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Ockenden Manor | The Times Spa Guide



The Times Good Spa Guide | 21 January, 2013

Ockenden Manor Hotel & Spa

A South Downs spa fed by its own spring. By Laura Ivill

USP When the founder of the beauty and spa brand Ila was looking for another country retreat to partner with, she found that this West Sussex hotel has it’s own spring. In the world of spa, “having your own spring” is like finding the holy grail (or perhaps that’s “holy water”). The spring feeds the new purpose-built spa in the grounds of Ockenden Manor, a building that dates from Elizabethan times. In wood cladding, glass and steel, the spa opened at the beginning of 2012 and is clearly a popular amenity for the good people of Haywards Heath, as well as a draw for hotel guests. Six spacious spa suites have been discretely added to the top of the building, and open on to the spa’s roof terrace garden. From inside your suite, you will wake up to tranquil views over parkland to woodland beyond, nothing but green in sight, and a herd of black Sussex cows mooing while they graze.

Ambience The simple décor of pistachio and whipped cream complements the parkland setting, of which much is made and which you can enjoy whatever the season: the 15m indoor pool is a swim-through affair to the 11m outdoor pool, and will be heated to around 30C when the weather’s less than scorching. On the outdoor terrace, with sun-loungers occupied by guests sipping bubbly in the summer, there’s a designer fire-pit for colder days and a hot tub. This was my favourite zone — lying back, staring idly at a giant conifer in the garden, the steam rising into a crisp autumn afternoon, the bubbles massaging my toes, I could let thoughts drift away and think of absolutely nothing. How perfectly restful. In the interests of research, I visited the steam room, sauna, walk-through tropical shower and more (all get a big tick), but the hot tub kept drawing me back; an absolute treat.

Quality of experience If I said that the rose oil that Ila imports direct from the co-operative growers in India (the petals picked at dawn and distilled on site over cow dung) costs £10,000 per litre, it gives you an idea of the purity (and headiness and right-on-ness) of this one ingredient. Incorporated into my Chakra Wellbeing massage, I surrendered myself to the expert hands of Leah. For two hours she exfoliated me with salt crystals from Kashmir, and massaged me with essential oils, finishing with hot oil poured onto my third eye. It was all expertly performed and set to an unusually listenable piece of spa music, “rhythmic modern Indian”, I’d call it. I left in a haze of luscious sent that lasted all evening.

Food and drink The spa café is a stylish setting – open and spacious — with cappuccino leather seating and an assortment of crushed-velvet sage cushions. The menu is quite short, and quite pricey. My superfood salad of couscous, quinoa, smoked beetroot, feta and pomegranate was light and tasty, but at £13 for the large portion, left me feeling empty and a bit short-changed. The cucumber, lime juice and mint smoothie, at £5.50, turns a good profit, too. Over at the hotel, however, Michelin-star chef, Steve Crane serves up a special-occasion menu that’s perfectly judged — the saddle of Balcombe venison was melt-in-the-mouth tender.

In-crowd Well-heeled locals join as members (around 350 so far) and bring their well-behaved youngsters during “family hours”. Gatwick-bound holiday-makers overnight here before an early flight. Weekenders take country walks on the South Downs and kick back in the spa after being tied to their desks all week. Ila junkies travel for their fix, while ladies who lunch treat themselves to the Ladies that Spa day package and a glass of sparkling English Ridgeview.

Wallet watch Use of the spa is free to hotel guests. Chakra Wellbeing, £160 for two hours. To be a member of the spa costs £300 one-off joining fee or £500 per couple, then £100 per person per month thereafter or £1,100 per annum upfront.

Need to know Spa suites from £395; doubles in the hotel, from £190, both including breakfast. Ockenden Manor Hotel and Spa, Cuckfield, West Sussex RH17 5LD (01444 449191,