Dear reader, it’s time. There are various reasons why this article has not flashed up on your screen until now, but I do worry that at least part of me wanted to keep this place a secret a little longer.
‘Advice for the post-backing generation – which we’re not going to tell you’. That would somewhat diminish the appeal of your website, no?
Quite. I’m sure I worry for no reason but it certainly feels good to finally tell you all about one of England’s best hotels.
Another swanky central London joint?
Actually no. Situated on the outskirts of one of England’s oldest towns, East Grinstead, the Felbridge Hotel & Spa is an ideal base from which to relish the delights of the Great British countryside. The hotel is just 15 minutes from Gatwick Airport and about half way between London and Brighton with excellent rail connections to both from East Grinstead, too…
Felbridge Hotel & Spa
London Road, East Grinstead, West Sussex, RH19 2BH, ENGLAND +44 (0) 1342 337700
Late March 2013, then again in May 2013
Four stars. Originally built in the 1920s but the new owners carried out a GBP 6 million refurbishment in 2007. 120 rooms over two floors
Location, location, location?
The hotel is actually close enough to Gatwick (about 15 minutes in a taxi) to be considered an airport hotel but is located in the more pleasant surroundings of Felbridge, a suburb of East Grinstead. On the borders of Sussex, Surrey and Kent, East Grinstead is one of the best-preserved towns in the UK and is approximately half way between London and the South coast. This is where you can enjoy some of the most beautiful countryside in the South East of England including the vast Ashdown Forest at the heart of the High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
You can puff along on the steam trains of the Bluebell Railway (the star of many a film and TV show which now runs all the way to East Grinstead) or with your own wheels visit the historic sites of Hever Castle, Standen, Chartwell and Wakehurst Place. Oh and I nearly forgot…the Felbridge Hotel is an easy taxi ride (or a slightly more difficult but healthier walk) from the best pub in England* – the Wiremill (review coming next.)
* clearly this is a subjective opinion, but it is based on many, many years of research and countless visits during my formative years. I realize I have a limited representative sample for this conclusion so if anyone is willing to sponsor an exhaustive survey I would of course be willing to test every pub in England
What about parking?
Not a problem. There is a large car park on the hotel grounds, and it won’t cost you a penny.
Why choose this place?
It must have been karma or something. To keep a long story relatively short through no fault of our own we missed our flight back to Norway after a brief Easter break in London. Instead of getting on the next available plane that night we decided to extend our stay in the UK by a few days as we were in no rush to get home. Rather than return to London we chose to stay locally and I thought of East Grinstead. I grew up (hah!) not far from here and was often cycling, hiking and driving in the area and knew there were several hotels along the main road south.
Some quick online research from my laptop at Gatwick and it didn’t take long to settle on the Felbridge – especially given the appeal of the indoor pool to keep our daughter happy, the reputation of the restaurants and yes, the proximity to my fave pub…
Four main types of room – Standard Double, Superior Double, Junior Suite and Luxury Junior Suite. We stayed in a Superior Double as a family and I also tried out a Luxury Junior Suite when travelling on my own. Both rooms were modern, stylish and spacious. The beds were excellent with quality mattresses and linen.
Other amenities include: Flat-screen TV with 17 free channels and pay-per-view, work desk, luxury mattresses, Elemis toiletries, fridge, in-room wired internet access (extra charge – free slower access for one hour), hairdryer, iron, safe, tea and coffee making facilities. All rooms are non-smoking.
Yes. We prefer wood, but the Felbridge’s status as a classic British hotel essentially means that carpets are the norm. These were clean so no complaints there.
Bathrooms are bright and modern and the quality Elemis toiletries were a bonus. I had a few minor niggles – in the Superior Double we had a combined bath and shower which was a little small to use as the former and the “roll top bath” in the Luxury Junior Suite was also far too shallow; however there was a separate shower cubicle. The water pressure in both cases was excellent so no complaints there.
Free internet I hope?
Not really – there is free high-speed Wi-Fi in the public areas of the hotel but not in the rooms. If you want to go online in your room fast wired internet is available at a charge – you’ll need to borrow a cable from reception or better still bring your own as they have a limited supply. There is a free option for an hour of slower access. Neither will help smartphone or tablet users though and this is a major inconvenience.
In this day and age WiFi should be free, fast and available all over the hotel. Now we do support the idea of metaphorically cutting the cord from work etc. when the prime objective of your stay is to get away from it all, but at a hotel like this it just seems wrong not to offer wireless internet access. It’s a place that will appeal to business travellers stopping over at Gatwick after all.
Bar and restaurant?
There are several options here, all of which we tested during our stay. The Qube bar is an informal pub-style area that also serves snacks and food. It’s comfortable enough for a relaxing drink after walking in in the forest but for dinner you should opt for the The Bay Tree or the fine dining option, Anise. Both are excellent value and Anise in particular is an award-winning restaurant which would give most big city eateries serious competition – at half the price. The hotel restaurants are also deservedly popular with non-residents and locals so it’s wise to book – and be prepared for service to take a little longer when busy. It will be worth the wait, so don’t moan about it on Trip Advisor to pass the time…
Yes, and more besides. The Chakra Spa is the real ace up the Felbridge’s metaphorical sleeve. Access to the modern facilities is included in your room rate and reason enough to stay here. When you do, you’ll find a decent-sized indoor pool, jacuzzi, sauna and steam room as well as a whole menu of (paid) treatments on offer. Again, it’s worth booking the latter in advance as the Chakra is popular with non-residents.
I enjoyed a massage both times I stayed at the hotel and the spa staff were friendly and certainly knew their stuff. Note that the pool is reserved for adults (15 and over) between 1100 and 1600 each day but the spa is open from 0630 to 2030 (from 0800 at the weekends) so there’s plenty of time for the whole family to splash about too.
The breakfast was included, right?
Not in the basic rate, but you can add breakfast to your room charge when booking on the hotel’s site for GBP 10 per adult – children eat free. This is a seriously good deal. As well as an extensive buffet of fresh fruit, cereals, toast, pastries, yoghurt, juice etc. you can order from the hot breakfast menu. And you should – the full English was one of the best I have had and you certainly won’t need to eat again for quite some time.
Very friendly and helpful reception staff. Check-in was easy and quick and there were no hold-ups or problems checking out. Restaurant, bar and spa staff were also welcoming and efficient. The restaurant was particularly busy one night when the hotel was completely full but they coped well – this is not a huge hotel and a little patience from guests goes a long way.
Any points/miles to earn?
No, the Felbridge is not a member of any loyalty schemes but it is worth signing up for the email newsletter to be notified of special offers etc. Both the hotel itself and the Chakra Spa have well-maintained Facebook pages worth ‘Liking’ too.
Can they look after your bags after you check out?
They certainly can.
Green or mean?
The hotel’s has a well-defined environmental policy:
“The Felbridge Hotel and Spa is committed to continually improve and promote sound environmental practice. We believe that environmental protection is a strategic business issue and an integral part of our corporate strategy in operating our hotel company.
Specifically we will;
• Comply with all relevant environmental laws and regulations • Inform all employees of their responsibilities in following good environmental practice and the contribution that they can make to achieving continual improvements in environmental performance; • Set clear environmental objectives which are relevant to the nature, scale and environmental impacts of our activities; • Identify performance targets by which progress towards these environmental objectives can be measured and reviewed; • Report on the results of monitoring of performance targets;
The Felbridge Hotel and Spa has the following key environmental objectives;
• Reducing waste and reusing or recycling materials where appropriate; • Liaising with our customers and suppliers to promote sound environmental practice in the selection, use and disposal of all materials used in the company’s businesses; • Reducing the consumption of energy by sensible energy management of our buildings, equipment and vehicles; • Reducing, or avoiding where possible, pollution of the air, land or water; • Encouraging the development of good environmental practice by all company employees;
The company is committed to having Good Practice Procedures to enable the hotel to adopt the most environmentally sympathetic means to support its service delivery
The environmental performance of the company will be measured by the adoption of and compliance with these Good Practice Procedures within the hotel.”
A search for random dates suggested that rooms start at GBP 79 a night without breakfast for a Standard Double. The Superior Double that we booked was shown as GBP 94 and the Luxury Junior Suite at GBP 149 but rates do vary depending on the day, season and whether there are special deals, which is often the case. As always we recommend doing a little price comparison work first then contacting the hotel directly for the best rate – they will match or trump anything you find online.
The verdict please your honour…
Excellent location for Gatwick if you need an airport hotel, but even better if you have your own transport and time to explore this beautiful area. Despite being on a fairly busy road the rooms were quiet with good amenities. No smoking. Extremely comfortable beds. Superb breakfast, great spa facilities. Relaxed atmosphere and friendly service. Easy access to London and the coast by train from East Grinstead.
The shallow tub in the junior suite (what on earth is a roll top bath anyway?) and the small one in the superior double were both impractical.
Wired internet access should be in addition to WiFi, not instead of. WiFi should be fast, free and in the rooms as well as the public areas. This is really the only issue preventing the hotel from getting the full 6 out of 6.
Despite a couple of minor issues the Felbridge Hotel & Spa is our favourite place to stay in the south of England. Of course there are flashier and more luxurious hotels; but in terms of value for money we’ve yet find anywhere better. It has an enviable location (best appreciated with a car but don’t forget walking shoes) and is perfect if you land at Gatwick. There’s plenty to do in the area but also an excellent pool and spa as well as fine dining in the restaurants to keep you occupied while at the hotel.
Having the Wiremill up the road is the icing on the cake. If you are interested in seeing more of England than just its capital city but without having to drive for hours from the airport, we strongly suggest you stay here. We’ll be publishing more articles on attractions in Sussex, Kent and Surrey in coming weeks so check back for more tips.
Final score: 5/6
All images (c) Matthew Shaw for Felbridge Hotel & Spa