Saturday, 7 October 2017

Ashdown Park hotel review: a classic country escape

It’s that time of year where Christmas still feels a bit too far away to get excited about, but you feel in need of a bit of a break. I always find this time the perfect time to escape to the country for a weekend away, and if it’s one that can involve good wine, even better.

I recently stayed at Ashdown Park hotel in Sussex after visiting Bluebell Vineyard down the road, right in the heart of Winnie the Pooh country.

Where is Ashdown Park hotel?

It’s in Hundred Acre Wood! Well, it’s in the heart of Ashdown Forest in East Sussex, which was the inspiration for A.A.Milne’s Winnie the Pooh spot. Ashdown Forest isn’t really a forest, more of a heathland, but there are some woods around so you won’t be disappointed. It’s around 40 miles outside of London – driving is easiest, but if you do want to train it there, East Grinstead station is a 15 minute taxi ride away from the hotel.

What’s Ashdown Park like?

Well, it’s definitely got the wow factor. The 19th century hotel is an impressive neo-gothic pile, set in 186 acres of landscaped parkland, with an interesting history. It’s been a hospital for injured Belgian soldiers, a convent, owned by an American university, and more recently, a training centre for Barclays Bank managers. It was sounding romantic until that point...

It’s also big. There are 105 rooms and suites squirreled down meandering corridors off the main house, at the centre of which is a majestic hallway complete with huge fireplace and baby grand piano which tinkles away 24/7 (sans pianist).

It’s quite easy to get lost, with staircases and doors all over the place, and it was a bit nippy down some of the corridors – although we later found out the heating had broken in our part of the hotel, so that may explain that – but it’s fun to explore, and you almost feel like you’ve got the whole place to yourself.

What are the rooms like?

Apparently none of the 105 rooms at Ashdown Park are the same, but naturally, I only saw one. My suite was huge, with a super comfy king sized bed, wood panelling, and dramatic stained-glass windows. There’s nothing particularly modern about the rooms – Nespresso machine, TV, bathroom, and Molten Brown toiletries aside – but I loved the classic, luxuriously plush furnishings. My kind of d├ęcor, and my kind of hotel: past grandeur with contemporary indulgence.

I was so blissfully happy lounging on the sofa in front of the window, looking out at the grounds, with my complimentary paper after a great night’s sleep and breakfast. The only reason I was happy to leave was to get out and explore.

Prices range from £199 for a deluxe room B&B, to £444 for a master suite B&B, and the hotel does have various offers on throughout the year.

What is there to do?

That depends on how active you’re feeling. Catching up on sleep, gazing lazily out of windows, or indulging in food and local sparkling wine is a good start.

I headed straight to the spa for a relaxing swim in the dimly lit, barn-like space, and a good soak in the hot tub. Golfers can make the most of the 18-hole par 3 course, or for enthusiastic amateurs, there’s a putting green nearer the main house – and the obligatory country house croquet lawn.

Mapped walks are available at reception if you want to explore the extensive grounds. Leaving the hotel, you walk through a stone arch and the grounds are just laid out in front of you. There’s a large chapel which can be booked for weddings, so much green, two fountains in the lake at the bottle of the hill, and paths off in all directions with different length walks.

Nearby, you can do a tour and tasting at Bluebell Vineyard, ride the Bluebell steam train, visit the llamas at the llama park, take off on one of the many nearby walking routes (Pooh Sticks bridge is ten minutes away!), or visit Royal Tunbridge Wells.

Always important, what’s the food and drink like?

Breakfast is excellent, with loads to choose from on the cold buffet (including some yummy local yogurt), and a great hot buffet with not one dodgy pink sausage in sight. A good English breakfast is a must at a hotel like this.

If you stay between April and September, you can order a picnic to enjoy on the grounds (traditional summer picnic £22.50, luxury hamper £29.50 per person, or a picnic version of the hotel’s afternoon tea for £24.50 per person/£45 per couple) (

Afternoon tea is a popular one at Ashdown, and even includes a Winnie the Pooh afternoon tea for children with hunny sandwiches and Kanga cakes. They should definitely do an adult version!

Dinner is quite a grand affair in the main dining room, with another ghost piano accompanying you throughout. The food was good overall – the highlight being my succulent and perfectly cooked lamb main course – but a little style over substance in places, including some soggy Rice Krispies making an appearance in the amuse bouche.

Service was friendly but could do with a bit of work. There was a struggle with understanding which wine we wanted, two separate waiters who had to disappear to ask the chef what specific things on the (short) menu were, and one who neglected to tell us the dessert we had both wanted had sold out until after we’d ordered it.

Also, our Hindleap wine from nearby Bluebell Vineyard (the restaurant has a decent selection of English sparkling wines on its list) was kept away from the table, but then not topped up. I don’t mind if the staff are attentive, but there were two occasions my partner had to get up and hunt down our wine. And no, before you ask, we weren’t drinking it especially quickly!

So overall...?

Oh I could already do with another weekend there. If you're looking for a classic country escape in beautiful surroundings, with plenty to see and do, and plenty of delicious local wine to drink, you will not be disappointed with Ashdown Park.

I stayed at Ashdown Park after visiting Bluebell Vineyard for a tour and tasting. Although the stay was complimentary, all my opinions are my own and not in any way influenced by delicious English sparkling wine.

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