Solange Berchemin goes in search of Winnie the Pooh as she enjoys a stay at Ashdown Park Hotel.
Nestled in the heart of East Sussex, about 35 miles from central London, the Ashdown Park Hotel has been home to nuns, gentry, fallen Belgian soldiers, corporations, though not all at the same time, since 1693. It’s a grand building with buckets of archaic charms, secret gardens, an enchanted forest, and grazing land where deer roam free.
Ashdown Forest is best known as the inspiration and setting for A.A. Milne beloved character, Winnie-the-Pooh. The honey pot-loving teddy bear first took shape on the 21st of August 1921, in the village of Hartfield where the author lived. Since then, this attractive corner of the country has celebrated its most famous fictional character with dozen of walking routes and the famous Pooh Sticks Bridge in Hartfield.
Winnie will turn 100 in 2021 to mark the occasion, we skipped to and hopped in the car, with the little bear’s words ringing in our ears: “You can’t stay in your corner of the forest waiting for others to come to you. You have to go to them sometimes.” It was time to come out of lockdown and carefully go and meet people.
On arrival, a parking space had been reserved as if the staff knew that nothing warms my heart more than to see my name in big letters on an A-board. The hotel reception is discreetly set in a corner of the grand hallway. A massive stone fireplace and age-old archways lead to oak-panelled rooms that are decorated with heavy brocade and furnished with antique pieces. The Ashdown Park Hotel is popular for afternoon and morning teas served in cosy lounges or on the terrace. A majestic staircase leads visitors to their bedrooms. To give you an idea of its magnitude, the hotel has 106 rooms. Not all of which are in the main wing, some are situated outside near the brasserie, these open on small patios, perfect for dog-owners.
The Ashdown Park Hotel is part of a small group called Elite hotels who have three others including Tylney Hall in Hampshire, Luton Hoo in Bedfordshire, The Grand in Eastbourne. Luxury hotels can be slightly intimidating but The Ashdown Park Hotel is anything but. Here it’s the ‘human thing’ that matters. Joe Mc Ginn, the concierge expressed this perfectly, when asked what was the weirdest request he ever had, he beamed and told us the story of two octogenarians who were intent on playing Pooh sticks on Pooh bridge. As they mentioned their plan, they left the hotel with a bundle of kindlings in various shapes and sizes and….a tin of condensed milk. ‘You can’t play it any other way’ Joe tells us. And that is ‘the thing’ which makes the place what it is.
Our master bedroom was straight out of an episode of Downton Abbey. It was so spacious that it could have accommodated a small London flat. The impression of space is reinforced by the tall windows looking over the grounds, its lake and its fountain. Everything is opulent, one could easily disappear in the soft, comfortable bed, and sleep for 100 years, but perhaps not the best idea on a romantic weekend. TV, Espresso machine, QR code for the newspapers, digital billing are part of the mod-cons. Molton Brown toiletry, corner bath and jacuzzi bath to complete the well-being and well-looked-after feeling.
With my mind-eye on the evening menu, I headed for the sports and spa facilities in the nearby Country House building. Bring your golf clubs if you want to use the landscaped 18 hole that takes you through the forest. The gym is well equipped and the swimming pool is a good size. The addition of church carved stones on the pool sides helps when it comes to feeling virtuous enough….to enjoy a three-course meal and every amuse-bouche and palate cleanser in between.
As expected, the ingredients are local, some are grown in the kitchen garden in one of the courtyards. The Anderida is a fine dining 2 AA-rosette restaurant, Chef Andrew Wilson the Head-Chef trained in a Michelin star kitchen so, expect a lot of skills and attention to detail. Curing, charring, jelly drops add a bit of excitement and provide a feast for the eyes.
Chef Wilson’s style is best described as ‘traditional English with flair’. Take the surf and turf dish served with herb -from the garden- pancakes. On the day, the surf part was monkfish, but it could have been any other catch of the day. Chef Wilson never orders, he works with the fishermen who brings him what they have fished on the day. This keeps the menu fresh, lively and doesn’t harm the ecosystem. Palate cleansers are lovely additions to the menu, we enjoyed a feta mousse with tapenade and a passion fruit sorbet. The restaurant rooms are very large and despite Covid distancing rules, it felt almost intimate.
Breakfast is also served in the Anderida restaurant: continental buffet, a selection of cooked-to-order dishes and traditional full- English. I’d recommend the smoked salmon. There is also a brasserie on the grounds. And last but not least, wine lovers be aware this corner of England has more vineyards than anywhere else in the UK.
Tell me more about Ashdown Park Hotel
Ashdown Park Hotel, Wych Cross, Nr Forest Row, East Sussex RH18 5JR
E : firstname.lastname@example.org T: +44 (0)1342 824988
Double rooms start at £240
10% off stays of two nights or longer, from £358 per double room for two nights (two sharing) including breakfast.