Ashdown Forest is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty – and its leafy expanses help make a weekend here an atmospheric, peaceful experience. Down from London‘s (DFLs) can’t believe their luck, getting plunged into such tranquillity so soon after leaving the Big Smoke. Best of all, the selection of hotels here are sumptuous and characterful, ranging from old pubs to grand mansions. Enjoy.
Were you hooked on Downton Abbey? This 19th-century neo-gothic country mansion – in the thick of Ashdown Forest – will woo you with its stately stone archways linking grand spaces of fancy fireplaces. In floral, beige or colourful stripes, the traditionally decked-out rooms mostly look across the forest treetops or the velvety lawns. Naturally, Fairway suites focus on the country club’s 18-hole golf course. Non-swingers can go full country-house casual with a game of croquet or tennis – or swim languid laps in the indoor pool. Start the day in style with cooked-to-order poached Scottish kippers in the formal Anderida restaurant.
North of the wonderfully named Horsted Keynes village, Twyford Farm is hugged by acres of wild woodland in Ashdown Forest. Step back in time at this rural farmhouse dating from the 18th century – where rooms ooze country charm with rose-patterned soft furnishings, views of ancient meadows rich in wildflowers and ancient beams. Sip your morning cuppa watching sheep graze before tucking into a home-cooked plate brimming with local goodies. Some guests even roll up on horseback – the farm has stables – and dogs in tow can nap in the kennels. If the train is taking the reins, Haywards Heath station is a 20-minute drive away.
If you love period charm and country pursuits, you’ll adore this ivy-clad village gastro pub in Penshurst. It’s a five-minute walk from the photogenic Penshurst Place and Gardens estate, near Royal Tunbridge Wells. Rooms are grand affairs here – with four-poster beds, exposed brick walls and splashes of modern floral wallpaper. Soothing views through multi-paned windows take in either the valley, a Grade-II listed sandstone church or river. Breakfast in the wood-panelled restaurant on Kentish sausages – there’s a terrace for warmer mornings – and later pop back to the cosy wood-beamed bar for a swift pint of Kentish real ale.
Just 3mi (4.8km) from the grandeur of Royal Tunbridge Wells – and 30 minutes from Ashdown Forest – Pembury village green is home to this cosy coaching inn. Sink into leather banquettes for a quiet pint – or take one of the rustic tables flanked by prettily painted tongue-and-groove and beams. Sunseekers will love the flower-filled, brick-walled garden terrace for al fresco breakfasts of kippers and toast here. Revamped rooms sport nature-inspired shades of green and brown, mirroring the rural locale – including romantic canopied mahogany four posters.
Minutes from Lingfield railway station, this is a country-pub classic – opposite a historic church and within walking distance of Lingfield Racecourse. The charm is piled on with atmospheric exposed brick walls, low beams, vintage leather sofas and armchairs – equally attractive are the plump-pillowed rooms, modernised with dashes of burgundy to liven up the pared-back look. Children are sorted, too, as there’s a play area in the garden. On Sundays, traditional roasts are served from midday onwards – so be sure to save room after your breakfast toast and cereal.
Staying at this cute-as-a-button pub – 6.2mi (10km) from Gatwick Airport – guarantees a table at its good looking restaurant, all blue panelling and caramel-leather dining chairs. Settle in for dry-aged Black Angus steaks and wood-fired pizzas upon arrival. Pick any of the nine plush rooms and you’ll be happy: tongue-and-groove headboards painted soft greys and taupes work with books stacked on bedside tables. Deluxe Kings add working spaces – the welcome basket is stocked with aromatic ground coffee, homemade nibbles and fresh milk to keep you going until breakfast. Summer weather sees guests gather in the pretty garden under the British sun.
The name is a nod to nearby Royal Tunbridge Wells – a spa town – and sure enough, this 1800s-built mansion has an indoor swimming pool, steam room, sauna and gym. It’s got a whole variety of rooms: from the floral-and-fur decked out Single Traveller to the Spacious, with thoughtful seating areas and loads of texture and colour. Tuck into scone-led afternoon tea with an added glass of Nyetimber in the Orangery, where a continental buffet and à la carte breakfast are also served.
The strikingly olde worlde facade of this 16th-century village pub in Ticehurst belies the seven eccentric-yet-lovely rooms above – our favourites have deep copper soaking tubs. Outside are four rustic-vintage lodges with names including Pretty Vacant and Between the Lines – the look combines well-worn stools, record players and vintage typewriters. It’s pretty rock and roll here, so feel free to spice up your full English with a Bloody Mary or a Mimosa.
If you’re a golfer who appreciates nature, head to this scenic Sussex country hotel and golf club, on the outskirts of Ticehurst. Settle in for leafy views from light-filled rooms. One of the hotel’s 18-hole golf courses was designed by former Masters Champion Ian Woosnam – that’s a thrill for fans – while other guests make a beeline for the glassy-roofed heated indoor pool set. Sport and swimming done, head out to the clutch of National Trust properties in the area after a well-cooked hot breakfast or a tasty croissant and coffee.
For more excellently located stays in Sussex, see the best Airbnbs near wineries in Sussex, the best bed and breakfasts to book in Eastbourne and the best hotels in Eastbourne for every traveller – now bookable on Culture Trip. You can also explore the best things to do in Sussex and read our guide to Sussex in Spring. Heading to Kent? Discover our guide on the best boutique hotels in the area.
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