RICHARD Branson's Virgin Hotels Group has bought a 50% stake in Raymond Blanc's renowned Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons, in Oxfordshire.
Virgin paid £1m to Mr Blanc, who continues as chairman with operational control of the independent hotel and restaurant.
Mr Blanc said the deal had not been sought as a remedy for rumoured financial difficulties at Le Manoir, which he said had shown healthy profits in recent years.
He hoped the partnership would help realise expansion plans for the hotel, including the building of a health centre to serve food based on advice from experts in Chinese medicine.
New banqueting facilities to cater for private parties and a full-time teacher for Le Manoir's cookery school were also planned.
The partnership follows Mr Blanc's involvement with Virgin for the past four years as a food and wine consultant for Virgin Atlantic Airways.
He may also act as a consultant for London's County Hall, which is expected to open as a Virgin-operated hotel in 1996.