The Serene Ockenden Manor
‘Spa’ and ‘break’ are two words I will never tire of hearing, but add Sussex’s charming Ockenden Manor into the mix and you’ve got yourself a triple threat. Offering luxury and comfort – not to mention award-winning dining and facilities – a trip to this tranquil hideout is all that’s needed to eliminate those pesky winter blues.
Tucked away in Cuckfield, a one-time market hub and one of the prettiest remaining Tudor villages in England, Ockenden Manor boasts a rich and colourful history that spans as far back as the mid-1500s. Playing host to a number of residential owners – including John Burrell, who bought the manor in 1658 and extended it to incorporate the Burrell Room – the property has acquired various uses, eventually becoming a guesthouse and restaurant after the Second World War.
Residing in nine acres of peaceful gardens with views across the South Downs, Ockenden provides the perfect go-to for a restful getaway; and in my case, the perfect spot for a pampering weekender.
Allocated a spa suite for the occasion, our open-plan room – complete with spacious lounge and ensuite bathroom – was merely steps away from the on-site facilities and offered everything from a walk-in shower and rolltop bath to a flat screen TV, Nespresso coffee machine, iPad docking station and panoramic views from a private roof terrace. Alternatively, guests can book one of the hotel’s 28 individually furnished bedrooms and suites in the heart of the manor house.
Whilst a nap was a tempting option after a long week, the notion was trumped by the promise of acclaimed cuisine in Ockenden’s Michelin-starred, fine dining restaurant.
Under the guidance of head chef Stephen Crane, discerning diners can choose between a gastronomic seven-course tasting menu and several fixed price options including the selected Cuckfield menu – all of which are a revelation, coupled with the inspired wine list.
Seated in view of the rolling parkland beyond, my guest and I picked the latter (after plenty of wine, chatting and not much perusing), opting first for all-seafood starters of fresh, hand-dived scallops deliciously paired with home-smoked salmon, Savoy cabbage and a tangy mustard sauce; and an elegant Selsey lobster risotto, complimented by fresh herbs and winter tru es.
Our mains continued the theme with a flavoursome fillet of Newhaven landed cod, served with braised chicory, onion purée, crispy potato and a hearty forestaire sauce; plus a perfectly executed dish of line-caught sea bass on a bed of parsnip purée, baby spinach and purple sprouting broccoli, topped with a spattering of almonds.
Firm believers that sharing is, in fact, caring, my guest and I agreed to tactically split two desserts: a textbook, gooey chocolate fondant matched with salted caramel and a homemade milk ice cream; and a delectable selection from the abundant cheese trolley, complete with homemade piccalilli and quince jelly. A fitting end to a string of exceptional courses.
Having practically rolled to our suite and onto my sumptuous bed, a self-inflicted food coma certainly made for a restful night’s sleep, before you guessed it – breakfast.
Back where it all started, in the dining room, options included an à la carte menu and continental buffet; and despite my pledge to go for the latter (‘something light’), I succumbed to a tasty plate of scrambled eggs and smoked salmon…and maybe a few pastries. Perfecto.
Continuing the finesse is the harmonious spa; a blend of modern design and nature’s inspiration. Purpose built inside a 19th-century walled garden, the contemporary airy structure contrasts and complements its periodic neighbour. Guests – day or residential – can unwind in some well-earned pampering in one of the eight beautifully appointed treatment rooms, soak in the heated indoor swimming pool with a swim-through section to the al fresco pool or work out in the state-of-the-art fitness suite and studio.
On this occasion, I was signed up for a 60-minute bespoke body massage aptly named What’s Not To Love. An indulgent therapy that combined acupressure to detoxify, relax and invigorate, it was just what the doctor ordered, tailored exactly to my stresses and strains.
A stay to remember, this idyllic manor house hotel is bursting with character and just an hour from London and 20 minutes drive from Gatwick, proffers an escape of sorts. Relaxed, rejuvenated and reacquainted, here’s to an imminent return…