As beautiful settings go, Ashdown Park Hotel East Sussex certainly has the ‘wow’ factor. Walking through a stone arch to the garden terrace, the view suddenly opens out in front of you: acres of rolling green countryside, two fountains bubbling away in a carp-filled lake at the bottom of the hill, an imposing converted chapel, the sweep of the hotel itself and colourful clumps of rhododendron bushes as far as the eye could see.
The hustle and bustle of the outside world just melted away and I felt as if I could just sit and admire the view for hours. Which, aided by a G&T and the Sunday newspapers, I promptly did.
Owned by Elite Hotels which also owns Luton Hoo, Tylney Hall and The Grand in Eastbourne, Ashdown Park, once part of Ashdown Forest, was built in 1867 by Durham MP Thomas Thompson, who when he died left in his will a black suit to each of his employees so they would be smartly dressed for his funeral.
After a variety of owners and uses, including being a convalescent home for Belgian army officers, a training centre for novice nuns and bank managers (not at the same time) and an offshoot of an American university, it was bought by Elite in 1993 and has 106 bedrooms and suites as well as a health club and an 18-hole golf course.
The hotel itself is vast, as we soon found out on the long trek to our room at the very furthest and highest end of the west wing. The room, Sycamore, was a good size, with an immaculate bathroom and great views over the grounds, and had it not been for the dated green carpet, it would have been very smart. (However I was told there is a refurbishment due which will update all the older themes).
The terrace itself was a perfect place to sit in the sun and enjoy the view, although the hefty prices – £4.75 for an espresso, cheese and biscuits for £9.50 and Ploughman’s lunch at £12.50 – deterred me from sampling the food.
However that did mean I had a hearty appetite by dinnertime, which was just as well as the food in the Anderida restaurant was very good indeed, particularly the crab starter which came in a variety of dishes and styles, including bisque and potted, and the ‘poached and roasted beef sirloin’ which was deliciously tender.
The Millionaire Chocolate dessert was huge but very tasty, while the selection of British cheeses was excellent, including Baron Bigod Brie from Suffolk and the wonderful Driftwood goats cheese from Somerset.
Service was quick, efficient and staff were knowledgeable and thankfully only once asked ‘Is everything alright?’ (when I’d asked for the scallops to be slightly hotter) so we were left to enjoy our meal uninterrupted.
Breakfast was excellent too, with a wide variety of buffet offerings and dishes cooked to order, with a nice additional touch of having an express menu to choose from, which meant you could be served bacon and eggs instantly if you were in a rush but it did away for the need to have hot plates in the dining room.
My only negative comment would be that for a 5 star hotel, the house-keeping could have been slightly better in public areas: piles of dirty dishes and napkins in corridors outside several rooms when I checked in at 3pm which were still there at 11pm when I went to bed, and when I went down the the terrace two tables with used glasses and plates weren’t cleared away for a good 40 minutes. However on the whole the place seemed well looked after and the staff were friendly and helpful.
After breakfast we took our coffees to the terrace and sat all morning in the sun, drinking in the view and being very glad we weren’t stuck in the office that day.
After a morning of inactivity it was time to explore the grounds which made for a very pleasant hour or so, finding everything from a Secret Garden to the Bluebell woods, where we met a couple of llamas from the neighbouring Llama park on their morning walk. The spa pool looked a good size but was rather dark and gloomy so not especially inviting.
There was just time to take a look at the converted chapel which has spectacular stained glass windows created by famous 19th century artist Harry Clarke before heading off to the A23, but I will certainly be back to my spot on the terrace before long.
Ashdown Park Hotel
Wych Cross nr Forest Row
East Sussex RH18 5JR
01342 826 206
Rooms start from £240 for deluxe bedroom up to £430 for a junior suite and £525 for a master suite