Staying at a luxury country house hotel when the weather is terrible might seem like a bit of a waste – you can forget cocktails on the terrace, long country walks, or stunning photos to make your friends envious – so our trip to West Sussex spa hotel South Lodge might have seem mistimed.
However the great things about rainy day hotel stays is that there’s no obligation to do anything but head straight for the spa and stay there as long as you possibly can.
Thankfully South Lodge hotel in West Sussex, just south of Horsham, is the ideal place for that. The hotel itself was built in 1883 by Frederick Du Cane Godman (who inherited a fortune through a family connection to the Whitbread brewing company) but the modern spa is less than a year old and at 44,000 sq ft is full of everything you could ask for to wile away a rainy weekend.
There’s a 22 metre indoor pool surrounded by luxurious loungers, there’s a sauna, a herbal steam room and a marble-lined salt steam room (our favourite) – all ideal for warming us up from the wintery mix.
(Incidentally the house itself, which was sold to Exclusive Hotels in 1985 by Frederick Godman’s heirs, has a fascinating history which can be read here https://www.aahorsham.co.uk/content/southlodge)
The teeming rain didn’t deter us from venturing back outside either: while the outdoor ‘wild swimming’ pool was definitely a sun-only option, the heated outdoor hydrotherapy pool was perfectly fine in the rain and was even quite fun.
A host of sun loungers overlooking the grassy lawns sloping around from the rear of the hotel was a clue to how nice the spa experience would be in the summer time, but with a host of wellness treatments, a gym, a spinning studio and fitness classes you won’t be stuck for things to do if the weather turns poor. One changing room might be much like another but there had been a lot of thought put into the ones at South Lodge: not only were they very smart and modern, but there were added touches such as hair-straighteners, art-deco-style lighting, tonnes of fluffy towels and names for all the lockers which made it feel more personal.
Tempting as it was to remain in the spa until dinner and then dine in the spa restaurant in our fluffy robes, such attire is only allowed until 6pm and so we duly headed back to our room to dress in a more civilised fashion for the evening meal.
If you love visiting great spas then you have to read these great spa reviews!
Our corner room on the first floor, was huge and with its two King-sized beds reminded me of hotel bedrooms in Las Vegas. I wasn’t a huge fan of the brick effect on some of the walls but we weren’t lacking for amenities: as well as a large TV and a desk, various chairs, bedside tables, lamps, wardrobes, lots of plug points, complimentary water a kettle and coffee machine, there was an in-room iPad for all your hotel stay needs.
You could choose extra pillows (we immediately sent for a selection), pick a time for your turndown service and, we discovered later, read the morning newspapers (I prefer to have one delivered to my room but there was a good selection to choose from downstairs if you’re a paper-over-breakfast person).
I’m not usually keen on in-room iPads but this one seemed quite fun, even if it turned out to be only half successful: our pillows arrived but our requested turndown never materialised. It was strange not to have a fridge either in a hotel of this size and quality but one can be requested and when we phoned down for fresh milk it arrived in a matter of minutes.
The family bathroom had twin sinks, a smart tiled shower, a bath with its own TV, and the whole room set-up seemed very luxurious with its massive windows and acreage of carpet. There were some nice unique touches too including plenty of complimentary water, a master switch for lighting next to both beds, a notice next to an empty vase saying please do pick some wildflowers on the estate to decorate your room, plus Minty, the room’s fluffy lamb.
We headed back to the spa restaurant courtesy of Mike from reception who ferried us there in one of South Lodge’s golf buggies (he sweetly got some towels to dry the seats off from the pouring rain). The spa restaurant is called Botantica and is a large, airy space over the spa itself. (There is also a more formal restaurant, Tom Kemble at The Pass, in the main hotel which is more of a ‘special occasion blow-out’ kind of place.)
The menu at Botantica – which for some reason is done in a minute font – looked quirky and appealing with sections of Small Plates, Large Plates, Sharing Plates plus snacks and desserts, and had a healthy bias with lots of fish, vegetables and vegetarian options. There was obviously a lot of original thought which had gone into the menu and my only criticism of it was that it could be been far more informative.
One item was merely described a ‘Wasted’ burger and chips which meant nothing to us until we asked our waitress about it and discovered it was made from left-over carrots and beetroots from a local supplier, with chips made from potato trimmings. This was a great idea and one which could have been highlighted in the menu (not least to make it clear that this was a vegan burger – the tiny PB meaning ‘plant-based’ could have easily been overlooked).
Information about where the meat, fish and vegetables came from would be have been great too as it felt like the suppliers were probably local and organic but it would have been nice to know.
One aspect not lacking in information was the cocktail menu which was so entertaining written that we couldn’t resist trying a couple – a hefty Bloody Mary which makes my mouth water just thinking about it – and a white lime and seaweed margarita, both excellent.
For dinner itself we decided to push the boat out and go straight for the sharing plate of 26oz rib of beef with charred tenderstem broccoli, horseradish gremolata and rocket. We filled in the 20 minutes waiting time by scoffing two bowls of excellent olives and had worked up quite an appetite when it did appear.
It was certainly a memorable and tasty dish – although I had expected it to be a little hotter and glistening rather than with the air of having ‘rested’ for too long – but it was a perfect wintry indulgence and the accompanying horseradish and chips were delicious.
The next morning our plans to explore the estate further were thwarted by the never-ending rain so with the use of the hotel’s umbrellas we made it just as far as the large terrace and a sign showing that the ‘Glorious Sussex Downs’ might be somewhere in the fog, before admitting defeat and heading into breakfast.
This was in a charming room which overlooked the gardens and had a different, more modern style to the more traditional bar and lounge. There was a large choice of cereals, pastries, fresh fruits and compotes, plus some extremely nice blended fruit juices and smoothies. There was a selection of heated breakfast items such as bacon, eggs, tomatoes and sausages but as we weren’t pushed for time we opted for Eggs Benedict and Eggs Florentine, both of which arrived promptly and were excellent.
After breakfast there was just enough time for a tour of the hotel. South Lodge is really rather large, as befits a hotel which once hosted the G20 summit, with a massive conference centre at one end – which doesn’t impact on the guest experience at all – and lots of differently-furnished rooms such as a Drawing Room perfect for afternoon tea, a Lounge and the Billiard Bar which served coffee during the day and cocktails at night.
There were also little hidden treats such as a wine-tasting cellar where you could sample wines by the glass, splash or sip. This was tucked away downstairs and South Lodge not only holds events here but all guests can use it at their leisure just by getting a card at reception, but which annoyingly isn’t mentioned on check-in – we would loved to have tried some of the wines in our own personal wine-tasting. Hotels don’t want to bombard guests with information the moment they check in but a quick run-through of the highlights would be nice. Hotels should show off what makes them unique!
Some of the bedrooms at South Lodge were unexpectedly lovely too and more individual than corporate – we particularly loved Naomi, a romantic little bolt hole tucked away in the eaves. For such a large hotel, the attentiveness of the staff was especially good – during our stay Mike also found us a couple of toothpaste and toothbrush sets as we’d left ours behind – and there was always someone on hand to assist. I’d say you don’t need to wait until the weather improves before heading to South Lodge – or you could always book yourself in for two stays – one winter, one summer – and compare the two experiences. Now that would really be an indulgence.
Hotel information and how to book South Lodge hotel and spa
South Lodge hotel and spa, Brighton Rd, Lower Beeding, Crabtree, Horsham RH13 6PS
Rooms from £285 B&B in a Cosy and up to £914.00 for a Top Suite.
South Lodge is part of the Exclusive Hotels group of luxury British hotels, which also includes Pennyhill Park, The Manor House and Lainston House. Check out my reviews of those great hotels by clicking the links below: