In Depth

Ockenden Manor: Where ancient meets modern

The perfect weekend getaway for a stressed out cosmopolitan crowd

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The competition between high-end hotels to attract weekenders is blistering. The home counties are chock-full of stately hotels with sleek spas, all vying for the custom of harried urbanites in search of a luxury mini-break.

Ockenden Manor in Cuckfield, Sussex, is one to which the stressed out cosmopolitan crowd return. Its USP is luxurious accommodation in a historic house, with fine dining and a stylish spa offering an oasis in which to relax. The experience ensures guests wind down in an ambience of total indulgence.

On my first stay there recently, I was intrigued by how the experience can be divided into two halves. The historic, Grade II listed Elizabethan manor house that hosts the hotel, feels like a step back in time. Meanwhile, the ultra-modern spa attached to it is state of the art glimpse into the future.

Ockenden’s entrance is best described as unprepossessing, and is much like that of any rural pub. But you should not be deceived by its understated frontage. Once you enter, you are transported back centuries by the atmosphere of its common rooms. The front hall has beautiful low wood-beamed ceilings and pleasingly dark pink walls. The décor really captures a Tudor-vibe, with studded heavy wood doors, stone fireplace and low light.

The bar is more like a snug – low-ceilinged, intimate and inviting, with patterned carpets and comfy furniture. Upstairs is a range of classic bedrooms of varying styles. In a Sussex room, located in the oldest part of the house, you feel like a guest of Henry VIII, surrounded by oldy-worldly fixtures including dark wood panelling, four-poster beds and antique furniture. In the newer Garden wing, rooms are airier and offer sweeping views over the South Downs.

My daughter and I were allocated one of the hotel’s most modern rooms, a suite over the spa. It was capacious and chic, featuring an oversized chequerboard fabric headboard with matching sofa and chair in dark plum hues. Outside a giant shared sun deck invited us to relax while overlooking the restful greenery of Cuckfield Park. The bathroom boasted a freestanding bath with shutters linked to the bedroom, as well as a slate walk-in shower.

The spa building was constructed in a 19th-century courtyard, vestiges of which add charm – outside our hall window were ivy-clad brick walls and an old fireplace. Charm also emenates from the classic English country garden, studded with pretty verbena and plume poppies, that adorn the spa’s entrance.

We had come for a restorative break, so made our way immediately to the spa, claiming loungers on one of the sundecks. The outdoor area features two levels of loungers, a jacuzzi and a heated outdoor pool with swim-through access to larger indoor pool. The indoor pool has a built-in whirlpool, and there’s a sauna, steam room and relaxation area. Chairs and beanbags are scattered across the grass, with guests taking advantage of the lawn as well.

Retreating to the calm of the treatment rooms upstairs, I enjoyed the Five Element Aroma Massage, in which the oil used was customised to my desire for a soothing, rather than rejuvenating, massage. It worked a treat and within minutes the therapist had sent me off into dreamland while gently unfurling the knots in my upper back. My daughter enjoyed the Pre-Natal Well-Being Massage, which eased her aching muscles and gave her a much-needed sense of peace.

Ockenden also boasts unique spa features. This includes the Isopod, a flotation tank in which salt water suspends the body to give a feeling of weightlessness akin to floating in the Dead Sea. There is also a cool walk-through rainforest shower, fed by water from Ockenden's own natural underground spring.

Three flavours of water as well as tea and coffee were on offer for spa-goers, while the service was swift and friendly. Chances are that even in colder seasons the roomy spa would not feel too crowded. It has a spacious feeling, afforded by floor to ceiling windows and the plethora of sofas and sunbeds dotted about.

After an afternoon’s indulgence, we dressed and made our way back to the main house for dinner. At the back of the hotel is a large drawing room, with traditional drapes and paintings, a massive fireplace, ornate furnishings and a collection of artfully mismatched sofas and chairs. The effect is a relaxing space in which to enjoy tea or something stronger.

The drawing room overlooks the lush garden with outdoor furniture, but we were content to enjoy the late summer sun from the comfort of a plush sofa nestled in a bay window. The server brought us each a glass of bubbly.

The dining room is an elegant space, with deep raspberry walls and double doors overlooking the gardens. The food was delicate but not fussy – my starter of home-smoked mackerel was succulent, with a colourful slick of beetroot puree on the plate.

I followed it up with delicious Butter Roasted Cod, while my daughter went for items off the impressively extensive vegetarian menu, including a truffle mushroom risotto she raved about. After splitting the oh-so-rich Dark Chocolate Tart for dessert we had to skip the cheese course, and instead staggered back to our room for an early night.

After breakfast – the full English with local Sussex ingredients – and a brief morning trip to the spa we found time to wander around parts of the hotel’s nine acres of gardens. We checked out feeling rested and indulged in a one-of-a-kind hotel.

Ockenden Manor is a getaway location where ancient meets modern and both are done with panache. It deserves a spot on every weekend traveller’s bucket list.

Ockenden Manor is a member of the Pride of Britain Hotels collection (never more than 50 hotels, to guarantee quality and exclusivity). Located Cuckfield, West Sussex, the Elizabethan manor house hotel features an award-winning restaurant and a tranquil spa. An overnight stay costs from £180 per room (two sharing), including full English breakfast.

Contact Pride of Britain Hotels on 0800 089 3929 (www.prideofbritainhotels.com).

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