As we get back into the swing of things and say goodbye to the chaos of Christmas, it’s a good opportunity to take time to reflect, plan our year ahead, focus on our well-being and invest in a bit of ‘me time’. It’s often hard to actually find the time to switch off and relax in our manic daily lives, with work deadlines, chores around the house, school runs and family engagements often taking centre stage. Short of locking ourselves away in a cupboard, the concept of getting a little headspace is, for most, just a fantasy. However, the answer to this conundrum is right on our doorstep; clear your diary, turn your phone off and make your way to one of Sussex’s blissful spa hotels for an overnight stay. It may just be the one night, but we guarantee you will feel like a new person when you come out the other side.
In a bid to relieve you of the chore of scrolling through endless reviews online, Victoria Marie Emerson, our Editor here at Sussex Visitor, has taken it upon herself to carry out essential research for you, bringing you her two top spa hotel choices for 2020. Enjoy….(she certainly did!)
Ockenden Manor Hotel & Spa, Cuckfield
In a nutshell
An enchanting Elizabethan manor house with 28 opulent rooms, Ockenden Manor proudly boasts an outstanding spa, an award-winning restaurant and eight acres of beautiful grounds overlooking Cuckfield Park.
With its history and character, elegant sitting room warmed by a roaring log fire and cosy, wood-panelled bar, Ockenden Manor is a wonderful place to escape to and is less than 30 minutes from Brighton. Set in the chocolate box village of Cuckfield, with its cornucopia of enticing independent shops and cafes, a genuine and warm welcome awaits you as you arrive at the hotel, which has a comforting and charming family-run feel.
Each of the 28 rooms are set within two houses, that sit proudly within nine acres of gardens. Every room has its own character and identity at Ockenden Manor, all woven together in a maze of intriguing little corridors, nooks and crannies. From the fabulous over-sized contemporary spa suites with roof terraces to the charming period suites and elegant, individually decorated rooms, there is something to suit all tastes. As unique as the hotel itself, our room was referred to as a ‘feature room’ and oozed romance and style. With a four-poster bed, exposed beams, antique furniture, vintage style patterned wallpaper, thick and luxurious curtains framing sweeping views over the gardens, all the mod cons you’d require, plus a large bathroom with walk-in shower, the room felt like a timeless escape from the modern and manic world.
The jewel in the hotel’s crown, the Restaurant at Ockenden Manor is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, mid-morning coffee or a full afternoon tea. Led by award-winning Head Chef, Stephen Crane, the Restaurant is without doubt one of the finest in Sussex, serving exceptional dishes that showcase the very best of Sussex produce. High ceilings and original features, lavish chandeliers and an open fireplace blend harmoniously with the décor’s warm colour palette, with crisp white table clothes and fresh flowers on every table bringing bright accents. This is a truly beautiful space with far-reaching views over Cuckfield Park. We sampled the ‘Sussex Menu’ which changes seasonally and features classic dishes such as Balcombe Estate Crispy Wild Duck Breast with Braised Cabbage, Broccoli and Almonds in an Orange Sauce and an Oat Crème Brulee with a Warm Chocolate Emulsion and Whiskey Ice Cream. To complement the fantastic locally-sourced food, Ockenden Manor is proud to serve 27 local wines, from the various local wineries in the surrounding area, including those of Ridgeview Estate, Albourne Estate, Tinwood Estate, Bolney Estate, Wiston Estate, Bluebell Vineyard and Nyetimber Estate.
Modern in design but sitting harmoniously within the glorious nature of the Sussex countryside, the Spa at Ockenden Manor is a tranquil haven away from the daily grind. The overall feel is airy, cool and calm, with rooms overlooking the fields and the South Downs, all flooded with natural daylight.
Open to hotel guests and spa members, the spa’s star attraction is the expansive swimming pool that is half inside, half outside, with guests accessing the outdoor side of the pool by swimming through a door in the glass wall. Sun loungers and cosy sofas surround both sides of the pool, as well as both an indoor spa bath and outdoor hot tub, plus a walkthrough warm rain shower which is incredibly refreshing.
Eight luxurious treatment rooms, plus relaxation rooms and spaces all feature nature-inspired and calming décor and a fully equipped gym and fitness studio offer a broad timetable of classes. For those who seek ultimate rest, I’d recommend a visit to the on site Isopod, a floatation tank where saltwater suspends the body effortlessly for total muscle relaxation.
The Spa at Ockenden partners with Elemental Herbology, a luxury skincare range which combines natural botanicals with innovative technology to bring ultimate indulgence and well being to your skin, and these products are used throughout the extensive list of treatments available. I can personally recommend the Ho Leaf and Rosemary Muscle Melt treatment for anyone who suffers from stress and tense muscles. Available at both 60 and 90 minute durations, this full body massage successfully relieves pent up tension within your muscles, enhancing circulation, very nearly sending you into a serene slumber!
With a lounge serving refreshing smoothies, drinks and healthy bites, plus Ridgeview Sparkling Wine ready and waiting for those who fancy a celebratory tipple, visitors can spend a whole day indulging in pure relaxation and escapism.
Although calm and restful, the atmosphere at Ockenden Manor also sings with excitement and occasion. There is an unmistakable feeling of positivity in the air. Guests are all visiting for a slice of indulgence, whether they are celebrating a special occasion, escaping it all, on a romantic getaway or seeking to spend some quality family time together. During our visit, the hotel was alive with romantic couples, family reunions, sophisticated girly groups, including many mother and daughter combos.
The Special Touches
This is what sets Historic Hotels, the owners of the hotel, apart from the competition. It’s those little extras that places Ockenden Manor on the map. The fluffy dressing gowns, homemade biscuits, Temple Spa products, eclectic furnishings and charming vintage style tea sets in each room cannot fail to make you smile and feel at home.
Ockenden Manor offers several packages throughout the year, including overnight hotel stays with breakfast, dinner, voucher towards a treatment and spa access from £299 per person. Day trippers can enjoy a ‘Fabulous Friday’ with a spa treatment, a delicious three-course lunch, glass of Sussex sparkling wine in the hotel, and full use of the spa facilities from £165.
Be sure to visit the website for the latest offers, prices and packages.
South Lodge is an outstanding historic hotel in Sussex, offering the finest accommodation, cuisine and relaxation. Truly deserving of every one of its five stars (and more!), the hotel allows guests to escape and enjoy the luxury of the finer things in life, whilst celebrating the beauty of those that come free. With breathtaking views of the South Downs, award-winning dining, majestic rooms and the most amazing state-of-the-art spa, South Lodge has to be seen to be believed.
Elevated upon the rolling Sussex countryside, South Lodge Hotel is located just outside of Horsham and is a vast and magnificent Victorian country house, surrounded by 93 acres of opulent gardens and parkland overlooking the South Downs.
As you pull into the impressive hotel grounds, you cannot fail but be impressed by the sheer scale and character of the building. The sweeping drive is surrounded by immaculate gardens and it is this attention to detail that sets the tone for the entire stay.
As I entered into the grand reception area, we were warmly greeted by the South Lodge front of house team, with offers of assistance and a speedy check in process. As the weight of our luggage was lifted from our backs, so too was the weight of the world outside. This is a haven away from the daily grind, where luxury awaits around every corner of the impressive and maze of opulence within.
The décor is traditional and timeless, with fresh and modern accents. The history of the building itself is celebrated with artefacts that adorn the walls throughout, whilst contemporary additions such as the 3-AA Rosette restaurant ‘The Pass’ brings this once family home into the 21st century.
South Lodge boasts 89 individually styled and designed rooms and suites, all with their own character, but all linked by the common theme of fusing the past and present. With a huge range of accommodation options to choose from, South Lodge pride themselves on going above and beyond to provide flawless attention to detail and homely charm in bucket loads, plus of course the most spectacular views over the South Downs.
No matter which room you chose, you can rest assured that every bedroom has ultra comfortable handmade mattresses, hand-finished duvets and even a pillow menu. Our family suite, named West Dean, was simply divine, with an expansive bedroom area, huge windows that framed the countryside beyond, traditional and cosy furnishings, plump cushions, luxe heavy curtains and a very impressive bathroom that featured a shower that could house a whole polo team, a TV for use in the bath, a double vanity and indulgent beauty products from South Lodge’s own brand ‘The Spa.’
Widely regarded as the ultimate dining experience in Sussex, Tom Kemble at The Pass is South Lodge’s premier dining hot spot. Unlike many onsite country house hotel restaurants, this multi award-winning exterior is modern and as innovative in décor as it is in cuisine. When we first arrive, it is immediately apparent how the restaurant got its name. Propped up on high stalls, guests are quite literally dining at the pass of the restaurant, right next to the action of the kitchen beyond. Making for a very transparent experience, not only are all ingredient traceable from farm to fork, but diners are able to watch the team of highly skilled chefs craft their meal effort their very eyes. One would assume that being sat next to the kitchen, the atmosphere could at times get rather chaotic, but in contrast, what diners actually witness is a kitchen run with precision, calmness and masterful focus.
With space for just 28 lucky diners, The Pass offers an intimate experience, with a six course tasting menu which changes with the seasons. Looking around the room, it’s clear that every guest is on the edge of their seat, not only literally, but also with suspense. With so many ingenious dishes and interesting ingredients on the menu, there is an atmosphere of excitement and expectation.
Our culinary journey at The Pass begins with some canapés and an enthusiast welcome by the serving staff. The team are all experts at their roles, with an unfaltering knowledge and pride in the dishes they are serving their guests. As the first course of Delica pumpkin veloute, bay leaf and sage Chantilly and pumpkin seed praline arrives, we know we are in for a meal to remember. Every dish sings with flavour, is presented like a fine work of art and leaves the diner savouring every mouthful. Satisfying every taste, you’ll find huge variety within the tasting menu, with dishes such as Maitake mushroom risotto with 36 month aged parmesan and bitter leaves offering an earthy yet homely and warming experience and 50 day aged beef served with cevenness onion, pomme paillasson and black winter truffle offering carnivores pure rural indulgence.
For a more traditional option, South Lodge also offers guests the two AA Rosette winning Camellia restaurant where you’ll be served breakfast and come lunch and dinner time, mouth-watering dishes are on offer, all made with skill and flair. Using fresh vegetables from the hotel’s walled kitchen garden and the finest local Sussex ingredients, it has its own unique style in creating balanced, contemporary interpretations of traditional seasonal dishes.
The Spa at South Lodge recently opened in the spring of 2019, having cost 15 millions pounds to build and is quite simply outstanding in design and offering . This is a place to meet, workout, relax and eat, making it a hub of mindful activity and so much more than just a hotel spa.
Sat within the pristine grounds of the hotel, The Spa at South Lodge is designed to blend harmoniously with the rolling countryside that surrounds it, with its roof following the natural contours of the land. Surrounded by wildlife, nature and peace, the 44,000 sq. ft. Spa champions and embraces the estate’s landscape, with both the external and internal design celebrating natural beauty, with a calming colour palette of pale blues, beiges and greens used across all walls, artwork and soft furnishings. This is an expansive, bright and inspiring setting that sees wall to floor windows bringing the outside in and producing a feeling of relaxation, harmony and peacefulness.
Guests to the hotel are offered full use of the spa facilities, including the inside and outside swimming pools, thermal spa areas, state-of-the-art gym and even attendance to the full schedule of fitness classes. As with the hotel, luxury is at the forefront of the offering at The Spa, with expansive changing areas being complemented with the very best in grooming equipment, including Dyson Supersonic™ hair dryers and Paul Mitchell hair straighteners. Elsewhere, the Ridgeview Beauty Bar offers manicure and pedicure treatments using Jessica products, a premium experience at high street prices – a one stop shop for all hotel guests and non-residents.
When it comes to treatments at The Spa, you’ll find a whole variety of options available, ranging from signature massages, to glorious facials, reflexology and special spa day packages which allow the visitor to experience a combination of techniques designed to offer ultimate relaxation. Each treatment room is designed to encourage deep relaxation, whilst heat, light and sound mood pods are also available, as well as relaxation rooms for post-treatment chilling. A variety of thermal experiences are on offer, including a private mud room and infused sauna, as well as marble-lined salt steam and jasmine herbal steam rooms.
The piece de résistance of this spa has to be the trio of swimming pools, each offering a very different experience. Inside you will find a pristine 22m x10m indoor infinity edge UV treated pool, ideal for leisurely lengths whilst gazing out of the window paned walls, whilst outside, lounge chairs lead the way to a vitality hydrotherapy pool and beyond, The Spa boasts a serene heated wild swimming pool (complete with pond life!), with an attractive wooden bathing platform inviting guests to take a revitalising dip.
A trip to the Spa can be turned into a full day experience thanks to the popular Botanica restaurant, where healthy and innovative dishes, snacks and drinks can be enjoyed inside or on the outside terrace, whilst light bites, drinks and ice creams are available at poolside spot, The Watershed. A focus on plant-based, vegan and alternative foods is a passion for head chef Jonathan Spiers, who draws on the South Downs as a larder for fresh and seasonal ingredients. The Mediterranean-inspired recipes are a real talking point for members who gather daily to refuel over brunch, lunch or dinner.
This is a luxurious haven of relaxation and indulgence for the rich and famous, the romantic couple, the gaggle of girls looking for some luxe pampering, the family reunion and the sports star visiting Sussex. Wherever you look, there is a relaxed sense of occasion, a toast being raised and a memory being made.
The Special Touches
It is hard to pinpoint the special touches at South Lodge, purely because every aspect of this hotel and spa is outstanding, thoughtful, expertly presented and pure luxury.
Overnight stays are from £160 per person with breakfast/brunch (based on two sharing). Annual membership at The Spa at South Lodge is from £2000 per person and spa days are from £145 per person. Be sure to visit the website for the latest offers, prices and packages.