Monday, 9 March 2009


G20 summit: £530-a-night suites, his ’n’ hers bathtubs and a ‘pillow menu’ await the world's leading finance chiefs

By Jason Lewis

07th March 2009

With its four-poster beds, his and hers baths and outdoor hot-tubs, the luxurious South Lodge Hotel normally markets itself as the perfect place for romantic nights away.

But next weekend the 89-room Jacobean-style mansion and its 93-acre grounds will be turned into a fortress to guard the world’s top financial leaders meeting for a controversial summit.

The hotel, deep in the Sussex countryside, will play host to the discussions which will shape how they react to the global financial crisis.

Luxurious: South Lodge Hotel is to host the upcoming G20 summit

Luxurious: South Lodge Hotel is to host the upcoming G20 summit

Yet while unemployment soars and families face mounting hardship, the G20 – the collective name for the finance ministers and central bank governors from the European Union and 19 of the world’s richest nations (many of whom are accused of contributing to the economic problems) – will want for nothing.

Normally in the quiet winter months the hotel tries to attract couples looking for a romantic weekend away.

It is currently running ‘Do Not Disturb’ deals from £250 a night. The brochure describes the offer as ‘For “grown-ups” only – a break specifically created for all those who never seem to get a moment to themselves.’

It adds: ‘Close the door on the life outside and enjoy a luxurious private junior suite equipped with a roomful of items to make your stay totally relaxing. Stylish surroundings mixed with 21st Century mod cons and sumptuous furnishings with plenty of space to just chill out. Even romantic dinners can be served in your room!’

Other treats offered by the hotel include two £380-a-night suites with baths that are side by side so couples can chat as they bathe. The twin roll-top baths are conveniently separated by a champagne holder. Other suites boast twin showers, so couples can enjoy a shower together without having to forfeit comfort.

Next week will see the world’s financial leaders flown in by helicopter to a ‘total exclusion zone’ of road blocks, CCTV cameras and razor-wire fences designed to keep out the assorted anarchists, environmentalists and anti-globalisation campaigners planning ‘direct action’ and violence which has marred previous meetings.

South Lodge is the kind of place where expensive PR campaigns like the above take place

South Lodge is the kind of place where expensive PR campaigns like the above take place

But this hotel prides itself on being the ultimate private getaway. Its brochure says: ‘Excluding all outside distractions and ensuring the undivided focus of our entire team, you can have your own distinguished country house and its grounds, plus the unequivocal attention of our award-winning executive chef and his brigade.

‘For conferences or occasions that require high levels of confidentiality and security you are able to seal off the grounds and ensure complete privacy and safety.’

Inside this protective bubble, the sumptuously appointed venue near Horsham, West Sussex, will offer the political moneymen everything from fine-dining to a choice of pillows.

‘Snuggle up,’ the hotel brochure says. ‘All our gorgeous beds each have divinely comfortable handmade mattresses and breathable hand-finished duvets.

‘But that’s not all, each room also has a pillow menu so you can choose the type of pillow to suit you and the way you sleep!’

Two award-winning restaurants will help delegates through the delicate negotiations with dishes such as quail egg, pigeon breast, sea bass ‘en papillote’, with potatoes, fennel, smoked garlic and ginger, grilled lobster and fillet of Sussex beef.

Once a weekend retreat for Winston Churchill, who was friends with its former owners, today’s political leaders, including Chancellor Alistair Darling and President Barack Obama’s Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, will be treated to what is described as ‘an irresistible fusion of the past with the present’.

The hotel also has a suite named after comedian Ronnie Corbett, though it is not known who will stay in it next weekend

The hotel also has a suite named after comedian Ronnie Corbett, though it is not known who will stay in it next weekend

Churchill’s favourite room is now a £530-a-night luxury suite, and the hotel boasts that ‘every single room is individually styled and designed so that no two are the same.

‘A choice of 89 sumptuous rooms awaits with gorgeous soft furnishings, plump cushions and quirky furniture in keeping with the stature of the house.

‘We provide flawless attention to detail and homely charm in bucket loads as well as the most spectacular views over the South Downs.’

Special features in the top-rate rooms include television screens hung above the bath and in-room spas which massage the bather with jets of water.

Bizarrely, the hotel also boasts a Ronnie Corbett suite, named after the diminutive television comedian.

Last week staff told The Mail on Sunday that their managers had said they should expect some 800 guests next weekend. At least 200 members of staff, half of them agency workers, have been booked to work and security will be tight.

The hotel sits at the end of a sweeping gravel driveway surrounded by rhododendrons off the B2110 Brighton Road just outside the village of Lower Beeding. It boasts 12 conference rooms across three floors linked by Italian marble floored hallways and staircases.

The finance ministers are expected to hold their main meeting in the ground-floor Gladstone room, which yesterday was laid out in preparation for a wedding.

Carpeted and with small tapestries on the walls, it too boasts panoramic views of the

South Downs and has an outdoor champagne bar.

The Treasury, which is overseeing the G20 meeting, has not released details of the summit venue, saying only that the meeting will take place in West Sussex. The US Treasury, however, has announced the venue as Horsham.

And residents around South Lodge have had visits from the police and received letters from the hotel telling them that ‘a high profile’ event is to take place.

The letter reads: ‘Dear neighbour, I am writing to let you know that Her Majesty’s Treasury are organising a high profile and therefore a high security meeting at our hotel.

‘It is probably going to entail a high police presence in the area but apart from this there should be no effect to your daily lives.’

Yesterday, workmen were rushing to complete work installing new CCTV cameras in the grounds.

Signs had already been posted around the bridleways and footpaths surrounding the hotel grounds alerting residents that the grounds would be closed next weekend.