Contributor/ Alexander Larman
Best Known For
Set in a charming Sussex village, the much-beloved Ockenden Manor has always been highly rated thanks to its sleek combination of old-fashioned comfort and contemporary slickness. Those who want to pretend that they’re living in a country house fantasia should lurk in the oak panels and beams of the original house, whereas those who are more interested in cutting-edge style should make a beeline to the spa complex. Or, as in our case, mix the two together.
The Good Stuff
If you need two reasons to visit Ockenden, they are the spa and the food. The spa offers a dizzying range of treats, from outside hot tubs and pools to a range of treatments that are significantly more enjoyable than the average. An hour’s ‘iso-pod therapy’, which involves placing oneself in the sort of tank beloved by those who, Garbo-like, ‘want to be alone’ is something of an unexpected treat; prepare yourself for the strange feeling of being entirely buoyant and it’s quite an experience. And anyone visiting has to try the Michelin-starred cuisine from chef Stephen Crane, which mixes French and British elements with aplomb. The starter of crab lasagne, in particular, is the sort of thing that can reduce otherwise sensible people to pathetic little wails of delight. There’s a good wine list too, with a decent variety by the glass.
City slickers meets country bumpkin? Not quite, but there’s a nice mixture here. Middle-aged couples celebrating birthdays or anniversaries rub shoulders happily with younger and trendier types who seem intent on getting in some serious spa time. The friendly and personable staff seem exceptionally good at making sure that everyone feels at home.
Inside The Hotel – 8/10
We stayed in the so-called ‘spa suites’, which are very luxurious indeed (apart from an oddly firm mattress on the bed). Bathrooms are every bit as palatial as you’d hope for, and a particularly nice touch is a roof terrace outside, which offers some impressive views over the Sussex countryside, as well as over the swimmers and bathers below. In the main house, the feel is that of country-house grandeur, but the dining room, set within a conservatory, offers a welcome feeling of space and light, especially at breakfast time.
Outside The Hotel – 7/10
The village of Cuckfield is, surprisingly, something of a fashion haven, with several high-profile boutiques including Edit and Neilson; the latter was described by the Telegraph as one of the best in the country. Otherwise it’s the usual that you’d expect from an upmarket Sussex address, with some lovely Georgian buildings that make one covetous of being able to retire down here one day.