I do love to get out into the English countryside. Living and working in London, my friends and I are often on the first flight off this island when we have holiday time, dreaming of luxury chalets or beach huts, but there are plenty of wonderful places to visit here. I know I may be sounding like a Visit Britain advert but it is true and many places and events are literally an hour’s train ride away from the Big Smoke.
Which is how I found myself at the picturesque manor of Ashdown Park in Sussex. I was there to attend the Sussex Food and Wine Festival at the Bluebell Railway, itself a tourist attraction in it’s own right.
The Bluebell Railway is one of the last standard gauge passenger railways left in England. Back in the day, the railway used to run from Brighton to London but nowadays it runs steam engine train rides around the local area. The railway even has a Pullman carriage which was part of the original Orient Express where you can take high tea on the weekends. The weekend I was there, the Ashdown Park Hotel was catering the tea in the Pullman but they have a slew of options to choose from on the regular steam train service.
Whilst there, I sampled the English sparkling wines of Bolney Estate as well as a newcomer (at least to me anyway) of the local vineyard, Bluebell Vineyards. They’ve recently won a host of awards from Decanter nd tasting their sparklers, I can see why. Fresh and bright sparklers, they use chardonnay and pinot noir for their wines. They are looking to expand their production but at the moment, it’s still quite small.
That evening, I had dinner at the Ashdown Park Hotel, where I was also staying. It’s a converted old manor house, built in the 1880’s) a luxurious hotel, it sits in the middle of Ashdown Forest surrounded by beautifully tended English gardens and an 18 hour golf course. As the weather has been so tricky lately, I left my golf clubs at home but the course looked like something I’d be able to handle!
The hotel has a fantastic restaurant and they have recently hired on a new chef who’s ambition is to obtain a Michelin star soon. I had the ala carte menu and based on my meal, I think they are well on their way. The dining room is an elegant space, the decor reminding me a bit of the Orient Express Pullman I had seen earlier in the day, the lap of luxury indeed.
Flipping through the wine list, it’s extensive but doesn’t go overboard. There is a nice mix of Old and New World wines, with plenty of the classics (Bordeaux/Burgundy) as well as affordable wines that you might find in your local wine merchant. I ordered smoked salmon to start and a chicken main so I asked my waiter to make a reasonably priced recommendation. He pointed me in the direction of a pinot noir from Tyrell’s Wines, the Old Winery 2010. A nice little wine, it went down a treat with both dishes – being neither too savoury or too much fruit with a hint of smokiness to it and balancing acidity. I do have to note that I ordered a Manhattan on the rocks to start and the bar did an admirable job of mixing one up for me. I later spoke to the Bar Manager and he told me that they don’t usually make them at the Ashdown but as he had all the ingredients to hand, he gave it a go. A big thumbs up to him as it was very well done indeed.
I spent the next day lounging around the spa and indoor swimming pool. The spa offers a range of services, all of which can be booked through the hotel concierge.
Before I knew it, it was time to take the train back to London but what a fabulous way to spend the weekend, cocooned in the luxury of the Ashdown Park Hotel whilst still having the option to enjoy the local countryside. I must deefinitely make a note to return to the Ashdown for some golf in the near future.
Many thanks to The Ashdown Park Hotel and to Southern Railways for transport to and from East Sussex. I travelled from London Bridge to East Grinstead, the nearest station to the hotel.