Our MC Editor-in-Chief heads to Ashdown Forest for a day of relaxation and good food...
Why go: Escape the big smoke and step back in time for a few days of calm and relaxation at this grand country house hotel – a member of Small Luxury Hotels of the World. Situated in the middle of Ashdown Forest, just 30 miles south of London, lose yourself on country walks, play Pooh sticks on the original bridge (AA Milne lived and wrote his Winnie the Pooh stories nearby) while working up an appetite for pub lunches in chocolate box villages or a genteel cream tea in one of the hotel’s lounges.
Best for: Fans of all things quintessentially English: from our most famous bear, to our most celebrated opera venue (Glyndebourne is 20 minutes away), as well as nearby spa town, Royal Tunbridge Wells. Historic houses Wakehurst Place (www.nationaltrust.org.uk/wakehurst-place) and Winston Churchill’s beloved Chartwell (www.nationaltrust.org.uk/chartwell) are also within striking distance.
The Look: The neo-gothic pile dates back to 1815 and has at various points in it’s 200 year history been a convent and military hospital for Belgian army officers during the first world war. Imposing from the outside, once through the front door the baronial reception hall with roaring fire is warm and inviting. Staff are super friendly and helpful, making dogs, children and everyone else feel welcome – stuffy it aint. A lot of guests were past the 60 mark, but families and younger couples were spotted too. It’s a popular venue for weddings and would be the perfect place for a family celebration, or a treat to take mum and dad.
There are 105 bedrooms in the main house in three categories (executive, deluxe and deluxe with parkland views). The décor is, not surprisingly, old fashioned (Nespresso machine and organic chocolate treats aside). However, ours was spacious, very clean and comfortable, with Molton Brown goodies and fluffy robes waiting for us in the bathroom. There are also 25 suites in the main house and another 12 adjacent to the country club, with views over the golf course.
I’m hungry: Dinner in the restaurant is a must. Start with drinks in the bar or a game of snooker in the games room before making your way through to the impressive dining room with its lovely views across the parkland. Choose from the reasonably priced set (£32.50 for two courses) or main menus with dishes including a scrumptious Salmon Tartar, Scottish Venison Saddle, and Peanut and Banana cheesecake, interspersed with amuse bouche (celeriac soup & crisped rice) and a palette cleansing raspberry sorbet. Absolutely delicious – so much so we felt compelled to send our compliments to the chef. Elsewhere we had a really good ploughmans lunch at nearby Hatch Inn, (hatchinn.co.uk), all old and cosy with a good menu and selection of beers (the Larkins ale was our favourite).
While you’re there: Take a hike. The friendly concierge has cards with pre-planned walks of different distances through the forest and will guide you on an OS map too (also check out fancyfreewalks.com). Explore Winnie the Pooh’s hundred acre wood, passing through sandy heathland, yellow flowering gorse bushes and enjoy spectacular views across the weald. Then treat yourself to Piglet’s cream tea in the Pooh Corner shop in the pretty village of Hartfield (pooh-country.co.uk). If you don’t want to venture far from the hotel, you can walk the extensive grounds and access the adjoining Llama park with free entry to Ashdown Park guests. Or try a round of golf on the hotel’s course, a swim or massage in the spa.
Dress code: Thankfully no dress code for the restaurant, despite the fanciness, but guests do make an effort for dinner. A good pair of walking shoes is a must, and don’t forget your swimming cossie.
Book now: www.slh.com/ashdown
0800 0482 314
Ashdown Park Hotel & Country Club
Forest Row, East Grinstead.
Info: ashdownforest.org; visitsussex.org; lonelyplanet.com.