Review by Fiona Duncan, published 3rd July 2010.
What a well-kept secret; and how wonderful to find it flourishing – in its prime even – after more than 60 years in the same family.
I'd always known of Park House, just outside Midhurst, but never stayed. Once I popped in for lunch, years ago, and remember admiring the graciousness and gentleness of the place, but I also found a menu that was amazingly old-fashioned, even for those days. It was also an establishment that was ageing along with its splendid and much-loved owner, Ione O'Brien, brought up in India, passionate about polo, who turned her home into a hotel in 1948.
Now, at last, I'm staying the night, and the changes and embellishments that I find, not least to the menu, are a great surprise, but the graciousness, the tranquillity and the atmosphere of a family home are all still intact. The honesty bar remains; dogs and children are still welcome in equal measure; walls in the bar are plastered with O'Brien family photographs and those of celebrated past guests.
There are 21 bedrooms in the main house (late Victorian, no beauty, but with roots in the Middle Ages) and unpacking in ours, No 2, on a glorious summer's afternoon, I feel more Edwardian than Millennium.
In a room recently papered and curtained with blousy white roses, (also with a cool Apple television/computer, digital clock and free Wi-Fi) the windows look down on a flower-covered pergola, a neat croquet lawn, two lawn tennis courts, a professionally designed, very testing six-hole pitch-and-putt course and an emerald putting green, all perfectly maintained.
The happy sound of children and of china teacups clinking against saucers wafts up from below. Beyond the lawns are long views onto a lovely wooded section of the South Downs with not another house in sight.
What's been happening here? Evidently no expense has been spared (though glitz is mercifully absent) in subtly turning what was a quiet, elderly, but always enjoyable hotel into an impressive commercial enterprise – with additional rooms in cottages, a converted barn for meetings and weddings, and a sleek spa with indoor and outdoor pools.
After Ione O'Brien died (keeping an eye on the place to the end, with her bedroom installed next to the kitchen) the hotel passed to her grandson, Seamus. He's based in Singapore, but has had the wherewithal to invest in his grandmother's property. Two long-standing staff members, James and Rebecca Coonan, manage the hotel with commitment.
Park House is a hotel for today that was created yesterday. It has all the elements I look for: a notable location; a sense of its legacy; lack of pretension; high standards and attention to detail. A great find.
- Bepton, near Midhurst (01730 819000; www.parkhousehotel.com). Doubles from £150 per night, including breakfast. Specially adapted rooms for guests with disabilities.