Queen of Retreats founder Caroline Sylger Jones reviews Ockenden Manor, Sussex where the old Georgian home and gourmet food will comfort you and the luscious spa will restore every sense
Great for a cosseting weekend break, Ockenden Manor is a country house hotel with a fine-dining restaurant, a thoroughly modern spa and views over the tranquil Sussex countryside, all set in the little village of Cuckfield (which has some great boutique shopping too). On the menu are pampering and massage treatments with Elemental Herbology products as well as de-stress, fitness, yoga and nordic walking retreats that run on set dates.
The rather fab little spa is entirely separate from the main hotel, with its own car park for non-residents, and is reached by an easy 200m walk (well-lit after dark) alongside the old walled garden. It has a rainforest walk through shower, a sauna and a rather magical steam room with tiny bronze tiles and glowing tiny lights in the domed ceiling next to a suite of eight calm treatment rooms. There’s also a well-equipped gym and a fitness studio for regular yoga and Pilates classes, an Isopod flotation tank and a nail bar.
It has a rainforest walk through shower, a sauna and a rather magical steam room with tiny bronze tiles and glowing tiny lights in the domed ceiling next to a suite of eight calm treatment rooms.
Enjoy a decent sized, heated indoor pool with a small swim-through portal to the outdoor pool (swimming outdoors in winter is particularly bliss), with a poolside Jacuzzi and an outdoor hot tub with lovely views. The mezzanine level has loungers for relaxing – with a view of the pool, and outside more loungers and a roof top sitting area give open views onto the downs which are lovely in summer.
On arrival, a receptionist hands you the key to a locker already prepared with a robe, towel and flipflops for your stay. There are private changing spaces, and the rainhead showers have generous bottles of Elemental Herbology products. Beyond the reception area is an airy space for relaxing before treatments, or meeting friends, with a range of good teas and Nespresso coffee on offer constantly. Pitchers of water filled with lime and lemons often seemed to lack water, but there are plenty of staff around to ask.
Treatment rooms are surprisingly spacious, leaving room for your thoughts to flow. Pale green walls, dark wood floors and heavy wooden doors give a sense of the earth, and each room has a wall of faced stone, whose gentle undulations are brought to life by downlighters. The Relaxation room is dark and womb-like at night, with soft reading lamps over each vast velvet lounger, and tranquil by day: just one corner of floor to ceiling window allowing in the view, to preserve a sense of privacy and give you a place to absorb your treatment.
The Relaxation room is dark and womb-like at night, with soft reading lamps over each vast velvet lounger
The hotel itself is pleasantly unreconstructed and old fashioned, dates from the 15th century and spans centuries: the comfortably aged oak-panelled bar felt 18th century, the light pretty sitting room might have been Georgian with 1930s touches, and the restaurant felt more modern: pale walls, gold and rust cushions, oversized bronze silk lamps. Gardens are informal with tall old trees, bedrooms have features such as free-standing claw foot baths and Temple Spa toiletries (though body lotion was notably lacking). Some rooms lack wow factor – if splashing out, traditionalists should choose deluxe Victoria, and modernists would be more than happy with a spa suite, one of six in the separate spa block.
This is a foodie destination, so you wouldn’t come here to detox or expect especially healthy fare, though vegetarians get their own gourmet menu
A high ceiling and lots of light made breakfast feel airy and hopeful. At night, the spaciousness and subtle lighting were a sophisticated foil for the seriously good dinner. Dishes on a short but pleasing menu combined local ingredients with artistry. Guests have a choice of fixed price menus or the gastronomic seven-course Tasting Menu. This is a foodie destination, so you wouldn’t come here to detox or expect especially healthy fare, though vegetarians get their own gourmet menu and the chef can prepare something special if you ask in advance.
From £199 per night based on two sharing on a B&B basis https://www.hshotels.co.uk/ockenden-manor.
For more wellness travel ideas check out Caroline’s brilliant site Queen of Retreats.
Caroline Sylger Jones is an author and freelance journalist who travels the world checking out spas, retreats and healthy holidays for international newspapers, glossy magazines and websites. She is the founder and director of wellness travel site Queen of Retreats.
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