Advantages Good rooms, well organised conference facilities
Disadvantages If you aren't there for a conference, you could feel very 'left out'.
|Value for Money|
I'm a member of an industry association that holds a two day meeting every year in spring and we move the venue around between different hotels, typically in the Midlands. Last year we were in Rugby at the Dunchurch Park which had excellent conference rooms but dreadful accommodation. This year, the organisers found a new place for us to use - Ettington Chase near Stratford upon Avon.I travelled down from the North West on the day of the conference and my sat nav had no problems finding the hotel. When I pulled off the road into the car park I found a very beautiful old building that looked like a Victorian vicarage but was completely swamped by the size of the new wing. As so often happens, the website shows lots of pictures of the old building and not so many of the rather characterless red-brick block that provides most of the rooms.
I parked up and headed for reception which is located in the old building where the staff pointed me in the direction of the conference rooms. Passing out of the old and into the new building, I came to the restaurant, a large coffee and tea zone and then to the conference rooms. Further along the corridor was the bar and the entrance to the swimming pool and after that the bedrooms.Ettington Chase really is much more of a conference venue rather than a hotel. I think that if you booked this and weren't there for a seminar or a wedding or similar event you would possibly feel a bit cut off and isolated. I've read other reviews where guests have complained of being the only people at the Chase who weren't booked in with a large group and they clearly felt a bit 'odd' about being there. Our group wasn't particularly large and a lot of people were a bit peeved to discover that the pool wasn't opened during our stay - perhaps they have a threshold number of guests before they open it? I don't know but it was disappointing especially as the photos on the hotel website show that it's a gorgeous looking pool.
We had two conference rooms, side by side with one laid out for presentations and the other set up for sponsor displays and posters. In the first session the chairs had been laid out directly behind each other instead of being off-set and this meant that the visibility was restricted. I was surprised that a specialist venue such as this would make such a basic mistake. A dais had been built for the speakers and the organisation used a sound and vision engineer who'd been recommended by the hotel and everyone was really pleased with his work. The room had lots of natural light and didn't get too stuffy although the temperature control at times was somewhat erratic.Coffee breaks were quite well organised with 3 or 4 coffee dispensers set up in the corridor and plenty of seating for those who wanted it. We were well supplied with cookies and cakes which - considering we're an association that deals with confectionery and sweet bakery products - was quite brave of the organisers.
Lunch was served in the restaurant and was a hot and cold buffet. There were no complaints about the amount or quality of the food although the layout was a bit confusing. You started at the end with the puddings and made your way towards the starters - a sort of 'living your life backwards' system.The conference dinner was served in a large meeting room and the service was exceptional. We have a very complicated quiz during the dinner that can be a challenge for waiting staff because we're a bit unpredictable with regards to timings. There were no problems at all. The food was 'not bad' with the exception of a truly dreadful watercress soup that was so salty that it almost hurt to eat it. Considering that part of our day had been talking about legislation to reduce salt in bakery products (something that's caused all manner of traumas for manufacturers) it was a bit of an insult to be reminded that the food service industry seems oblivious to the constraints of normal food manufacturers.
Since many readers won't be too interested in the conference facilities, I'm guessing they'll be more interested to know what the rooms were like. I have to confess I was really surprised at how good they were especially after the rotten accommodation of the previous two years. My room had clearly not long been renovated and was in excellent condition and decorated with quite a sense of flair with a lot of mid-brown wood in rather an Italian style. The desk was plenty big enough to work at (I hate hotels that give you a desk that's too small or is cluttered up with a television and a kettle and lots of annoying brochures and such like). There was a flat screen TV which I didn't turn on so I can't confirm the channel selection, a large room safe which the hotel seemed to be encouraging everyone to use, a trouser press and iron and a tea and coffee tray. Nothing that you wouldn't expect but nothing missing either. Internet access was available by buying a 'scratch card' from reception and cost in the region of £5 for an hour which unfortunately was a '60 mins from login' rather than a log-in-log-out 60 minutes. I spent very little time in my room but was pleased with the massive improvement compared to the previous year's conference venue.Some people were allocated fabulous rooms in the old part of the hotel and I did rather kick myself for missing out on that opportunity although I still liked my standard bedroom. If you were to consider Ettington for a weekend away in Stratford and the Cotswolds, I'd seriously suggest to ask if they have one of the rooms in the old building available - and pay a little more if you have to. The Principal Hayley chain who own Ettington seem to be sending me promotional emails every few days at the moment so I'm guessing that they are desperate and the deals you can get are excellent. That's the problem with being a conference venue in the middle of a recession.
The only thing that I really didn't appreciate about this hotel was the check in and check out service. To try to keep things simple for the hotel, all the delegates who had booked on the official conference rate were asked to complete their registration cards during the meeting so that the reception could get everything ready more efficiently. It didn't work at all. I was one of the people who'd booked my hotel online because the hotel wouldn't match the price I'd found with a booking site and fortunately I got to the desk before a lot of other people. Even so, I had a long wait. A single member of staff was dealing with the registrations and didn't appear to have taken any advantage of being given most people's details in advance. She was happily answering the phones and keeping everyone waiting even longer. Once I'd got my key I asked her to please try and get some more staff to help because the line was getting ridiculous. Initially it included people who either wanted to know why the pool wasn't open or were trying to get a WiFi code - most of these gave up in frustration and left. Check out the next day was just as bad with only one person on the desk yet again. It felt as if they really didn't care that much and since the reception had been told at what time to expect everyone, there really wasn't any excuse for the poor manning levels.We should be going back again next year - I'll be trying to get myself one of the nicer rooms and if I strike lucky I might even drag my husband over to stay with me
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