Finding high quality hotel accommodation that is not going to break the bank is becoming increasingly difficult in the UK. Of course, one can always spend absolute top dollar but even then there is a danger that one ends up in a rather sterile environment that promotes class above relaxation.
One of the exceptions to this general trend can be found in Lower Beeding, West Sussex. South Lodge Hotel combines relaxation with excellent service, a historical setting with modern convenience and it doesnt need to break the bank.
South Lodge is part of the Exclusive Hotels group, a set of 4 properties with associated spas and golf courses. The website (http://www.exclusivehotels.co.uk) gives a good insight into whats in-store although it must be said, its not the most navigable of sites.
The approach to the hotel is via a long driveway, in keeping with the historic house setting, which widens out into a large gravelled area directly in front of the main door and reception. Car parking is a little further on the driveway and is plentiful, although, if like us, you arrive in a rather modest vehicle, you may just have to give the car a little pep talk so that it doesnt feel too out of place amongst the expensive marques.
Service at reception is very efficient and personal. Greeted as old friends, we were made to feel very welcomed and it mattered not a jot that our booking was through lastminute.com at a bargain rate. We were treated as any other guests, in a discrete and professional manner.
The hotel has just 45 rooms, 5 of which are in the main old house that is South Lodge, and the remaining 40 of which are situated in converted former outhouses, such as stables and tack rooms, each of which have been cunningly adopted into the main building. This set up creates an unusual atmosphere within the building as external walls create internal spaces, levels rise and fall and corridors meander past pillars.
Our allocated room was one of the smaller rooms in the hotel and was converted from a tack room. Given that this was a smaller room, I was very pleasantly surprised. There was more than enough room for everything we could have wanted and certainly more room than one would have got in most hotels. A king-size bed, blanket box, bureau, two winged chairs with a small table, a large wardrobe, TV, DVD (films available free from reception) and cabinet and two large bedside cabinets were placed in the room with acreage to spare! The bathroom was similarly spacious with a huge raised corner Jacuzzi bath, separate shower and large vanity unit.
Luxurious fabrics with just a hint of Laura Ashley chintz complimented oak beams throughout. Furniture was suitably aged and leant itself well to the casual and yet decadent feel to the place. What really set the rooms apart from your average hotel, though, was the attention to detail. Most hotels provide you with a sewing kit in a cardboard folder. South Lodge provides a pincushion with all that you could possibly require together with a small pair of scissors. Most hotels will provide a couple of packets of wrapped biscuits. South Lodge provides a cookie jar. Most hotels have female sanitary products available in the public lavatories. South Lodge place a discrete fabric pouch in the bathrooms with everything you could possible need. Some hotels may provide flowers. South Lodge provides a vase and invites you to pick your own from the gardens. For me, these little touches showed an attention to detail rarely seen in the English hospitality industry. Discrete, understated and probably a lot less wasteful than the majority of providers. As for the unusual way of telling staff do not disturb youll just have to visit to find out its always nice to have a bit of a surprise!
The hotel is set in amazing grounds, reminiscent of National Trust properties. A large terrace makes way for a terraced lawn (with a champagne bar) that in turn breaks into natural, rolling countryside. Discretely hidden hard tennis courts are surrounded by a light wooded area. There is a small gym cum snooker room, but this is separate from the hotel and a bit of an afterthought.
The hotel has recently been extended to incorporate conference rooms and facilities. The extension has been done very sympathetically and the rooms looked well equipped. They were not in use when we stayed and so I cannot comment on the effect that conference provision might have on the rest of the hotel, although, as the provision seemed to be self-contained, I cant imagine much of an issue.
Food and drink at the South Lodge Hotel is second to none. The outside champagne bar has already been mentioned. When its not hot and sunny the Library Bar or the Lounge provide a relaxed venue for a quick or slow drink or two. Service is again friendly and completely lacking in any hint of snootiness. Ordering two soft drinks is not going to get you funny looks but it does mean that you will miss out on the excellent wine list and spirits menu.
The Camellia Restaurant though is a bit of a jewel in the South Lodge crown. Commended with 3 AA rosettes, the menu is superb and not at all over-priced. Food tends, as with the hotel, to the simple elegant. Portion sizes are good and presentation is excellent. Fish was cooked to perfection and my husbands lamb shank simply fell from the bone. Vegetables were served separately in little copper pans, great for keeping the heat! Desserts were, as with many first class restaurants, simply divine and flavour combinations were well thought through. The sommelier was knowledgeable and the wine list catered for many tastes. It was not the cheapest of lists, but it was quality.
You can just book for dinner here, without staying at the hotel, and I would do so again at the drop of a hat. Top tip would be to ask for a window table for then you will have uninterrupted views of the South Downs, perfect for a romantic summer evening.
Coffee and petit fours may be taken at your table or in the lounge, the latter providing a far more relaxed ending to a perfect day.
The hotel provides basic sporting facilities with all equipment on hand and free of charge. Hard tennis course, croquet, a gym, clay pigeon shooting, archery and mountain bikes are available on-site. Golf is available at a sister property five minutes drive away.
Apart from walking in the extensive grounds, the South Downs provide a wealth of opportunity for outdoor pursuits, and for less clement weather, there are a number of other historic properties (the NTs Petworth amongst them) within easy striking distance. Really though, Lower Beeding is not somewhere you go to see the sights, rather you come to South Lodge to escape, to get away from the world and to wind down in elegant surroundings.
Hotel and restaurant clientele fell into the upper and upper middle-class brackets (if one were to categorise). Understated was the key. Dress was traditional but not over the top. Behaviour of all guests was relaxed but impeccable. The guests, in the main, were wealthy but were not the sort to shout about it. Certainly, anyone who is comfortable in a traditional English semi-formal setting would not feel at all out of place and the staff makes no judgement with all guests being treated with the same care and attention.
So, after a glowing report, were there any downsides? I would have liked to have had tea/coffee facilities in the room rather than having to order from room service but really thats about it. This was one of those hotels that just couldnt fail to raise a smile, couldnt fail to relax you, and couldnt fail to leave you wanting to return.
Look out for some good deals, particularly mid-week for dinner, bed and breakfast. You wont regret it!
South Lodge Hotel
Brighton Road, Nr Horsham, West Sussex, RH13 6PS
Tel: 01403 892312
Rack rates: GBP£230-400
Deals often available from sites such as lastminute and late rooms.