In this series of family adventures, I go on a journey around our beautiful county of Sussex to discover, together with my three young children and willing husband, family-friendly bolt holes couples can escape to for calm but adventure-filled precious family times away.
Our first weekend jaunt took us to Winnie the Pooh territory in the heart of East Sussex; Ashdown Park Hotel and Country Club. Offering the very height of luxury amongst the soaring trees of the magical Ashdown Forest, this neo-Gothic country house cannot fail to impress as you drive up the perfectly manicured entrance route. This magnificent and elegant building is every bit as spell-binding on the inside as it is the out. Expect a whole chorus of ooohs and ahhhs from your fellow travellers as they imagine they are royalty passing through the grand entrance into the opulent grand hallway (or reception area to those with their feet firmly planted on the floor).
The staff are what I can best describe as ‘on the ball’. They know their craft well, they are out to make you their guest and they have thought about every little aspect that will help you feel like the most important person staying there. Upon checking in, the staff all took time to meet and charm my little girl as well as providing us with a host of vouchers offering discounts at all the local attractions (Drusillas, the Llama Park and Bluebell Railway) – a friendly gesture and great sign of things to come.
The hotel runs special events throughout the calendar including afternoon teas served on the terrace or as a picnic, where children can enjoy a Winnie-the-Pooh Afternoon Tea with delights such as Tigger’s sponge and ‘hunny’ sandwiches. The 7th July also sees an exclusive Chocolate Afternoon Tea on offer for residents and visitors alike. Be sure to check out the hotel’s website to be kept in the loop.
Our bedroom was a two-roomed suite named ‘Willow'(all the rooms are named after the trees that make up the forest). Although there isn’t a lift available to help with the pram, the eager porters were only too happy to lend a hand or two transporting our belongings up to our room (not an easy job, as we all know it is impossible to travel lightly with an infant).
The rooms are sophisticated, traditionally decorated and feature en suite bathrooms with designer toiletries, free WiFi, safes, flat-screen TVs, and tea and coffee making facilities. Some suites even have private patios. Cots and highchairs are available upon request and older kids even get goodie bags and cookies and milk at bedtime!
Several aspects excited me about our room; the traditional teddy bear gift that lay waiting for my little ones, the Molton Brown products that laced the bathroom, the simply huge double bed that boasted the biggest pillows I’ve ever seen and the Jacuzzi bath. This as everything that I had hoped for, catering perfectly so we had all the baby comforts and facilities that we needed to function, as well as those adult-friendly extras that would give us the breathing space we were after.
Dinner that night led us to the Anderida Restaurant; an opulent and lavish, yet traditionally decorated restaurant with views over the gardens and forest. If I’m honest, even though the receptionist had assured me they were happy for children and infants to dine at the table at 7pm, I was rather concerned we may disturb the other romantically coupled guests or be a bit of a hindrance to the staff in the fine dining setting. I really needn’t have worried.
As we entered there was an air of gentility, elegance and calm, but it was welcoming and we were led to a table all set up ready with a highchair. The staff made our little ones feel so very special as they gave them their own menu of culinary delights. This isn’t your average ‘nuggets or pizza and chips’ fare. It is well designed, healthy and appealing food for children and infants.
Like any cheeky 8 month year old, our youngest likes to play the game of throwing things (on this occasion his object of choice was the menu) on the floor and waiting to see who would pick it up. The waiting staff were her willing victims, playing his game with a genuine smile and sense of humour. The potentially difficult fine-dining-with-baby experience was an absolute success. We felt comfortable, we feasted like the royal family (yes, we were actually able to eat our own food too, as well as feed the mini gang theirs) and we left relaxed and excited about what adventures the next day would bring.
Breakfast saw us back to the Anderida Restaurant. Breakfasts here are hearty, delicious and come with a variety of options from a Full English to the more continental meats and cheeses, fruits, cereals and pastries. The staff recognised us from the night before and greeted us warmly, once again providing entertainment for our little charmed visitors.
There are so very many activities available for families at Ashdown Park Hotel and Country Club. For those with slightly older children, a spot of croquet, putting or par 3 golf should keep you entertained. We opted for a visit to the Ashdown Hotel Spa (no, not for some treatments unfortunately) but for a dip in the warm and inviting pool. Baby changing facilities are available, which avoids the usual logistical nightmares in the changing rooms, and the pool temperature is ‘just right’. In such a calm setting, our little tadpoles were actually able to relax and ‘swim’ with us without the usual din and distractions of your average public pool. I noted that babies under 6 months were unfortunately not allowed to swim, but I would argue it would probably not be hot enough for them anyway.
All dried and back in action, we then decided to go looking for adventures in Ashdown Forest. The hotel is the perfect base for those who love a good walk, especially for those with little Pooh Bear fans. We opted for the ‘Pooh Walk’, which leads you on a discovery of key scenes from A. A Milnes stories, including ‘The North Pole’, ‘Eeyore’s sad and gloomy place’, ‘Baby Roo’s sandy pit’ and the site of the ‘Heffalump Trap’. We concluded our walk by visiting ‘Pooh Corner and Piglet’s Tearooms’, a charming and quaint themed tea rooms and gift shop set in the village of Hartfield and a must-visit for any fan.
There is plenty to enjoy within a short distance of the hotel. Just seven miles away, ride the vintage Bluebell Railway through the glorious bluebell-covered Sussex countryside, conjuring up fond memories of ‘The Railway Children’. Kew Gardens’ Wakehurst Place (just eight miles from Ashdown Park) is opening to dogs on selected evenings (Dog Walking Evenings include 22 July and 3 September) so owners can the wild botanic garden with their furry friends. Other events include Cycling Evenings (29 July & 1 September).
Visitors can also get a flower fix at nearby Borde Hill (12 miles from Ashdown Park Hotel), with its 17 acres of Edwardian garden established in the 1900s, boasting ribbons of bluebells and daffodils along with magnolias and camellias, the highlight of which is a horse-shoe-shaped azalea ring flowering in May.
Unlike most family holidays, by the end of our trip we were refreshed, rejuvenated and raring to go on our next family adventure. I would recommend Ashdown Park Hotel and Country Club to any family who loves the great outdoors, a spot of traditional luxury, great food and outstanding service.
Stay overnight at Ashdown Park from £179 per room (two sharing), including dinner and full English breakfast. Call Ashdown Park on 01342 824988 (www.ashdownpark.com) to book.