For a magical escape that is close to home, there’s nowhere more inspiring than the real-life Hundred Acre Wood; or Ashdown Forest. The forest is an ancient heathland and area of outstanding natural beauty that inspired the setting for local author AA Milne’s Winnie the Pooh stories.
Ashdown Park Hotel and Country Club, a member of Elite Hotels, is a four-star country house hotel set in stunning grounds, right in the heart of the famous forest. It’s the perfect luxurious retreat for the whole family; with something for mum, dad, the kids (and even Fido the dog!) to do. 2021, which marks the 100th anniversary of Winnie the Pooh, could be the perfect time to head to Ashdown Park Hotel for a fun-filled weekend in the woods.
There’s lots to do within the 186-acre grounds of the hotel, which has 106 charming rooms and suites, as well as tennis courts, a croquet lawn, helipad and spa. The 18-hole par three golf course offers golfers a challenging but enjoyable day on the greens, and also includes a driving range for practicing your swing.
The manicured golf course stretches into the distance, cocooned by forest, for which the area is so widely-known. Unfortunately, due to typical British winter weather, the course was closed during our visit but we did head out with our dog, Storm, to play fetch on the driving range and explore the greens that weave through the trees.
A number of footpaths and jogging trails wind around the golf course, through the trees and over the trickling streams. You can easily spend hours exploring the estate, strolling from the sunken garden to the walled garden and searching for the secret garden.
Ashdown Park Chapel is a pretty building located next door, the perfect spot for weddings and functions, with a steeple towering into the skyline. Wander around the lake and listen to the fountain splashing at its centre or sit back on the terrace and enjoy a refreshing drink or snack from the varied bar menu.
It’s easy to explore Ashdown Forest from the hotel, either on foot or by car. Just across the road is Ashdown Forest Centre and it’s a short drive to popular Winnie the Pooh visitor attractions. Play Pooh sticks at the famous Pooh Bridge, enjoy a walk around Hundred Acre Wood, or head to Pooh Corner tea room and shop at Hartfield.
We checked in before lunch and settled in the foyer under the huge Christmas tree for a bite to eat before heading over to our room to unpack. We were staying in Chelwood, one of the vast Fairway Suites, which are situated in the country club pavilion. The dog-friendly rooms open out onto a small terrace with a small bistro set – ideal for alfresco drinks in the summer – and lead directly onto the rolling fairways and lush greens of the golf course.
The room boasts a gigantic bed and a cosy lounge area with two-piece suite, mounted flat-screen TV, and coffee and tea station. We tucked into the delicious Belgian chocolate biscuits and sat back to watch a movie. After bounding around the grounds and tucking into the biscuits and treat paste left in the room by the concierge, Storm crashed out for a snooze.
The dog-friendly rooms provide a bed and bowls for their four-legged guests, while we were treated to chocolate truffles and fudge. The bathroom is a little tired but has a large his and hers sink, and comfortable bath tub to relax in. Warning: the water runs extremely hot but makes for a lovely, warm soak; perfect for the end of a wet and windy day teeing off with a friend or walking through the grounds.
Forest Spa is a short walk from the hotel and is housed in the Country Club, which encompasses the clubhouse, Forest Brasserie and a number of large, dog-friendly suites. I was met by Gillian, a friendly therapist whose smiley demeanour instantly put me at ease as she led me through to the treatment room.
Despite the grey, soggy weather outside, in the spa it was warm and calm. Forest Spa makes the most of its surroundings, bringing the outside in. In the treatment room – a small but snug space which felt intimate and relaxing – forest sounds and ambient, soothing tunes played as a soundtrack to the hot stone massage I received.
After unwinding on the massage table for a 40-minute treatment, Gillian ushered me through to the toasty relaxation room for a cool drink and time to unwind. The lounge is a serene space with beautiful bespoke wallpaper depicting a whimsical woodland scene and soft white drapes framing each armchair, orchids bringing life indoors. The recently-refurbished spa also boasts a large pool which sparkles in the soft lighting with exposed beams and vaulted ceilings. A hot tub bubbles in the corner and plush seating lines the water’s edge.
We got dressed up and headed over to the main house for a romantic dinner for two at the beautiful Anderida Restaurant. The eatery offers a varied and diverse menu with plenty of vegetarian and vegan options for those with special requirements.
The waiter brought out bread rolls and butter with our drinks and an amuse bouche; beetroot tartare for me and chicken, parmesan and rocket for my husband. To start he chose the leek and potato soup – a warming treat for a cold, winter’s day – and I sampled the black treacle tuna loin with a raw spring roll. The tuna was soft, juicy and packed full of flavour thanks to the sweet glaze, although the spring roll seemed a little out of place.
Raspberry sorbet arrived between courses to cleanse the palate and we then moved onto our mains; a red onion tarte tatin with wilted spinach, and venison with black pudding, cauliflower cheese and pistachio crumb. The tarte tatin was a delightful dish, full of sweet red onion flavour, and crispy but crumbly pastry, while the venison was cooked perfectly and the jus was smooth and rich.
We washed it down with red wine and I opted for a mango and passionfruit fizz mocktail which was sweet, like summer in a glass! For dessert, we had the chocolate fondant with chocolate ganache and ice cream, and the yuzu lemon meringue pie with matcha tea ice cream.
Breakfast is served in the same grand dining room, with light streaming in through the large bay windows, which look out onto the golf course and copses of trees. Crisp, white table linens and shiny crockery are placed with precision on the tables.
We had sweet orange juice and fruit salad with yoghurt to start before opting for the cooked breakfasts; traditional for my husband (bacon, sausages, black pudding, scrambled eggs, potato croquettes, mushrooms and tomatoes) and vegan for me (smashed avocado, roasted red pepper, vegan sausage, baked beans and tomatoes) with granary toast.
Room rates start at £162 per room (based on two sharing) and include breakfast.
Address: Ashdown Park Hotel and Country Club, Wych Cross, Forest Row, East Grinstead, RH18 5JR
Phone: 01342 824988
Photography courtesy of Ashdown Park Hotel and Country Club