Alex Galbinski checks in to the Ashdown Park Hotel and Country Club, in search of a slice of countryside luxury…
A weekend at Ashdown Park Hotel and Country Club offers endless possibilities. Driving into the 186-acre site, complete with landscaped Sussex countryside in the heart of Ashdown Forest, we were offered a glimpse of what could be available over the coming weekend.
The choices included laser shooting, mountain biking, horse riding and jogging (oh, all right then, maybe just walking) along the many trails. Sadly, for my husband and I, it was not to be, as the weather the following morning and lasting all day was cold and windy, forcing us to stay under cover and sample scones from the afternoon tea menu which was, admittedly, no great hardship. But I jump ahead.
The four-star Ashdown Park Hotel and Country Club, located in Wych Cross, East Sussex, started off as a little manor house, but its current iteration was built in 1867. It opened as a hotel only in 1993, having passed through many hands. It was even used as a training centre for Barclays Bank’s management, although, you may rest assured, it is more Downton Abbey than Corporateville.
A member of the Small Luxury Hotels of the World, it boasts 106 bedrooms and suites – and we were fortunate enough to be offered a master suite, which was blessed with beautiful vistas over the property’s parklands and lake. The venue is ideal for weddings and civil partnerships. Indeed, we saw one new bride and groom having their photos taken by the lake, and a same-sex couple asking about options for a ceremony.
The Summerhouse by the lake, the location of the last Jewish wedding held at the hotel, can seat up to 150 for a ceremony and although there is no option for a sit-down wedding breakfast there, the hotel does offer a barbecue menu. Alternatively, there are the Jacob Henniker and Henry Smart rooms, both of which are licensed for weddings and can seat between 50 and 60 people.
Away from the hotel, guests gain free entry to the adjacent Ashdown Forest Llama Park, which offers organised and guided llama walks throughout the countryside. Alternatively, Pooh Corner in Hartfield, near ‘Pooh Country’, is a 300-year-old shop with the largest selection of traditional Winnie the Pooh-themed items to be found anywhere in the world, including honey fudge, games and all things magical from the Hundred Acre Wood created by A A Milne.
There is also the 120-acre garden with four lakes that comprises the Sheffield Park Garden, part of the National Trust; the preserved steam Bluebell Railway, now one of the largest tourist attractions in Sussex, and the 13th century Hever Castle, once the childhood home of Anne Boleyn, which features impressive gardens and mazes.
After lamenting the weather, we made ourselves at home in one of the three drawing rooms, beside a roaring fire, and caught up on the news while taking afternoon tea. After a dip in the hotel’s indoor swimming pool – as guests of the hotel we also enjoyed free membership of the Country club, which includes use of the pool, gym, health club, sauna and steam room – we had a aperitif in the cocktail bar area.
Dinner in the two AA Rosette-awarded Anderida restaurant was a fairly glamorous affair. Seeing the full-length stone windows surrounding the restaurant, I was pleased we had dressed for dinner and imagined ourselves as extras in a period drama. The beautiful melodies played by the pianist and the twinkling candles only served to add to the gilded atmosphere.
The food was delicious. My starter of blue cheese mousse on Parmesan bread was light yet fragrant, and my husband’s amuse bouche of salmon tartare with salmon consommé jelly was exquisite. After an orange and champagne sorbet to cleanse our palates, I made light work of the cod, which was cooked to perfection with beans, sundried tomatoes and potato cubes that were wonderfully sweet and crisp on the outside, while my husband enjoyed the succulent Dover sole with beans, mangetout and Jersey potatoes.
We were impressed with the chocolate parfait, which came with a rich sauce and what appeared to our eager eyes and taste buds as crackling chocolate Nerds. Whatever the case, we were very nerdish in our appreciation.
The next night we relished the sharp flavours of a Thai duck salad before savouring the flavours of the chateaubriand. Fellow guests looked on as the waiter sliced through the meat that was slightly salty and crunchy on the outside and melt-in-the-mouth on the inside. The onion rings served on the side were perfect to mop up the thick, rich gravy.
A dinner of this size necessitated a rather less greedy dessert, so we plumped for the petits fours, consisting of macaroons, chocolate truffles and Turkish delight and made sure to try to swim it off the following day. We had been looking forward to attempting our first ever game of croquet but, alas, the weather was unfavourable.
We did, however, manage to walk around the parklands before we left and saw that some guests were making use of the 18-hole golf course. We ended our restful stay with a walk to the secret garden and, on our way back to the car, were delighted to see two deer roaming free.
•Ashdown Park Hotel and Country Club, www.ashdownpark.com. Small Luxury Hotels of the World offers rooms at Ashdown Park Hotel and Country Club from £170, based on two people sharing and including breakfast. http://www.slh.com/ 0800 0482 314