Guest endorsements have moved on since diarist John Evelyn wrote that Chilston Park was “a sweetly watered place” when he stayed at what was then his cousin’s house in 1666. Some 350 or so years later, those booking into what is now a Handpicked Hotel in the Kent countryside are no longer using their wealth and connections to avoid a plague-ravaged capital. It’s more they’re pausing for the night before crossing the channel, or getting married.
Anyway, a six-page history is available in each of the fifty-three bedrooms, together with a bedside hotel guide which makes more interesting reading than usual, with a CV of each of the senior team, from general manager to maintenance manager.
Everything to do with our double bedroom is large in scale, starting with the heavy wooden door. There are ceiling to floor drapes which function as black out curtains, and the fireplace is the size of a hearth. The ceiling has a height which the four poster can’t reach by a good two feet.
Now I’m not suggesting anything, but the bed is so spacious there’s room for three, and I only mention that because it was made up with three sets of pillows. The mattress achieved that rare but satisfying combination of comfort and support.
The power shower is mounted above the bath which made me sigh until I realised it’s at a sufficient height to avoid stooping (I am 6ft 3), and it’s clearly marked hot and cold for ease of use.
I’m still unsure about the curious offer of the Gym in a Bag, comprising an exercise mat and some resistance tubes. Call me old-fashioned but if a hotel is to provide a gym, I prefer it to be in a dedicated facility in a room of its own.
The richly decorated hallways and public areas of the hotel are positively littered with art, but the formal dining room is the antithesis of what you would expect in a country house hotel. Everything is light in colour, the walls, ceiling, with unobtrusive chandeliers, and tables large enough to allow side plates some space.
I’m not sure the menu needed to spell out what Amuse Bouche means - “To amuse the Mouth’ isn’t so delectable in translation. There’s nothing here to race the pulse, and that isn’t meant to be a criticism. Traditional food, well prepared is not a given. The tasting menu comprises seared south coast scallops with roast red pepper, pancetta and herb oil, followed by pan roast pigeon breast with spinach puree, bacon, radish; then a Granny Smith sorbet before grilled fillet of dry aged English beef and braised oxtail, with fondant potato, port wine sauce. Dessert is a rhubarb and apple crumble souffle, then a selection of cheeses.
Breakfast finishes at 0930 during the week (extended to 1000 at weekends), but why the early finish? If a hotel’s guests aren’t dashing to a meeting or the Eurotunnel, what’s the rush? It’s the last vestige of the hospitality sector organising itself to suit itself rather than the guest. In fairness though, arriving five minutes before the end didn’t faze the waitress who took our ‘Full English’ order out of prescribed hours and didn’t once try to edge us towards the exit.
The hotel is set in twenty-two acres of parkland, and if the weather is against you but has failed to dampen your sense of adventure, the hotel will loan you a pair of wellingtons. You aren’t completely unaware of traffic noise but it isn’t obtrusive and the source isn’t visible; rather like the aircraft overhead at Kew Gardens, it doesn’t stay on your radar.
A double room from £109 per night (£129 in the main house), with the addition of £64 for dinner.
Chilston Park Hotel
Sandway, Lenham, Maidstone ME17 2BE
0845 072 7426 or 01622 859 803