followed by the surrounding plants and aromatic fig trees, there is also a strong reference to calming and evocative Lavender. If there are scents a wedding couple particularly loves, fragranced candles and diffusers can be brought in, equally experts like The Cotswold Perfumery could create something special for the day.
Matt Reid, Hilles’ gardener, who has definitely got his work cut out for him (who else has to compete with a stunning view of five counties?) has cultivated the grounds as a masterpiece of beauty and fragrance:
‘The most idiosyncratic scents are those that came from foliage rather than flower. These scents are classic – and also somewhat practical in tune with Arts and Crafts ethos of the place. They include Lavender, Rosemary, Sage, Wormwood, Cotton Lavender and Russian Sage. These shrubs reoccur throughout the border on the front terrace. Of them all, Wormwood (Artemesia absinthium) best represents the house, its history and spirit’.
Our sense of taste is majorly important when planning. The wedding breakfast is a celebration as well as a delicious gift to guests, but it can be overwhelming when choosing what to serve. Unusually, Hilles does not insist that you use any particular supplier and therefore you are free to create whatever you like at whatever budget. Whether it be dramatically cooking over fire-bowls or sitting down to a lavish six-course affair. Anything goes. If you do need some help finding great food then Hilles can point you in the direction of recommended caterers such as Birch Catering and Hix Events, owned by chef, restauranteur and food writer Mark Hix MBE.
So what ingredients would Mark suggest are included in the dishes to ensure a memorable banquet?
‘A wedding feast needs to reflect the time of year and the season’ he says, ‘We do a lot of feast-style events and this weekend in fact we did a wedding for a friend of mine with lobster and steak as a main course and Wye valley asparagus prepared in three different ways. Both courses were shared banquet style down the middle of the long tables.’
Drinks are clearly important and at Hilles, there is no corkage so you could use as many nooks as you like to serve from or perhaps even set up a DIY drinks tent outside. For something different, using the garden as a theme, why not focus on Hilles’ artemisia plant for a refreshing ‘Chamois’ cocktail using a local Cotswolds gin such as Garden Tiger who also make the most delicious eaux de vie.
Naturally, the sense that sends everyone into overdrive is the one of touch. The house doesn’t disappoint as it is crammed full of beautiful objects that are left for the wedding party to enjoy. Every part of the home is tactile from the heavy original wooden doors, the smooth stone walls, the elm hardwearing floors, sumptuous cushions and sofas to sink into….there are also wonderful hand-woven fabrics to be admired, such as the beautiful 17th-century Mortlake tapestries and the famous Primavera tapestry, designed by Edward Burne-Jones and made at William Morris’ workshop, hanging in the room reserved for the bride to get ready.
And what does Hilles offer our sense of hearing? There’s chirruping birdsong, the tapping of heels on the cobbled path as well as the welcoming sounds of inside. ‘The kettle is always on’ says Lucie laughing, ’That’s a sound I associate with Hilles….’. In cooler months the open fires are lit and the aroma of burning logs interspersed with cracks and pops making the atmosphere exciting and cosier still. With regards to melody, the house has seen classical music, steel and jazz bands and roving players of brass and wind instruments who walk amongst guests enjoying the embrace of Hilles.
Of course, every wedding couple has its own style but should you wish to bring Hilles into its full effect there are local places you can hire vintage elements such as cutlery or crystal glasses for the bride and groom to chink during the toasts. When it comes to entertainment, there are a ton of opportunities, you can have something totally wild or delicately ethereal but, whatever you do, it’s guaranteed the atmosphere will always be relaxed.
This is an extraordinary place, with an electromagnetic pull. There is a sense of warmth, joy and a burble of happiness that the house has delighted in for decades and as with a spellbinding book, you find yourself mentally replaying chapters of the visit.
As says Colin Glen, Hilles’ artist in residence:
‘Memory is a most powerful sense and with any event, you are creating future memories. This is not only a house with an arts heritage and contemporary arts vision but is an artwork in itself…a place of hospitality for a broader family of creatives and beyond.’
So whichever of your senses you rely on to choose the perfect venue, at Hilles you’ll doubtless discover your emotional seventh sense and find it lingering for weeks, months and years to come.