Tracy Ramsden discovers a luxurious hideaway where gastronomy meets spa perfection. We’re going to call Alexander House our new happy place
Because it’s rare to find a spa hotel that ticks all the boxes – extraordinary spa treatments, culinary decadence and damn fine bedrooms to boot. So when you discover such a place, as we did at Alexander House Hotel & Utopia Spa in the Sussex countryside, it’s worth shouting about. This is special occasion territory – a romantic weekend away, a big birthday/ anniversary, or a treat for your favourite pal – so as such, don’t expect raucous hen dos or boozy girly weekends, unless of course they’re particularly chic gatherings. Save this minibreak for a more personalised escape, a full-body recharge and one to remember long after the post-spa glow has faded.
The food is exceptional (more on that later) but the unique spa menu and facilities will be what you’ll write home about. The Utopia Spa is like an underground cocoon of calm, part mock-Grecian marble columns, part sleek, blue-black tiling. There’s a hydrotherapy pool, sauna and steam as well as swimming pool. If you’re brave enough in winter, there’s also a Scandi-style outdoor hot tub in the Zen garden. Making good use of one of the 25 treatment rooms (the spa menu covers everything from nails and hair, to facials and reflexology), I opt for the ila Manipura Full Body Massage (85 minutes, £125). Unlike a traditional massage, all motions were upwards and intended to move energy up and encourage rejuvenation. After a full body exfoliation using Himalayan salt scrub (abrasive but surprisingly gentle) the therapist interspersed the upwards kneading by rubbing her hands together to create almost wave-like sounds that added to the multisensory approach. Seriously, even my fingernails went into chill-out mode. A mid-treatment shower left my winter-battered skin with a soft, silky sheen and a gorgeous lemongrass scent. Finishing up with a full body massage, the argan oils that form the basis of ila’s wonder products worked their restorative magic. I can’t remember what happened next, I had drifted off into an epic nap. The products were a revelation though – ila, which means ‘earth’ in Sanskrit is a holistic, organic brand, British-made in the Cotswolds. I couldn’t resist picking up the ila Body Scrub For Energising And Detoxifying (250g, £47) as a souvenir on my way out. Rude not to, really.
The country manor house is unpretentious, classy and traditional, with no gimmicks. What little remains of the original 1700s farm building – before what can only be described as the world’s most elaborate extension arrived and the spa hotel was opened in 2006 – is original wood-panelled walls, oak flooring and beautifully landscaped lawns. We’ve already made a note to return in the spring to see the rhododendrons in full bloom beneath the 200-year old monkey puzzle tree. But it’s winter now, and indoors is better, where roaring log fires and super squashy leather armchairs are just the ticket for hunkering down with the Sunday newspapers. The rooms were spacious, well-equipped and had beautiful sash Georgian windows overlooking the manicured lawns. The multi-way shower was a particular high point, as were the beds with the kind of Egyptian cotton ‘hotel linen’ that you spend your life trying – and failing – to recreate at home. As ever, the little touches went a long way, such as the LOccitane cleansing wipes left beside your bed to remove your make up at night; the canapé selection in the cocktail bar (beetroot and carrot crackers never tasted so good); and the espresso martinis deserve a mention, too. But the best was yet to come at dinnertime
The in-house restaurant, AG’s is a 3 AA Rosette adventure in fine dining, without the uncomfortable formality. Side note: the waiters were brilliant, knowledgeable and just the right side of attentive. The dining room has the old-school glamour of a classic London hotel but in place of faded grandeur were cool, teal velvet chairs that popped out against the crisp white linen tablecloths. We went for the 10-course tasting menu with paired wines (£125 per person) and worked our way through tartare of longhorn beef, with oyster emulsion and smoked egg yolk – a ridiculously delicious combination especially washed down with a light Pinot Noir. What followed was a meander from cod, through to scallops and partridge before ending with a bittersweet blackberry souffle with bourbon and marmalade ice cream. This wasn’t just a meal, it was an epic four-hour gastronomic adventure that never felt like a sensory overload as some fine dining menus can. The perfectly selected wines ranged from a deep, full-bodied Merlot to the lightest Sauvignon Blanc, each one a delight. In short, we’re already plotting our return to try next season’s menu.
A dinner, bed and breakfast break with full use of the Utopia spa at Alexander House, starts from £137 per person. Book here