If you've ever entertained fantasies of playing at Lady or Lord of the manor then South Lodge, set in 93 acres of glorious Sussex countryside, will without a doubt be your cup of tea.
Talking of tea, in the afternoon you can take a spot — accompanied by a pianist and surrounded by antique curios — in one of the several drawing rooms, or if the weather's fine you can enjoy a stand of sandwiches and cakes on the outdoor terrace after a game of croquet.
From the moment you drive up the long path and past the 25-foot 150-year-old rhododendron bushes and catch a peek of the impressive neo-Jacobean property you feel you've stepped back in time and arrived somewhere special. The attention to detail is extraordinary, helping you instantly relax and feel at home: as you walk in you're greeted by friendly staff and a parade of wellies available for tramping round the grounds in wet weather. At the rear ivy and vines creep over the building's brickwork and grassy expanses mingle with manicured bushes and cascading flowers.
There are 89 rooms to choose from including some suites, ours (The Duchess of Portland) comprised of a bedroom, bathroom and lounge-cum-study. Walls are papered with vintage birds fluttering across them and décor is largely white with touches of sumptuous pink and purple. An indulgent breakfast in bed is order of the day as the bedroom's large window offers a great view of the grounds (including the helipad — although no one landed while we were there). Even while playing at Lady of the manor, one TV in each room did feel a little excessive, but I have to admit lounging in the bathtub while watching cringeworthy Saturday-night TV certainly made it more palatable.
Every aspect of the room had been thought out, tea and coffee making equipment tucked away in a leather box with a range of teas including a great pineapple blend, the shower has jets down the sides as well as the ceiling bringing a new meaning to the expression 'power shower' and as well as choice of food at the Camellia Restaurant or fabulous Michelin-starred The Pass, there's also a pillow menu. That's right, a menu to choose which plump New Zealand lambswool pillow to rest your head on. Choose from romance — infused with damask rose and ylang ylang (perfect for newlyweds — South Lodge is also a wedding venue) anti-snoring, and our choice lavender and manuka which smells divine and will have you drifting off in no time.
South Lodge is in a lovely setting straight out of an Austen novel and manages to possess a warm, exclusive and inviting atmosphere without a hint of pretension.
Little extras like the sumptuous pillow menu and a toy sheepdog (Monty) or sheep (Minty) toy in lieu of a do-not-disturb sign to place outside your door.
Beautiful setting great for families or romantic escapes — set in the heart of the countryside but located conveniently only half an hour from Gatwick airport.
The tasty and theatrical Michelin-starred The Pass restaurant where you can watch your eight-course tasting menu being prepared.
The not so good:
You'll need either a car or to rely on taxis if you want to get around — but escaping from it all is part of South Lodge's charm.
The verdict: A luxurious yet homely countryside hotel with five-star service set in gorgeous grounds.
Book it: Double rooms start at £195 per night, including breakfast. South Lodge Hotel, Brighton Road, Lower Beeding, Near Horsham, West Sussex, RH13 6PS (+44(0) 1403 891711; southlodgehotel.co.uk)