x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Hotel Insider: Pennyhill Park is upmarket yet down to Earth

This old country home in Surrey, England, has converted itself into a hotel with environmental credentials as green as its surroundings.

Pennyhill Park was built more than 150 years ago, but its eco-credentials are up to date. Courtesy Exclusive Hotels
Pennyhill Park was built more than 150 years ago, but its eco-credentials are up to date. Courtesy Exclusive Hotels

The welcome

The doorman meets me at the end of a long and perfectly manicured drive. He offers to park my car and compliments me on having a good name (Ryan), which happens to be the same as his. Five-star hotels do not make natural bedfellows with the green movement but Pennyhill Park is trying. There is a "green card" on the bed for me to hang on the door. If I do, it serves as confirmation that I am happy to turn on my own lights, for the TV to be switched off rather than left on standby, that I want to reuse my towels and not have the toiletries or complimentary bottles of drinking water replaced until they are finished. The hotel literature emphasises that it is committed to energy conservation, everything is recycled, the light bulbs are low energy, and all the water used by the hotel comes from its own bore well.

The neighbourhood

Just 10 minutes from Heathrow, the hotel is in 50 hectares of rolling Surrey parkland sandwiched between Bagshot and Ascot. Neither are particularly pretty towns but they have easy access to London, attracting wealthy commuters, and of course Ascot is famous for its racecourse and royal connections. The hotel was built as a private residence more than 150 years ago and was turned into a hotel 40 years ago. The long drive gives it protection from the busy main road and it has its own nine-hole golf course.

The scene

Seven years ago the hotel built a spa. Not any old hotel add-on spa, but the biggest in the UK at more than 4,000 square metres. Local residents can become members, but at £5,000 (Dh29,930) a year, it is pretty exclusive. Lots of the guests come to use the hotel's facilities, which include eight indoor and outdoor pools and the golf course. It is also a popular venue for conferences and weddings. Four times a year the English national rugby team stay for around six weeks to train on the full-sized rugby pitch in the grounds. It is the place to stay during Royal Ascot week, though as most guests book for the following year before they leave, many are disappointed.

The service

Warm and personal. Chris, the estate manager, is keen to show off the hotel's efforts at keeping green and has bought an electric buggy to escort guests. He shows me the 900 sq m that are being turned into a kitchen garden so that the hotel restaurant can become self-sufficient in fruit and vegetables. The hotel is also big on composting, from grass and leaves to food waste. His passion for the estate, and particularly the beehives, from which guests can collect honey, is infectious.

The room

All the bedrooms are huge and named after flowers, trees and racecourses. I stayed in the old part of the hotel, which has 40 rooms (the hotel has 123 in total), all of which are being refurbished in order to keep pace with a new competitor, Coworth Park, owned by the Dorchester Collection. Heywood, where I stayed, is next to undergo the decorator's brush, but I liked its country house shabby chic look. The four-poster bed with its thick drapes will remain after refurbishment but the colour scheme will be updated in crimsons and purples. The hotel's modern wing also has large rooms with four-poster beds and a traditional feel.

I was rather concerned that the two large chandeliers were not very "eco", but as I could not find a switch to turn them on, my conscience was less troubled. The bathroom was almost as large as the bedroom and quite quirky, with its own steam room-cum-shower, a glass bath with a colour-changing light (what is that all about?) and a terrace I discovered only as I was leaving; the door was hidden behind a towelling gown and I assumed it was a cupboard. I am glad I found it though as it would have been a shame to miss the views over the garden terrace and the park.

The food

Food miles are kept to a minimum, with all the food sourced locally and the hotel raising its own chickens and bees, and produce from the kitchen garden. The one-Michelin-star restaurant, the Latymer, is housed in two connecting intimate rooms. The menu is classic with its own twist: a starter of Norfolk black-leg chicken poached in consommé with smoked eel feuille de brick cigar, a main of John Dory and scallop, cassoulet of baby squid, English asparagus, summer truffle and cauliflower risotto. With a choice of pudding or cheese, three courses costs £60 (Dh360). I stayed on a Monday night - the chef's day off and so, instead, ate a dandelion and herb salad (£7.50; Dh45) and pastille of courgette, lemon and goat's cheese (£16.50; Dh99) in the Brasserie.

Hated

The business centre is an unattractive room without natural light. The stool-style seating, with the computers on a bar, and screens attached to the wall behind, was uncomfortable to use, and made me wish I had brought my laptop.

Loved

I like massages that hurt - and this one did. The signature kodo massage (£90; Dh538), Aboriginal-style using a mix of pressure points, stretching and deep tissue massage, is one of the strongest I have experienced. And succour for the mind comes in the shape of the hotel terrace with its lily ponds and views over a magnificent cedar, thought to be 600 years old, with a trunk as large as a house.

The verdict

At first glance this is an attractive, but standard five-star establishment that you expect to be haemorrhaging waste. However, it's doing what it can to minimise negative effects on the environment without being gimmicky. All the mains electricity and gas comes from renewable supplies; the lights have timer switches; computers are switched off at night; and nearly everything is recycled on site. Food miles are at a minimum, and even the coffee and tea are fair-trade certified. Solar panels have been installed to help supply energy.

The bottom line

Prices start at £220 (Dh1,316) for a double room, including taxes. Pennyhill Park Hotel and Spa, London Road, Bagshot, Surrey, England (www.pennyhillpark.co.uk; 00 44 1276 471774).

To mark Earth Week, The National directs its focus on the environment with Green Issues, highlighting the need for education and attention to the needs of our planet.