Nestled in the West Sussex countryside, the Elizabethan Ockenden Manor sits amongst nine acres of parklands and gardens. The purpose-built spa is a light, airy and contemporary addition inside a 19th century walled garden. The spa structure is complementary to the historic hotel, but offers a wealth of modern facilities. Treatments are courtesy of the botanical brand Elemental Herbology, whose naturally effective therapies are designed to achieve balance and harmony. Don't miss the view of the serene South Downs from the rooftop terrace.
Eight treatment rooms
Walk-through warm rain shower
Indoor and outdoor linked swimming pool
Outdoor hot tub
Indoor spa bath
Poolside relaxation room
Post-treatment relaxation room
Gym with personal trainers
Fitness studio with classes
Our Spa Spy review
Ockenden Manor is a rambling Elizabethan manor, all black beams and brick chimneys, with later elegant additions in local stone. The hotel has 28 rooms -- some with four posters -- and a Michelin-starred restaurant overlooking rolling lawns, trees and topiary.
The spa is something else entirely. At the back of the hotel, the orange cubist spa building is audaciously modern but the spa absolutely works, mainly because it has been designed to make the most of the landscape.
What's on offer?
The large bright reception area has a glass wall affording an Escher-esque view of the spa's many layers. There's a shop, comfortable chairs, and a front desk where an assistant will welcome you to the spa. Behind the reception is the spa lounge with elegant Art Deco-style sofas. Help yourself to teas and Nespresso coffees.
The white changing rooms are spacious with three separate changing areas, each with its own pod of seating and lockers. There is one toilet and three spacious showers stocked with shampoo, conditioner and body wash. The vanity area has a large mirror, three hairdryers and lots of shelves with rolled green towels. There is also a private changing room with a large mirror.
The centrepiece of the spa is the 16-metre indoor pool that extends through a space in the glass wall to the outdoor pool. Both pools are stone-tiled around the sides so the floor looks like it's made of pebbles. A circular Jacuzzi juts slightly into the main pool and seats up to five comfortably. When you want to take a break from swimming, try the three poolside sofas, or the refreshing walk-through the rainforest shower. The pool area is a wonderfully serene and bright modern space.
The thermal area has a steam room infused with eucalyptus, with pale cream and beige tiled seating that could take sixteen people comfortably. Opposite is a wooden sauna, heated to around 70 degrees -- not as hot as most -- with one long bench running around the walls that again could happily seat up to sixteen. Cool off in the experience shower with hot and cold jets or rub flakes from the ice fountain over your skin. There are plenty of towels and a water cooler with plastic cups by the entrance.
Take the steps (or lift) by the pool up to the relaxation mezzanine with six white upright cushioned loungers. A small kitchen area has coffee, teas, a hot and cold tap and take-away cups so you can drink poolside. A glass door leads to a decked terrace with a hot tub and cushioned loungers overlooking the fields. Take the steps down and you're back at the outdoor pool; white cushioned loungers positioned along its edge make you feel as though you could be in the Mediterranean rather than West Sussex.
The dry facilities are up another flight of stairs. The treatment area has a nail bar and sofas, and eight treatment rooms. The quiet relaxation room has upright brown velvet loungers with reading lights, lots of magazines, and a sideboard with cucumber-flavoured water and a pot of cool Ockenden fruit tea.
There's also a gym with treadmills that look out onto the parkland, and a studio for yoga and Pilates classes.
Tell us about the treatments
We had the Elemental Rebalancing Ritual (120 minutes, £185) and the Isopod Floatation (60 minutes, £48).
My therapist, Ellie, brought my consultation form out to the pool area where I was lounging before our session. Elemental Herbology's philosophy is based around the five elements -- water, fire, air, earth and wood. The consultation forms are therefore a bit different: you have to tick your favourite time of year, day, food and colour, as well as your personality and skin type. From this, the therapist judges which elements are dominant and adjusts your treatment accordingly. I came up as mostly water, so I needed to feel nurtured and hydrated.
Ellie led me to our treatment room which was dimly lit with candles. I lay face down on the treatment bed. Ellie asked me to take three deep breaths, and cleansed my feet. She then massaged oil into my back with long, deep strokes. She introduced two hot herbal poultices, pressing them along my spine, along my back and shoulders, and down the front of my legs. Her pressure was perfect and, with the continuous flow, I found myself sinking into a deeply relaxed state.
Ellie asked me to turn over and laid a lavender eye-pillow across my eyes. She bent and pushed my legs to stretch the muscles, then massaged my stomach and arms, ironing out the tension.
For the facial, Ellie cleansed my skin then gently exfoliated my face, décolletage, neck, shoulders and the tops of my arms. She removed the products with warm cloths then applied an eye cream and a facial moisturiser. Ellie finished the treatment with a grounding leg and foot scrub.
When I came round from the treatment bliss, Ellie led me to the relaxation room where she brought me a glass of bubbly and five element-inspired chocolates. I felt relaxed and renewed -- full of energy and ideas. My skin was soft and my limbs felt supple and light.
Next was the floatation tank: a huge hit with the yoga-istas who frequent Ockenden. My therapist, Sarah, met me in the spa lounge and asked me to fill out a consultation form which also explained something about the floatation process.
The isopod pod itself is a space-age, wide, shallow white bath filled with glowing blue water. The water is only 24 centimetres deep but filled with mineral-rich salts to support you while floating, rather like the Dead Sea. After a quick shower, I slid into the warm blue liquid, which felt satiny smooth. I then lowered the lid and lay on my back as gentle music began to play.
Each float is completely different. It depends on your mood, energy levels, and personality. After ten minutes, it was hard to tell where my body ended and the water began. Sometimes it felt as though I were dangling upside down, other times floating beneath the ocean, or flying in the sky. Once I stepped out of the tank, I felt a little spacey and stunned, fascinated by what had just happened.
Treatments at Ockenden Manor Spa exclusively use Elemental Herbology. The holistic treatment menu has decadent rituals, massages, facials, scrubs and wraps. We love the sound of the Mother of Pearl Scrub and the Muscle Melt massage. There are specialist treatments for men and mums-to-be, and beauty finishing touches.
You can eat in your robe in the spa lounge; you pre-order lunch on arrival. The spa menu includes sandwiches and salads, all served on stylish black stoneware which really shows off the colours. I created my own open sandwich with avocado, mozzarella and tomato on rye. It was perfect for a spa day lunch: big enough to replenish your energy after all that exhausting spa-ing, but not too large to feel heavy. Wines, smoothies, soft drinks, and teas and coffees are also on offer.
If you stay overnight, the hotel's restaurant is a must. I had hand-caught scallops followed by truffle linguine; my partner had tomato and goats cheese, and turbot with crisped potatoes and samphire. All the courses were excellent, not too rich or over-dramatic, making the most of those fresh local flavours. A vegan menu is available, both in the main restaurant and the spa, and dietary requirements are catered for with a little notice.
We loved / we didn't love
The design of the spa: A truly inspiring and creative space that makes the most of the bucolic setting.
The treatments: Exciting and experimental, beautifully delivered, celebrating the power and beauty of nature and the spirit, much like everything else at Ockenden.
The six spa suites: Just above the spa, these are open-plan and modern, with roll-top baths, lounge areas, and French windows opening out onto the large roof gardens with garden furniture.
We didn't love
The relaxation loungers were a bit too upright: Great for reading, impossible for snoozing.
Having to leave…
Who do you think would like it?
Yogis and holistic hipsters: As well as yoga and Pilates classes, Ockenden Manor offers specialist yoga retreats with three nights of spa and yoga classes.
Creatives: If you need inspiration or a mental reboot, the treatments and the bright, clever architectural spaces are sure to free your mind.
Families: We saw a few small children enjoying the pool at the end of the day -- there's one morning and one afternoon family swim time -- and there's so much to see and explore in the local area.
What bubble rating did you give this spa?
Ockenden Spa keeps its Good Spa Guide rating of 5 bubbles. The building is visually stunning, attracting posh Sussex locals, and the facilities are well maintained with plenty of space. The treatments were fabulous and different; we came away transformed, feeling as though we had had a truly special and unique spa experience. The vibe is quite laid-back and friendly rather than obsequiously luxurious, but this adds to the natural ethos and relaxed atmosphere.