As I’ve got older, more tired and more lined, my love of spas has grown. Hardly surprising is it? Where once a good night’s rest and a few days off the booze would leave me plump of face and glowing of cheek, now it takes a little bit more to get me looking my best. While I would love to be a regular spa-goer, the potent combination of lack of time, money and a job that sends you to them (something I was lucky enough to once have) means that it’s a fairly rare occurrence, but perhaps that just makes the times I do go even more special.
Last week I spent a night at Ockenden Manor, a really rather fabulous hotel in Cuckfield, a really rather fabulous village in West Sussex. Children at home, mum as my very willing travel partner, I was free to indulge in the spa, in the restaurant and possibly in the most exciting thing of all, lots and lots of sleep. Now, West Sussex isn’t generally known for its spas. Hampshire – yes (Lime Wood, the Four Seasons and Chewton Glen are the big hitters there), The West Country, (Babington House, The Bath Priory, Royal Crescent and Lucknam Park) and of course, all those big gleaming spas just on the outskirts of London. But, West Sussex, for some reason not so much. However, Ockenden Manor is a brilliant little find.
Whilst the main hotel is an Elizabethan manor house, all four-poster beds, cosy nooks, fireplaces and wood panelled rooms, the spa is like a contemporary space ship with a dark red/brown exterior, glass walls, a large indoor/outdoor pool and six suites with big bedrooms and huge bathrooms (oval tubs, wet rooms and heated floors) opening out onto a shared terrace. Now, it’s not in the same league as Chewton Glen, Limewood and Babington, but frankly where is? More to the point, the price reflects it. Whereas you have to take a small mortgage to spend a weekend at Babington House, a night here is much more doable.
Food is great (there’s a Michelin-starred restaurant which is really quite informal), the staff are lovely and the views over the Downs are stunning. And the spa? The spa is great. While I don’t go to spas that often these days, I visited a lot as a travel writer, so I have a good idea about what works and what doesn’t. The main thing being the quality of the treatments, which at Ockenden Manor were superb. Using REN and ila products as the corner piece to the spa menu, Ockenden Manor has taken a holistic approach to therapy. Ila in particular, is a wonderful brand, aimed at treating both body and mind, with the therapist focusing on the body’s marma (energy) points as part of the treatment. The Rainforest Rejuvenation facial (involving cleansing, lymphatic drainage massage and the use of hot poultices to stimulate the skin) is not only sleep-inducingly relaxing, but also leaves your skin plump and glowing (ask for Gina, she is, ahem, a Gina-ius when it comes to facials). While therapies such as the Chakra wellbeing (during which your chakras are rebalanced) and the Bio Rhythm ritual (to restore the body’s natural balance) will appeal to those of you (like me) who like to try something a little different from the norm. My skin (tired at best) looked amazing after the treatment, as did mum’s. So much so, she went on to buy all her products. And, what better reflection on a treatment is that?
Go: For a girlie night or weekend. It’s not a hard-core spa so alcohol and calorie-rich food is served. Rooms from £190 including breakfast.
Cuckfield: Take time to visit the Neilson Boutique, (where mum bought an Isabel Marant cardigan, which obviously, I shall steal) Edit (for second-hand designerwear) and Flaneur (for French-inspired homeware and cappucinos)