Sam visited Ashdown Park in Sussex and found it well up to par
Ah, a chance to review Ashdown Park Hotel. Yes please. It’s one of my favourite places close to home, and I always know that an Elite property is going to deliver. Sign me up.
There are probably three or four very good reasons to stay at Ashdown Park Hotel. Firstly, it’s a really lovely place and why wouldn’t you etc. There are stunning grounds, deer everywhere, and extraordinary buildings and gardens to hang about in. Secondly/thirdly, there are golf and spa activities. And fourth – possibly most importantly to some people – it’s smack bang in the middle of Winnie the Pooh country.
It’s generally accepted that 100 Acre Wood, whilst being a fictional forest, was inspired by Ashdown Forest, close to AA Milne’s home in nearby Hartfield. In fact, the specifically-named Poohsticks Bridge is about eight minutes’ drive from the hotel. Ashdown Park Hotel offers a Winnie the Pooh themed afternoon tea for children. The local area is packed with little ‘easter eggs’, which you can find on Google Maps, like The Heffalump Trap, and the Enchanted Place. If you or your small family members are Pooh fans, it’s a great place to base. I understand it’s something of a pilgrimage for a lot of our American visitors.
Aside from that though, it’s a unique place, with its stained glass, huge grounds, deconsecrated chapel… Those of you interested in its history can read more about that HERE. I love me a quirky experience, but Ashdown Park doubles down on this, and offers elegant but friendly luxury as part of the deal.
Arriving at Ashdown Park…
“You’ve been upgraded,” is a wonderful thing to hear, isn’t it? Guaranteed to put a smile on even the most experienced traveller’s face. So when me and my compadre Laura checked in and heard the magic words, despite trying to look sophisticated and grown-up, we whooped a little bit, and there may have been some light capering around the desk. Thank you Ashdown!
And what an upgrade. Two fabulous suites in the East Wing, if you don’t mind. Take a look at mine! It’s literally a gothic dream. And yes, that is the bathroom window. Whilst showering, I felt like Jake Blues as the light hit me through the glass. I could almost hear James Brown shouting, “do you see the light?!” Reader, I saw the light.
Aside from the buzz of being in such a mad and brilliant room, important things to note: Molton Brown toiletries, lovely. Proper coffee machine, thank you. Good mattress – VAST bed. Great quality cotton bed linen, and clean as a pin throughout. No aircon, but I wouldn’t expect it in an ancient place like this; it’s literally made of solid stone. And there was a tower fan in the room, so all good. I would have liked a fridge, although as I write this, I have seen on their website that you can actually request one. Noted.
What did we get up to?
I love golf, although I’m a terribly inconsistent player. We didn’t get a chance to have a bash at the golf course though because we weren’t there long enough. And frankly if it comes to a choice between a round of golf, or swimming and a massage, I generally know where I’m spending my time.
But I am reliably informed that the Ashdown Park golf course is a corker. It’s an 18-hole par 3 course in stunning countryside and you can ‘pay to play’ too, although booking is highly recommended. Dress code applies (no denim etc). The back nine is apparently seated in breathtaking scenery. I ended up feeling a bit sad that I hadn’t brought my clubs – but you can hire. I’ll have to go back and play a round.
As for the aforementioned swimming and massage…
On the day of arrival, having settled into our suites and decompressed, we headed for an early evening swim before dinner. I don’t know about you, but there’s something about dropping into a body of water that makes everything feel better. I didn’t do much swimming, but a fair bit of floating about like a big old log. Didn’t get into the jacuzzi either, because there were children in it, but it looked nice.
The Country Club at Ashdown Park is a nice place to relax. As someone who has visited (and loved) the venue over a number of years, I know that they’ve worked hard on the spa and pool areas. It’s an older building, and they’re working with what they’ve got. There are of course much fancier spas in comparable hotels, but the level of service here more than makes up for that.
It’s extremely clean; something I’m fanatical about in shared areas like this! The relaxation room is gorgeous, the pool is a great temperature, the staff are lovely, the setting is beautiful. We didn’t go in the gym (are you mad?). We both had a back, neck and shoulder aromatherapy massage though, which knocked me flat on my arse, it was so relaxing. And both of us slid into a welcome and gently scented post-massage coma in the relaxation room, drinking herbal tea and listening to the soft rain. The standard of service, and the quality of the product is well up to scratch.
After time spent working up an appetite exercising in the pool, ahem, we were enthusiastic about dinner. I might even have bellowed ‘I could eat a horse’ as we headed to the bar. Keen to excite our gastric juices further, we felt it important to test out the cocktails beforehand. And I’m happy to report that the Rockstar Martinis we had were perfect. No ‘porn’ stars here, it’s much too classy a place, but the drinks rocked just as hard.
Moving into the 2 AA Rosette Anderida Restaurant, they’d seated us in what I reckon is the best table in the house, with massive thrones and an all-round view. I asked to be moved though, because there was a big party close to the table, and I’m a bit deaf, and there was a loud laugher in the group. And ultimately, I liked the change. Our table was by the bustling entrance, with a view over the beautiful grounds. It was also a good vantage point for a nosy journalist to see everything going on.
Let’s talk about the food
I’ll list out the proper food names and prices at the bottom – and we kicked off with a little cucumber/fishy amuse bouche. Laura went with crab salad with radishes and pickled bits and lemony stuff, which was fresh and really clean-tasting. I went for the smoked salmon pave, which was a delight, with its little tangle of leaves and beetroot jam. Actually, one of the best things about it was the substantial wedge of smoked fish. I like something to get my teeth into.
We both really struggled to make a decision on the main course, because there were so many things we liked. Honestly, I could have ordered every dish on the list and been happy. When I’m in that place I pick something that I’d be unlikely to cook at home, and went for mirin roasted duck.
Laura is a pesky-tarian and actually also struggled to choose. The fact that there were enough fish or veggie options to make it a hard choice is a plus point. In the end she went for the catch of the day (sea bass) and swapped out something for something, I can’t remember. She got dauphinoise potatoes anyway, which was what she’d been drooling over.
Largely, both main courses were good. Beautifully executed with fresh ingredients. Laura was happy with her fish and potatoes – and I confess to having a touch of food envy when it arrived. She did say she thought both the fish and the dauphinoise could have used a bit more seasoning, but hey. You can always add.
My duck dish was an interesting experience. Perfectly-cooked quack; the toasted cashews, crispy wontons, bok choy, sweet jammy pops of flavour – all wonderful, perfectly in keeping with an Asian dish. But it came with what I can only describe as a jug of gravy. Good gravy, to be fair; sumptuous depth of flavour, clearly properly-made stock etc, but more the kind of thing you’d expect with a roast, or a steak. Not exactly Asian. To be fair, I didn’t mind particularly, happy to dip into it and enjoy it. But it seemed a strange thing to add to what was otherwise a very sophisticated plate of flavours from the East.
Appallingly we didn’t eat pudding. For what it’s worth, I’d have had the rhubarby cheesecake thing if I’d had the space.
Let’s look at the wine experience…
We both plumped for glasses of something different for the starters – Laura had a Chablis, a perfect choice for seafood. And I originally chose a Reisling to go with a funky smoked salmon dish. I’m not saying they brought me a random wine, but the glass I had was not what I was expecting. And before you raise your eyebrows, yes I know what a bloody Riesling should taste like.
I swapped it for a dry Provence rose, which ticked all the right boxes. After the first course we asked for two more glasses of the Chablis that Laura had in the first place, and both got a completely different drink. We thought for a minute we’d gone mad, but no. It was definitely not the same wine. They swapped it out quickly though, and we were fine again. I’ve no clue what happened there, but we were happy in the end. As ever, it was all delivered with charm and a big smile.
Bedtime, breakfast, and goodbyes
I’m always surprised and a bit impressed with myself when I can eat like it’s a national sport in the evening, and then still get up and tackle a full English the next morning. The breakfast was excellent – on the hot plates I was thrilled to find black pudding, a personal fave.
Ate masses, and had to have a little lie down afterwards to avoid a coronary
Their scrambled eggs were particularly good too, all buttery and creamy, and not like some places where they go all hard and you have to take a slice off the brick of egg. You know the kind of thing. The bacon was smoked, sossig was herby. And they have grapefruit juice on tap, which I adore. Plenty going on, anyway. Ate masses, and had to have a little lie down afterwards to avoid a coronary, before departing at 11am.
We left there feeling very chilled out, and quite stupid. Full of amazing food, relaxed from massages and strolls in the beautiful grounds. Ashdown Park remains one of my favourite places to hang out and I will definitely go back and do golf at some point. And who knows, maybe I’ll find a heffalump.
Aromatherapy Back, Neck and Shoulder Massage
The classic fave. This treatment includes a scalp massage, although I opted not to have this.
30 minutes, £50
Smoked Salmon Pave £16
Herb Potato Salad, Beetroot Jam, Cured Egg Yolk
Portland Crab Salad £17
Lemon Purée, Radish, Avocado, Pickled Shallots, Baby Herbs
Mirin Roasted Duck £34
Sesame, Soy Jam, Bok Choi, Crispy Wonton, Cashew
Market Fish of the Day £29
Victor Berard, Chablis, Burgundy, 2020, Chablis, France, 2020 £14.60/175ml glass
Cotes De Provence Rosé, “De Sophie “, Provence, France, 2020 £12.05/175ml glass
Sam is Silver’s founder and editor-in-chief. She’s largely responsible for organising all the things, but still finds time to do the odd bit of writing. Not enough though. Send help.
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