South Lodge, part of the Exclusive Hotels Group owned by Danny Pecorelli, is set in 93 acres of woodland south of Horsham, West Sussex. A five star country house hotel, it boasts a distinguished history. From modest beginnings in 1883, its owner Frederick DuCane Godman extended the property in 1911 with the addition of the Drawing Room wing. As a private residence until 1985, it saw Winston Churchill as a regular guest during his parliamentary career, and was used as a hospital in the Second World War. In 2009 it hosted the important G20 London summit. More recently – and for food lovers most important of all – its two restaurants gained national distinctions: The Pass was awarded a Michelin star and the two rosette Camellia Restaurant’s Head Chef, Steven Edwards, won the 2013 series of Masterchef, The Professionals.
A handsome stone building built in the neo Jacobean style, the hotel was sympathetically extended in 2008, substantially increasing the amount of accommodation. The spacious public areas – the lounges, bar and Camellia restaurant are comfortably furnished and tastefully decorated in traditional styles. The Drawing Room features a walkway which leads to a beautiful terrace with splendid views of the hotel’s private lake and the South Downs. Oak doors and paneling abound, even in the new long corridors which are also lined with a lustrous taupe fabric. In stark contrast, the Pass Restaurant, which embraces the modern dining concept of a chef’s kitchen table, has a contemporary design to match.
Although the absence of a spa might initially appear a disadvantage, it is more than compensated for by a variety of alternative leisure pursuits. These include golf at the sister property of Mannings Health Club, a gym with Technogym Kenesis facilities, tennis, croquet, jogging and mountain biking. Budding connoisseurs can indulge in wine tasting in the handsomely restored Victorian Cellar, and aspiring gourmets face an embarrassment of choice in the two award winning restaurants.
Overseeing the whole operation, which has a custom of 50% corporate and the remainder divided between individual leisure, golf and weddings, is General Manager David Connell. Given the highly competitive market of luxury hotels, he is conscious of the need to exceed guest expectations, creating WOW experiences whenever possible.
Fundamental in achieving this is his management philosophy of recruiting of the right staff: “I certainly believe in attitude over aptitude…skills can be trained but you have to want to look after people to be good at it.” Regretting the limited time he has to act as host given the demands of the business, he shows full confidence in his team’s ability to deliver consistent, first rate service. In an effort to maintain the highest of standards, he is a great believer in the marketing power of websites such as Trip Advisor, used by many at the buying stage. This is monitored closely by hotel manager, Mark Surguy who gives prompt and detailed replies to guest comments. Whilst David Connell relishes the prospect of a Spa facility, which is in the very early days of planning, he is constantly updating and refurbishing public rooms and bedrooms. This helps to maintain their excellent overall standard.
The West Dene Junior Suite, situated on the ground floor at the end of the new extension finished in 2008, is an example of this. It has the advantage of its own semi private terrace with garden furniture, and benefits from state of the art facilities.
The spacious, well lit accommodation is a pleasing mix of traditional and contemporary décor, furniture and fittings. Doors and furniture including a writing desk are in heavy oak. Some walls are partly smooth exposed brick, although the long dividing wall has striped coverings in duck blue and cream to complement the colour and pattern of the pelmetted curtains in heavy duty brocade.
Possibly unique amongst hotels at this high level is the invitation to cut flowers from the garden and display them in the vase provided.
Comfort is provided by the deep bucket style, low back armchairs and two superking beds. These have handmade mattresses and are dressed in fine Egyptian cotton sheets and breathable hand finished duvets. From the choice of pillows – a rare facility even amongst the top hotels – I opted for the “anti snoring” one, which, according to my companion, has the right effect!
Modern conveniences include a flat screen TV with Sky Channels, dvd player, a humidifier and flexible bedside reading spotlights. Fortunately, the technology encountered, unlike many hotels of this standard, is not so advanced as to intimidate technophobes like myself.
The huge tiled bathroom features twin sinks, jacuzzi bath and a spacious walk in rain shower with side sprays. An ample selection of Spa range toiletries, from the sister hotel Pennyhill Park, is generously provided. Another indulgent extra is an aqua television embedded in the wall, to be watched whilst soaking in the bath!
Overall, staying at South Lodge was a real joy. From the friendly, welcoming check in, through dinner and breakfast to our the final departure, we were spoilt with personal, courteous service. Staff clearly enjoy their work, and constantly convey this to their guests.