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Ockenden Manor

Hollie McKenna escapes to the West Sussex Countryside, at Ockenden Manor West Sussex

The Blurb

In the charming village of Cuckfield, West Sussex, lies Ockenden Manor: a quaint country manor house hotel with 28 uniquely decorated rooms, a purpose-built spa and an award-winning restaurant.

If you haven’t visited this part of the country, just imagine the opulent Farm Shops of Hampshire and Hobbitton-like villages of the Cotswolds. Then add a nearby coastline shaped by thousands of years of battering from invasions (and weather), plus a few lay lines and practising druids. Mix this all together and I think you’ll have a good idea of what it feels like to be immersed in the middle of the South Downs on a misty March day: luxurious architecture with mystical countryside.

If I had to find one word for Ockenden Manor itself, it would be peaceful. The manor is surrounded by a panoramic view of Cuckfield Park and the hills beyond it. The site is steeped in history, from its beginnings in the 1500s before burning down and reerection in the Elizabethan era (note the small rooms and Tudor panelling) to its brief time as a Jewish Boy’s school in the 1900s and then as shelter to Canadian troops in the Second World War.

Inside there are remnants of the old world, with wood panelling and roaring fireplaces in every room and a homely farmhouse energy throughout. There are cosy little nooks that you could spend many a winter’s evening in whilst touring the extensive wine list, or for the summer months, the patio doors in the restaurant open right out onto a beautiful terrace with stunning views. The scent of lilies and old wood fills the hallways.


We stayed in Par, a Spa suite. In juxtaposition with the rooms in the main building at Ockenden Manor, the spa suites have a Los Angeles vibe. The room is spacious and warm, opening out to a semi-private courtyard. What a treat it is to wake up to the view, with the park’s ancient trees and early morning dog walkers. There are all the usual amenities: a stylishly built-in TV and coffee maker, a living space with a sofa, and blackout curtains. The bathroom is the cherry on the cake: with a rainforest shower, a separate toilet, and a lavish stand-alone bath next to wooden shutters that open out to the rest of the room, so you can look straight out of the courtyard doors whilst having a soak in the tub. If I’m honest, I wasn’t a huge fan of some of the decor, but it’s clear that the hotel has been carefully designed to have older and younger guests in mind, which is reflected in the visuals as well as the facilities.


The hotel boasts an extensive wine list, showcasing Sussex’s vineyards as well as wines from across the world. For dinner, we go with a rather tasty bottle of Meridia Sangiovese red. After a taster of homemade sourdough and smoked butter, my guest and I both start with a beautifully presented Home Smoked Loch Stuart Salmon. It’s perfectly fresh, tasting more like Sashimi than any smoked salmon I’ve ever tried. The fish goes perfectly well with fresh pea shoots, taramasalata and crunchy croutes.

For mains, I have the Slow Roasted Porchetta, which comes with a delicious jus, butternut squash purée, tongue-tingling roasted pickled carrots, crackling and an earthy black pudding. My guest ordered the Roast Chump of Spring Lamb served with olive tapenade and smoked tomatoes. This is a new combination of flavours for such a setting and makes for an amazing dish. The crispy croquette is delicious too – filled with ground lamb and spices.

For dessert, I order a rich yet creamy Chocolate Mousse with a tart black cherry sorbet, creamy lemon creme fraîche and hazelnut praline. It’s light yet rich in flavour, and exactly what I need after indulging in the previous courses. My guest goes for the Almond Frangipane with clotted cream ice cream and caramelised apple, which is very rich and flavourful.

Breakfast at Ockenden Manor is elegantly done with a small but high-quality spread of homemade items including cereal, a moreish banana bread, fresh croissants and orange juice. I also taste some incredibly good coffee and perfectly poached eggs on the Vegetarian Breakfast that I greedily order alongside the buffet.

The Spa

The spa presents as a modern paradise, with bright orange rectangular architecture on the outside and sleek design on the inside. A viewing platform makes the entire space – indoor and outdoor pool and jacuzzis, a steam room and a Swedish Sauna – feel circular and connected. In spa hotels, the gym often feels like an afterthought, but the gym here is more like a yoga or dance studio; very much in keeping with the connected spirit of things. There are also tea and Nespresso facilities on tap and lots of places to sit inside and out.

The Worst Thing

The spa is child-friendly at certain times of the day, which could be considered a positive or a negative depending on your needs. I think this creates community, as it provides locals with a pool where they can bring their children, but it does alter the mood of the place dramatically and it’s hard to stay on top of maintenance when children are playing excitedly in the space. If you’re planning a visit during daylight hours for a relaxing sauna and a read of your favourite book, it would be best to check your timings first.

The Best Thing

The food was divine and insanely good value for money at £65 for 3 courses per person. I couldn’t believe it! The menu didn’t have as many selections as some restaurants, but what it lacked in choice it made up for in fresh local ingredients and wonderful quality. It was everything I could have hoped for. Also, I must mention the staff at the hotel: keen-eyed, warm and welcoming.

The Details

Rooms start at £230 per night

Cuckfield, West Sussex, RH17 5LD

Phone: 01444416111