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Secrets of Sussex: Historic retreats, fine dining and world class wines

Words by James Massoud

Drive south outside of London for an hour and you will find yourself in Sussex, a county that offers a depth of history, stunning countryside, a beautiful coastline and – believe it or not – world-class vineyards.


The Queen’s Suite is the oldest part of the building, circa 1430. Named supposedly after Queen Elizabeth I who stayed there, it features an original wig closet – believed to be the last of its kind still in existence.

The Spread Eagle in Midhurst is one of the oldest coaching inns in the country. Dating back to the 1400s, The Queen’s Suite is the oldest part of the building, circa 1430. Named supposedly after Queen Elizabeth I who stayed there, it features an original wig closet – believed to be the last of its kind still in existence.

Indeed, The Spread Eagle has quite an impressive guest list throughout its 600-year history: Kind Edward VII, HG Wells and Guy Fawkes have also stayed here! In fact, directly outside the Queen’s Suite is a lounge area named after King Edward VII, which is said to be haunted by a coachman!

Much of the original features have been preserved as best as possible with vintage ornaments and relics that have been discovered hidden within the building proudly on display. These range from strips of wallpaper from 1870, to nails circa 1750 and even a tin of rodent kill from 1934!

One of the best things to do here is to have a drink in the oak panelled sitting room and simply soak up the magnificently rich history.

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The restaurant at Ockenden Manor showcases the flavours of Sussex by sourcing fresh local ingredients

Ockenden Manor in Cuckfield, West Sussex, is situated in quite possibly the most idyllic Tudor village in England. Just an hour’s drive from London, this Elizabethan manor house mirrors contemporary design with a new spa that was only opened in 2012.

There are 28 individually styled bedrooms, each of which has been named after a member of one of the two families that’s owned the building since 1520. Six spacious rooftop spa suites overlook the wonderful views of the South Down countryside and the hotel’s neighbours – a herd of Sussex cows.

As world-class as the spa and hotel are, it’s the food here that’s the winner. The restaurant is run by award-winning chef, Stephen Crane. Offering arguably the best locally-sourced fine dining in the county, it truly is the best way to taste the flavours of Sussex.

The elegant drawing room overlooks Cuckfield Park and is the perfect setting to enjoy a glass of excellent local sparkling wine and dishes from the ‘Sussex Menu’, which has its own food provenance map indicating where all of the ingredients have come from.

This proudly highlights Ockenden Manor’s ethos in really showcasing the flavours of Sussex by sourcing everything used from within the county. The Grange Farm Free Range Chicken 4 Ways is a real highlight, served with creamed potato, sweetcorn, courgette flower and morel jus.

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The award winning Ridgeview Wine Estate is just a 15 minute drive from Ockenden Manor    Image credit: Julia Claxton

The Ridgeview Wine Estate is just a 15-minute drive away from Ockenden Manor and is well worth visiting. They are the first English wine to win at the International Wine Awards, which is finally getting them the global recognition they truly deserve.

Producing 400,000 bottles annually,  they do such a fantastic job on their vineyard that heavyweights such as Tattinger, Pommery and Veuve Clicquot are all said to be interested in planting here.

Another vineyard very much worth visiting (less than an hour’s drive from Ockenden Manor) is the Rathfinny Wine Estate. This sprawling 600-acre vineyard uses state-of-the-art technology to make some of the country’s finest sparkling wine.

Everything is meticulously done with vines planted exactly 1.1 meters apart with 2.2 metres of spacing between them. The wine cellar is enormous (currently homes 4 million bottles) and continues to grow.

Supplying the likes of Michel Roux Jr’s Le Gavroche restaurant in London, Rathfinny was recently selected as ‘Sparkling wine of the month’ by The Ritz – the first time an English wine has achieved this! Highly impressive when you consider the estate was only opened in 2010.


The large award-winning spa at Bailiffscourt, one of the most luxurious in the south of England, offers Temple Spa treatments and a Californian style hot tub

If you’re seeking 5* luxury, then the coastal retreat of Bailiffscourt is the place to go in Sussex. Situated right on the coast, with nothing but the sound of the waves breaking on the pebbled beach at Climping, this is a beautiful hideaway within 30 acres of private parkland, which is also home to resident peacocks!

Originally built as the home for the Guinness family in the 1920s by Lord Moyne, it remains to this day family owned. Just five minutes away on foot is Climping Beach, which is lovely for a relaxing stroll.

The large award-winning spa, one of the most luxurious in the south of England, offers Temple Spa treatments and a Californian style hot tub. All built in the style of a Sussex barn with exposed timber frames and dramatic glass doors, you’ll feel in a tranquil state of mind from the minute you enter.

Bailiffscourt, despite its size, succeeds in feeling warm and cosy. It’s a magical location for a romantic getaway for couples or a family-fun adventure.

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NOTE – The main image features Ockenden Manor