The Mansion House Luton Hoo
Tylney Hall Hotel
The Grand Hotel
King Edwards Parade Eastbourne
Ashdown Park Hotel & Country Club
Wych Cross, Nr Forest Row East Sussex
Emily Knight visits all four of the group’s country house hotels in a day
Distinctive hotels, distinctive experiences and distinctive locations are how Elite Hotels market their four properties, all to be found in the South East of England. And they’re right. Their aim is to exceed your expectations of a country house hotel, creating unique experiences for their guests in properties that have been chosen for their charm and character, and which have been lovingly restored to produce luxury hotels that are full of character but have a relaxed and friendly environment.
I was lucky enough to enjoy a whistle- stop tour of all four hotels in one day, beginning with an overnight stay at the Luton Hoo Hotel just outside Luton Airport.
You’d never know that the M1 was just a stone’s throw away: with 1,065 acres of land, Elite Hotels have been working for the last 10 years using old plans, maps and paintings of Luton Hoo to piece together the history and layout of the mansion and its grounds; a history which is so impressive that there has even been a book published about the estate.
Luton Hoo features 228 bedrooms and suites, split between the Mansion, the Parkland Wing and the Flower Garden Wing. A short drive (or longer walk!) through the estate from the main house is the Robert Adam building: a Grade II listed stable building which features a spa, 18-metre pool, a brasserie and a bar; Warren Weir – a purpose-built five star meeting and conferencing space; plus a golf course, tennis courts and more.
We enjoyed an overnight stay in a room that looked out onto the beautiful fountains in the garden behind the Mansion: a stunning room that offered a comfortable night’s sleep and an enormous bathroom with complimentary Molton Brown toiletries. The following morning, we enjoyed breakfast in the Grinling Gibbons room – part of the hotel’s Wernher Restaurant, which also includes an incredibly grand State Dining Room with opulent marble walls and beautiful chandeliers.
Executive Chef Kevin Clark combines adventurous dishes with traditional British classics in his menus, producing the likes of Gloucester Old Spot pork cutlet with braised cabbage and apple compote alongside a pressed terrine of potato, rabbit and Cumbrian ham with Champagne- infused raisin and shallot vinaigrette on his menu. Local produce and seasonal game feature on Luton Hoo’s menus, with fish also sourced from sustainable fish stocks.
After breakfast and a tour of Luton Hoo, we departed for our lunch stop, Tylney Hall Hotel, situated just outside Hook, in Hampshire: a stunning Grade II listed mansion house within 66 acres. We were lucky enough with the weather to enjoy a drink on the terrace before lunch, before heading inside to The Oak Room Restaurant for lunch: a wonderful panelled room that I imagine would be very cosy in winter.
Head Chef Stephen Hine’s menu changes seasonally, depending heavily on local produce. My smoked duck and walnut salad, followed by a beautifully poached fillet of smoked haddock with a poached egg and chive butter sauce, showcased the talents of the kitchen team perfectly, and was followed by some amazing sorbets. Delicious!
Lunch was followed by a tour of the gardens, stopping by the picturesque lake to take in the scenery, and learning about how the garden team are working to restore areas of the land to its former glory, as documented in the history of the building.
For afternoon tea, a trip to the seaside and The Grand Hotel in Eastbourne: the only five-star rated seaside hotel in England. The 152-bedroom hotel is a grand Victorian building at the western end of Eastbourne’s promenade, a stone’s throw from the sea. Most rooms overlook either the seafront or the South Downs and, nicknamed the ‘White Palace’, The Grand is an imposing landmark that often welcomes back several generations year after year.
The whole building is imposing but with a relaxed feel, designed to appeal to leisure visitors who wish to explore the seafront or the South Downs, and also business visitors who can take advantage of their wide range of business facilities. In addition to an outdoor swimming pool, The Grand has its own spa facilities, open to both hotel residents and the public.
We enjoyed a beautiful afternoon tea in The Grand’s Presidential Suite, taking advantage of the sun on its large balcony overlooking the sea. We were truly spoilt with a range of finger sandwiches, scones and cakes (the chocolate and cherry slice being a highlight): a treat that gave an indication of the quality to expect in the hotel’s two restaurants.
Our final stop was the Ashdown Park Hotel & Country Club in the heart of the Ashdown Forest in East Sussex, reportedly the forest that inspired A.A. Milne’s Winnie The Pooh stories, with the Pooh Sticks Bridge a popular attraction. Ashdown Park is one of the smallest of the Elite Hotels group, set in 186 acres of countryside which includes a par 3, 18-hole golf course, various jogging routes, an on-site country club and a beautiful converted chapel which features original stained glass windows, and is available to hire for all manner of events.
All of Ashdown Park’s 106 bedrooms and suites are completely different: some with stained glass windows and wooden beams, some with great views of the gardens, lakes and forest. Our room for the night was very well appointed, with great views of the gardens, a comfortable seating area and a sizeable bathroom with Jacuzzi bath, separate shower and plenty of Molton Brown toiletries.
We enjoyed a beautiful dinner courtesy of Executive Head Chef Andrew Wilson in one of the hotel’s private dining rooms, including a perfectly cooked lamb dish with caramelised sweetbread, a truffled carrot purée and a potato raviolo, before settling down to an incredibly comfortable night’s sleep.
Although all very different in terms of style and surroundings, Elite’s four hotels do share something in common: their ability to blend luxurious surroundings and top-notch service with a truly relaxed feel. The perfect choice for a break from the stresses of everyday life.