WHAT’S IT LIKE? An impressively grand 19th-century stately mansion set in 75 hectares of grounds, with Ashdown forest beyond. Take a wander around and you will come across lakes, woodland trails, and even deer nibbling grass in dappled light beneath the trees. With all manner of activities on offer – from clay pigeon shooting, golf and quad biking, to helicopter rides, treasure hunts and archery – it makes an ideal destination for corporate incentive and teambuilding groups.
Various packages are available but clients can also create their own agenda to suit their needs. A typical day might begin with check-in in one of the hotel’s period drawing rooms, followed by afternoon tea. Delegates could then have their pick of a hot-air balloon flight over the grounds, treatments in the spa, a game of croquet, duck herding or llama walking. Alternatively, you could put your employees through a series of challenges in an “I’m a corporate celebrity get me out of here”-style event, with teams using maps, cryptic clues and GPS to complete their tasks.
An evening might kick-off with a glitzy cocktail reception on the terrace, followed by a black-tie gala dinner in the converted chapel with vaulted ceilings, stained-glass windows and majestic silver organ – perfect for a performance of Phantom of the Opera while you work your way through a four-course meal. Theme nights such as Hollywood and the Rat Pack, James Bond, and “a night at the movies” are also options.
Ashdown Park is a member of the Elite Hotels group, which also Luton Hoo in Luton, Tylney Hall in Hampshire, and the Grand, in Eastbourne. Visit elitehotels.co.uk
WHERE IS IT? In Ashdown forest, 55km south of London and 30km from Gatwick airport. Driving is the easiest way to access the property, but you can also get a train to east Grinstead station and then a taxi, which will cost about £20.
ROOM FACILITIES All bedrooms feature satellite TV, a safe, hairdryer, free mineral water, en suite bathrooms with robes, Molton Brown toiletries and internet access for £20 for 24 hours (all room have wired and some wifi as well). Although they are all individually designed, décor is traditional English, with velvet armchairs and sofas, dark wood furniture, floral curtains, bedspreads and drapes, and striped wallpaper. Some of the higher categories enjoy views of the lake and lawns, triple jet showers and whirlpool baths. My Executive bedroom in the East Wing was of a good size (about 35 sqm), although the bathroom with a combined tub and shower was very small in comparison. Minibars are not installed in any of the rooms but room service is available 24 hours.
RESTAURANTS AND BARS The elegant, white tableclothed Anderida restaurant in the West Wing has two AA rosettes and serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. Two-course set menus are available for £17.50 or three courses for £24.50, with dishes including the likes of roast butternut squash risotto, rump of South Down lamb, and duo of pheasant breast, and in the evening, diners can expect live piano accompaniment. Afternoon tea is served 3pm-5.30pm in the Drawing room, while the Lounge and Terrace make nice spots to have a light meal or snack. The Fairway Brasserie in the Country Club looks over the golf course and serves lunch and dinner in an informal setting. The kitchen can also knock up extravagant buffets and banquets for groups of up to 160 people, with top-class waiter service.
BUSINESS AND MEETING FACILTIES There are 16 event spaces available for hire across the various wings of the building but the main one is the 200-capacity first-floor Harry Clarke room in the chapel, which makes a great venue for a banquet. A number of smaller venues – most with natural light – can easily be set up for board meetings, and all but one (the summerhouse, which can seat 150 diners) has wifi internet access.
LEISURE FACILTIES The Country Club is home to a calming heated indoor pool with low lighting, sauna and steam rooms, a gym, and a spa with six treatment rooms offering facials, massages, pedicures and manicures. Exercise classes in pilates, yoga, aqua aerobics and body balance are also available, along with a par-three 18-hole golf course, tennis and jogging paths. A seven-day membership for one person costs £1,125 a year and includes use of all the facilities, plus a range of discounts on dining and drinking at the property.
VERDICT A high-class, historic property in beautiful grounds that offers incentive and teambuilding groups everything they need for a weekend of activities. Highlights that can be arranged include clay pigeon shooting (it’s easier than you think), quad biking and helicopter rides.
HOW MANY ROOMS? There are 105 bedrooms across eight categories – Standard Deluxe, Standard Deluxe with parkland view, Executive, Junior suite, Fairway Junior suites, Studio suites, Suites, Master suites.
ROOM HIGHLIGHTS The windows overlooking the lawns, the Molten Brown toiletries and the good amount of space with couch and coffee table.
PRICE Internet rates for a weekend stay for two people started from £340 for a Standard Deluxe room.
CONTACT Ashdown Park, Wych Cross, Nr Forest Row, East Sussex; tel +44 (0)1342 824 988; ashdownpark.com