Conference Hotel: Ettington, Stratford-Upon-Avon, Warwickshire CV37 7NZ. Tel: +44 (0)1789 740 000 Fax: +44 (0)1789 740 909. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
I'm a member of an industry association that holds a two day meeting every year in spring and moves the venue around between different hotels, typically in the Midlands. Last year we were in Rugby at the Dunchurch Park which had excellent conference rooms but dreadful accommodation. This year, the organisers found a new place for us to use; Ettington Chase near Stratford on Avon.
I travelled down from the North West on the day of the conference and my Tom Tom had no problems finding the hotel. When I pulled off the road into the car park I found a very beautiful old building that looked like a Victorian vicarage but was completely swamped by the size of the new wing. As so often happens, the website shows lots of pictures of the old building and not so many of the rather characterless red-brick block that provides most of the rooms.
I parked up and headed for reception which is located in the old building where the staff pointed me in the direction of the conference rooms. Passing out of the old and into the new building, I came to the restaurant, a large coffee and tea zone and then to the conference rooms. Further along the corridor was the bar and the entrance to the swimming pool and after that the bedrooms.
Ettington Chase really is much more of a conference venue rather than a hotel. I think that if you booked this and weren't there for a seminar or a wedding or similar event you would possibly feel a bit cut off and isolated. I've read other reviews where guests have complained of being the only people at the Chase who weren't booked in with a large group and they clearly felt a bit 'odd' about being there. Our group wasn't particularly large and a lot of people were a bit peeved to discover that the pool wasn't opened during our stay. Perhaps they have a threshold number of guests before they open it. I don't know but it was disappointing especially as the photos on the hotel website show that it's a gorgeous looking pool.
* As a Conference Venue *
We had two conference rooms, side by side with one laid out for presentations and the other set up for sponsor displays and posters. In the first session the chairs had been laid out directly behind each other instead of being off-set and this meant that the visibility was restricted. I was surprised that a specialist venue such as this would make such a basic mistake. A dais had been built for the speakers and the organisation used a sound and vision engineer who'd been recommended by the hotel and everyone was really pleased with his work. The room had lots of natural light and didn't get too stuffy although the temperature control at times was somewhat erratic.
Coffee breaks were quite well organised with 3 or 4 coffee dispensers set up in the corridor and plenty of seating for those who wanted it. We were well supplied with cookies and cakes which - considering we're an association that deals with confectionery and sweet bakery products - was quite brave of the organisers.
Lunch was served in the restaurant and was a hot and cold buffet. There were no complaints about the amount or quality of the food although the layout was a bit confusing. You started at the end with the puddings and made your way towards the starters - a sort of 'living your life backwards' system.
The conference dinner was served in a large meeting room and the service was exceptional. We have a very complicated quiz during the dinner that can be a challenge for waiting staff because we're a bit unpredictable with regards to timings. There were no problems at all. The food was 'not bad' with the exception of a truly dreadful watercress soup that was so salty that it almost hurt to eat it. Considering that part of our day had been talking about legislation to reduce salt in bakery products (something that's caused all manner of traumas for manufacturers) it was a bit of an insult to be reminded that the food service industry seems oblivious to the constraints of normal food manufacturers.
* The Rooms *
Since many readers won't be too interested in the conference facilities, I'm guessing they'll be more interested to know what the rooms were like. I have to confess I was really surprised at how good they were especially after the rotten accommodation of the previous two years. My room had clearly not long been renovated and was in excellent condition and decorated with quite a sense of flair with a lot of mid-brown wood in rather an Italian style. The desk was plenty big enough to work at (I hate hotels that give you a desk that's too small or is cluttered up with a television and a kettle and lots of annoying brochures and such like). There was a flat screen TV which I didn't turn on so I can't confirm the channel selection, a large room safe which the hotel seemed to be encouraging everyone to use, a trouser press and iron and a tea and coffee tray. Nothing that you wouldn't expect but nothing missing either. Internet access was available by buying a 'scratch card' from reception and cost in the region of £5 for an hour which unfortunately was a '60 mins from login' rather than a log-in-log-out 60 minutes. I spent very little time in my room but was pleased with the massive improvement compared to the previous year's conference venue.
Some people were allocated fabulous rooms in the old part of the hotel and I did rather kick myself for missing out on that opportunity although I still liked my standard bedroom. If you were to consider Ettington for a weekend away in Stratford and the Cotswolds, I'd seriously suggest to ask if they have one of the rooms in the old building available - and pay a little more if you have to. The Principal Hayley chain who own Ettington seem to be sending me promotional emails every few days at the moment so I'm guessing that they are desperate and the deals you can get should be excellent and it's not a bad location for Stratford and the Cotswolds. That's the problem with being a conference venue in the middle of a recession.
* Not Quite Perfect *
The only thing that I really didn't appreciate about this hotel was the check in and check out service. To try to keep things simple for the hotel, all the delegates who had booked on the official conference rate were asked to complete their registration cards during the meeting so that the reception could get everything ready more efficiently. It didn't work at all. I was one of the people who'd booked my hotel online because the hotel wouldn't match the price I'd found with a booking site and fortunately I got to the desk before a lot of other people. Even so, I had a long wait. A single member of staff was dealing with the registrations and didn't appear to have taken any advantage of being given most people's details in advance. She was happily answering the phones and keeping everyone waiting even longer. Once I'd got my key I asked her to please try and get some more staff to help because the length of the line was getting ridiculous. Initially it included people who either wanted to know why the pool wasn't open or were trying to get a WiFi code - most of these gave up in frustration and left.
Check out the next day was just as bad with only one person on the desk yet again. It felt as if they really didn't care that much and since the reception staff had been told at what time to expect everyone, there really wasn't any excuse for the poor manning levels.
During the debrief after the conference, the organising commitee decided that the comments from the delegates were so good that they decided to book it for next year's conference. I'll be trying to get myself one of the nicer rooms next time - I'm already quite looking forward to it.
Ettington Chase is far more of a Conference Centre than it is a hotel. Set in the wilds of Warwickshire it is fairly easy to find, just off the Fosse Way. The building is quite impressive, looking like an old schoolhouse with a modern accommodation block tacked on. Rooms are large and comfortable, with plenty of space to work. There are modem points in every room. You get a range of satellite channels, focusing on sports and news. It is easy to relax here. There is a pleasant swimming pool, with a sauna and small gym. Outdoors types can play tennis or even practice their golf skills, but there are only three holes! Indoor sports fans get two full size snooker tables, darts and card tables in their own sports bar. The hotel is all the more relaxing because mobile phone reception is awful, and no network can maintain a reliable signal here. The view is beautiful, miles of rolling countryside. Food is excellent. Breakfast is served buffet style so you can help yourself to as much rabbit food, or pork products as you like. Lunch is also help yourself, with cold salads, a choice of hot entrees, hot and cold desserts and superb cheese. Dinner is slightly more formal with waiter service from the table d’hote menu. No room service is available. You can stay just the odd mid week night on your own, but be warned that most folk here are on courses, meeting or ‘brainstorming’ sessions so there is an almost tribal feel! This can be overwhelming if there are eighty odd people from one company and just one or two in your party. The bar opening times can be a little odd because of this. They tend not to open at lunch time and often close at 10:30 or 11:00 to make sure that students get their beauty sleep. There is an upside to this, sometimes a company will lay on an open bar so you can drink the night away on someone elses expenses! This is particularly satisfying if your bank is paying. <
br><br> You can stay here on a B&B basis at the weekends, when the corporate types have gone home. This is often a great deal as the hotel has plenty of rooms to fill and you can explore Warwick and Stratford, hang out at Ettington village, or simply abuse the leisure facilities. You will need to check ahead as B&B is not available every weekend, but it is well worth looking out for.