Great British Boltholes: Ockenden Manor, Cuckfield, West Sussex

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  • Time for a detox? Or some indulgent downtime? Then slip away to this peaceful spa hotel

    Time for a detox? Or some indulgent downtime? Then slip away to this peaceful spa hotel

    Why go? Tucked away in the well-heeled commuter belt town of Cuckfield, Ockenden Manor boasts a Michelin-star restaurant, restful gardens and spacious spa suites with views over the South Downs National Park.

    Best for: Retreating, relaxing, romance. Most guests are couples, while rail services to nearby Haywards Heath make this is a good choice for non-drivers looking for an easy getaway from London.

    And relax: the heated outdoor pool at Ockendon Manor Spa

    The look: Ockenden Manor has a split personality. The main building is a storybook Elizabethan manor house with a plush drawing room, oak-panelled bar and 22 bedrooms set in nine acres of grounds. The style here is traditional with four-poster beds in the deluxe and feature rooms. However, a short walk away lies a striking modern spa building, which opened two years ago and has a run of six light-filled spa suites set above an indoor/outdoor heated pool. These are pricey but very impressive, with calm and contemporary interiors, super-comfy beds, a pampering bathroom and a roof terrace. Just the place to hole up and recharge…

    The spa is open to outside members with full facilities including a café, steam room, gym and outdoor tub that’s good fun at night. Treatments range from a 25 minute aromatherapy massage (£51.50) to a bespoke REN Moroccan rose ritual (£196). The hotel also runs midweek expert-led yoga retreats packed full with good things for your body, from £1,124 (or £1,884 for two sharing) including two nights in a spa suite and light meals.

    Sleep well: a bedroom at Ockenden Manor

    I’m hungry: The restaurant at Ockenden Manor has had a Michelin star for many years and serves a well-executed three-course dinner (£54) with satisfying dishes such as butternut squash soup with chestnuts, wild duck breast with kale, and plum clafoutis. The dining room looks on to the garden and has a restful, grown-up mood with candles and an unimposing décor. A glass of house wine costs £6.50 with cocktails £13. Save space for the desserts created by the French head pastry chef, Minette Valette, who has written a recipe book, Pâtisserie (£14.99; Constable) that makes a good souvenir of your visit. By contrast, breakfast (included in the room rates) is disappointing with a lack-lustre buffet, weak coffee and flustered service. There’s also an exorbitant £15 tray charge if you order room service. Alternatively, you can find places to eat in Cuckfield, including the Flâneur bistro ( and modern Talbot bar and restaurant (

    While you’re there: Cuckfield is worth a wander with its pretty and predominantly Victorian Holy Trinity church that has a cemetery much bigger than you’d expect. There’s a handful of shops selling antiques, country kit and posh home furnishings, but the one to make a beeline for is Edit (1a Church St, closed Sunday, which stocks cherry-picked secondhand designer clothes and accessories. If you need some fresh air, ask at the hotel reception for their folder of suggested walks in the area, or pay a visit to Wakehurst Place ( This is a National Trust property run in with conjunction with the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, with extensive gardens, mature trees, an Elizabethan mansion and the Millennium Seed Bank where work is done to conserve endangered plants.

    Flower power: seed-inspired installations at Wakehurst Place by the artist Tom Hare ©

    Dress code: Relaxed, conservative, dinner guests make an effort.

    Book now: Ockenden Manor Spa, Ockenden Lane, Cuckfield, West Sussex RH17 5LD (0800 089 3929; In February double rooms with breakfast cost from £190, spa suites £395. Wifi and parking is complimentary. A taxi from Haywards Heath rail station takes around £10 minutes and costs £7.

    Info: Find more things to do at and, and have a laugh with the commendably witty


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