Probably not, but after visiting Ashdown Park in Sussex last weekend, I was left thinking that llamas could be the next must-have accessory for weddings in 2011. The fluffy, friendly and very hungry llamas are reared on a farm next to the amazing Ashdown Park estate and are available, quite uniquely, for a hen do’s and weddings.
Ashdown Park itself is a rambling Victorian gem of a country house that hosts weddings all year round. Nestled deep in the rolling forests of the South Downs, this magnificent venue is only a short drive from Gatwick Airport, the M25 and central London, making it a wonderful setting for a one-stop weekend wedding, whilst having good transport links for your guests, no matter where in the world they are coming from. Smiling valets, sumptuous gilt-framed pictures and warm log fires greet us on arrival at the estate. As we walk in, it’s hard to neglect the venue’s piece de resistance sitting quietly next door, the grand chapel named the Richard Townley Suite.
Maintaining all its original features and beautiful stone carvings, the chapel has been converted to host both marriage services and wedding breakfasts. Without a doubt, it also provides one of the most dramatic dance floors I have ever seen, with high ceilings surrounded by colourful stained glass windows. The hotel is less attention-seeking but no less impressive.
A traditional air of Victorian country house living is present throughout, from the big comfy sofas to the dog-eared old books on the shelves, there is an old world charm which resonates down each hallway and in all the rooms. Strolling around the landscaped gardens or taking afternoon tea in the lounges, it feels much like we have arrived at Downton Abbey for a weekend, except the staff here are chatty and friendly rather than deferential and quiet. Ashdown Park has 106 bedrooms, all of which are widely spread to offer privacy and exclusivity.
The executive bedrooms provide stunning views of the landscaped lawns, fountains and wild roaming deer, and, if you look closely, you can even see the Llama farm over the hill. The Bridal suites are dramatic and in particular, Room 100 – ‘Magnolia’ – with its four poster bed and entire bathroom wall taken up with a rosette of stained glass, is jaw dropping. Generous portions of Molton Brown goodies, deep corner whirlpool baths and underfloor bathroom heating, make the rooms feel fresh and modern whilst also being richly antique.
After a traditional afternoon tea served in the drawing rooms, you can step into the modern world at the spa next door. Featured in the good spa guide, the country club has a swimming pool, steam rooms and a jacuzzi free for the guests.
Clean and tidy if a little tired around the edges, the spa is a relaxing way to rejuvenate you and your bridesmaids before the big day. An evening at the award-winning Anderida Restaurant is a must with its candlelit tables and resident pianist. Begin with a Champagne cocktail aperitif and go on to enjoy classic dishes such as monkfish medallions for starters and pork loin with vanilla and apple puree for main. Head chef Hrvoje ‘Harvey’ Loncarevic and his team produce highly imaginative dishes with the finest and freshest ingredients, much of which are grown within the grounds. My weak point arrived along with a tantalising dessert trolley, brimming (exactly how it should!) with a wonderful choice of profiteroles, cheesecake, chocolate fondants and much much more.
Whether you’re planning a large or small wedding, it can be catered for at Ashdown Park, with a range of rooms for civil ceremonies or partnerships and separate wings to accommodate different family groups. There is a wedding showcase held twice a year where suppliers from vintage car hire to local bespoke tailors provide offers and discounts. The venue is perfectly romantic and traditional, yet it’s range of offerings, from petting fluffy animals to taking afternoon tea on the terrace, mean there is a corner for everyone here, young and old. And finally, for those considering llamas on their big day, be prepared to be endeared by these lovable creatures, they will ensure you have a wedding to remember. Bespoke wedding packages at Ashdown Park start from £139 per person in 2011 (including vat) for a minimum of 10 guests and a maximum of 40.
Larger packages are available for a maximum of 150 guests. Deluxe Bedrooms start from £180 per room per night including full English breakfast and vat.