Walking into a really gorgeous hotel room can be such a bittersweet moment. There is the initial reaction of ‘Wow! This is really, really nice….!’ and delight that this is actually all yours for the next 20 hours or so. Then there is the sudden realisation of ‘Oh, but then I’m actually going to have to leave here and go home…’ Followed by: ‘Why can’t I live here forever?’
Such is the effect of walking into a room at Ockenden Manor Hotel and Spa, a 17th century old country house set in nine acres of land, which has a first-class luxury spa facility neighbouring the hotel and which is owned by Historic Sussex Hotels.
While the rooms in the hotel itself are older and more traditional, I was staying in ‘Clara’, one of the newly-done up rooms above the spa itself. The room instantly gave off a feeling of impeccable luxury, but in a nice, comfortable, relaxing way, rather than a starchy, soulless, hotel sort of a way.
It was vast, for one thing, so even though it contained a huge double bed, a sofa, comfy chairs, umpteen cushions, TV, desk and so on it still had ample space for acres of nothing but immaculate carpet.
There are two more hotels in the Historic Sussex Hotels group – check them out below!
Then there was the gorgeous bathroom with a huge and inviting bath, immaculately styled in slate tiles and with a separate loo, walk-in shower and hatch-style doors meaning you could sit in the bath and chat to people in the bedroom if you wanted to, or shut them off entirely if that’s more your type of thing.
But the crowning glory of the room, which contained all the extra little touches like a bottle of Hildon water, posh shampoos, a variety of magazines, iPod speakers and so on, were the French windows which could be rolled back to allow you to step onto your own personal patio on the roof of the spa below. Just beyond, were sun loungers and more table and chairs – for exclusive use of the guests – and then a wonderful view over the green and rolling Sussex Downs.
With the Saturday afternoon sun and a gentle breeze ruffling the curtains, it was hardly surprisingly that within minutes of arriving I decided that this would be the perfect place to live for, say, a year or so.
But for now, lounging around in my own private palace was out of the question. I had a spa treatment to get to, all of a 10 seconds walk away. I’d been booked in for a Manipura full body treatment which was 90 minutes of pure pampering: a Himalayan scrub (according to the blurb) to ‘purify and detoxify the physical and subtle bodies’ followed by a message ‘stimulating and balancing the solar sun vitality within us.’
Once I’d recovered from having to wear the biggest, baggiest pair of paper pants I’d ever seen – seriously, these were sumo-wrestler-sized – I was more than happy to be scrubbed all over with a gloopy salty mix. After I’d showered all the gunk off, my lovely new smooth skin was massaged from my toes to my shoulder blades and my chakras reignited (I’m guessing – it was slighty odd having my stomach massaged but mainly because I felt sorry for the woman who was having to do it) and I emerged into the cool of the early evening feeling extremely well looked after.
As well as a full range of treatments in its eight treatment rooms, the spa has indoor and outdoor pools, a rainforest shower, gym, and outdoor hot tub and even an Isopod salt water flotation tank for the ultimate in relaxation.
Ockenden Manor is in the heart of Cuckfield, a pretty West Sussex village not for from Hayward’s Heath and the M23, and it was there I headed, chakras aglow, in search of a pre-dinner drink. I found the perfect place, the White Harte Inn, which had low, exposed beams, three guest ales and friendly locals and after a quick restorative I emerged back into the night, post-massage and pint, ready for a quick shower before dinner back at Ockenden Manor.
Due to a wardrobe malfunction, namely leaving the left half of my pair of heels back in London, I emerged from my room looking quite smart in a little black dress… and a pair of running trainers. This made the short walk along the drive to the dining room in the main hotel building rather smooth, but my arrival at the reception rather embarrasing. Thankfully the dining room itself was dark and the tablecloth long so I could hide the offending footwear out of sight.
The restaurant, under head chef Stephen Crane, claims to have ‘some of the finest food in southern England’ which is quite a boast. Judging by my starter of hand-dived scallops, with assiette of cauliflower and perigord truffle, it was a claim well made, as it was really delicious, full of flavour and the scallops cooked superbly.
I had chosen a glass of champagne to start and earned a smile of approval from the Italian waiter when I went for a glass of Italian red to accompany my main course of Sussex lamb. Rather than just any one part of the animal, the chef had gone for the whole works, including saddle, breast, various parts made into falafel and croquettes and, rather alarmingly, a sliver of tongue splayed across the plate.
The whole thing was rounded off beautifully by the arrival of the cheese trolley and an extremely knowledgable waitress wielding the knife and fork: I chose fairly randomly right across the selection, from goat’s cheese to blue, via hard cheeses such as comte and some deliciously gloopy soft ones, and while she had placed them on my plate when I had selected them, at the end she revealed with a flourish that they were in order, from mild all the way up to strong-tasting.
I was asked, but not pushed, if I wanted to take my coffee in the hotel bar, but I was content to merely peer in while passing and head back to the fabulous Clara.
The bed was astonishingly comfy and the soft pillows and sheets made for 10 hours of dreamless bliss. Back to the dining room for breakfast of cereal, toast, scrambled eggs and smoked salmon and then a choice – to swim, steam and sauna or to read the Sunday papers in the morning sun as it warmed the secluded roof garden? It was no contest.
Hotel information and to book Ockenden Manor
Ockenden Manor Hotel & Spa is one of the Pride of Britain hotels, a consortium of 50 privately-owned independent British hotels. A one-night stay costs from £189 per room (two sharing) including breakfast and a junior spa suite like Clara costs from £299 per night.
Ockenden Manor, Cuckfield
Haywards Heath, West Sussex RH17 5LD
Ockenden Manor is part of the Historic Sussex Hotels collections which also includes the excellent Bailiffscourt and Spread Eagle hotels, both also reviewed on ALadyofLeisure.com:
Editor’s note: This article was originally published in March 2018 but has been edited and updated for accuracy and relevance