DESTINATION SOUTH WITH ALMAROSE HOTELS AND RESORTS
It was mid-November 2019, bitterly cold and on return from a sunny stay in Singapore, my only exciting prospect on the horizon was Black Friday deals. Like a deus ex machina, the Almarose angels who never fail to host a spirit-lifting FAM trip, descended with an exclusive invitation to Votel Venues…
Featuring visits to Ashford International Hotel, Hampshire Court Hotel and Norton Park Hotel, this was a southbound road trip that would afford some great views along the way! From the stunning Wine Garden of England in Kent, through to the heritage-enriched Basingstoke and finally to Winchester, England’s ancient capital, that can be temporarily regarded as a Christmas wonderland.
Not only was there a promise of a Christmas party, other activities included a wine-tasting experience at a nearby vineyard, named Hush Heath Estate. A team-building treasure hunt and a Bombay sapphire gin-tasting session would precede a fine dining experience in the manor house at Norton Park. This would be an event to truly kick off December, with an itinerary full of festive fun! Thoughts of Christmas cheer were now sweeping away the winter blues.
Ashford International Hotel
On arrival at The Ashford International Hotel, late on a Friday evening after battling traffic, their welcoming and super efficient front-of-house team checked me in at speed with a friendly familiarity that made me pause to question if I had visited previously. I felt like a regular business travel-weary guest that they knew by name and by serial late arrival.
Eyes widening slowly at the vibrant contemporary colours that were as inviting as the weekend ahead, I contemplated this four-star purpose-built hotel as an appealing place to stay for business or leisure. Soon to be a Delta by Marriot hotel, it was spacious, sleek and a convenient base to explore the local area. Conveniently located just 2 minutes off the M20 and 5 minutes from Ashford International train station for Eurostar. London St Pancras was even an easy 37 minutes via the high-speed link.
As I slid the card into the bedroom wall slot to reveal an equally clean and contemporary styled space, finished with comfortable luxurious touches; the first piece of workstation collateral that drew my attention was the glittery Christmas card that instructed the location for what would be my first Christmas party of the season!
It was held in one of their 18 impressive meetings and event rooms, the largest space of which can accommodate up to 400 delegates. The night was a success from start to finish, complete with table crackers, rocket balloons dancing around our heads a well comprised Christmas DJ set and a delicious 3-course Christmas dinner. Despite being a group of individuals meeting for the first time, our hosts did a fantastic job of gelling the group and inspiring some great dance floor moves as the night went on. Perhaps even to rival those celebrating at the large charity ball in a nearby function room.
Their onsite spa and health club are a great way to relax and recover after the excitement of such events. However, we had a wine-tasting tour to experience at Hush Heath Estate. This quite literally gave us a taste of what there was to do in the surrounding area of Kent, as well as being en route to our next venue.
Hampshire Court Hotel
It became a bit of a race actually, with teams arriving in haste to outdo each other! We hurried into The Hampshire Court Hotel, another modern, 4-star hotel soon to become a Delta by Marriot, located in the heart of the romantic Jane Austen country. As this was a fleeting visit, we were first treated to a delicious lunch before a treasure hunt-style show round. A range of dishes were prepared for us as would be for any day delegates. Familiar classics were updated and prepared with seasonal ingredients and contemporary creativity.
Keen to get stuck into the hunt, I fervently took detailed mental notes on the show round, whilst nodding as casually as my expressive face would allow. These notes are still engrained in my memory:
12 state-of-the-art meeting suites, an arena for up to 1,500 guests, free parking for 220 cars, 90 spacious bedrooms, 2700 square metres of indoor space for team building, 2 accessible bedrooms and just a 45-minute car journey to Heathrow or train ride to Central London. We also took a few memorable team photos, to ensure we would win the challenge that was to be revealed at our next venue!
Norton Park Hotel
On route towards the historic city of Winchester, we arrived at our third and final destination, Norton Park Hotel. We navigated the long, winding driveway, cutting through some of the 54 acres of countryside that the property is set on.
With 165 beautiful bedrooms, a spa and a health centre to enjoy, it was time for a little relaxation. After a quick cardio blast in the gym, followed by lazing around the indoor pool, we dressed for our dinner and gin-tasting session that was to be held in the original manor house. Dating back to the 16th century, this hotel has been skilfully restored and blends character and charm, with the addition of modern amenities and conference facilities.
Whilst we tucked into a hearty meal at the Manor, our hosts announced the winning team of the treasure hunt…
Prosseco bottles popped and our team was crowned as the winners! In return, we were asked to contribute 3 words to describe this FAM trip. Mine? A toss-up between ‘inclusive’, ‘engaging’ and ‘experiential‘ or ‘best’ ‘FAM’ ‘ever’!