Ockenden Manor is one of West Sussex's most comfortable, charming and original small hotels. The manor house is tucked away down a dusty country lane in the village of Cuckfield - a place that could be used as the blueprint of the unspoilt English village, complete with its tearooms, cricket field and thatched cottages.
The 16th century building which houses the hotel was once a Jewish boys' school and has been maintained beautifully ever since. The weighty oak doors creak heavily as they open, leading through to a hallway that has a lovely sense of worn-in elegance - this isn't a slick, plasma-screen-on-the-wall kind of hotel, but one where small detail and tradition stand for everything.
The rooms are smart and luxurious, but comfortable. Several come with a four poster bed - a treat by anybody's standards. The afternoons here are clearly for settling in, finding a place in the sitting room and playing scrabble whilst drinking champagne and catching up with a loved one.
The hotel is set in beautiful grounds that look out over the rolling South Downs National Park, so as afternoon moves into evening, there's the option of watching the sun set with your nearest and dearest...whilst ideally drinking more Champagne. If the cool country air doesn't appeal, you can slip off to sit by the log fire in the wood-panelled bar, and prepare yourself for dinner.
The restaurant is where Ockenden gets a little more serious. Head chef Stephen Crane runs one of southern England's finest hotel kitchens, which currently holds one Michelin star. The food is intelligent and well-considered. Crane combines classic luxury ingredients with interesting locally-sourced products to create dishes of enduring appeal. The tasting menu includes locally shot quail and venison from the nearby Balcombe Estate. The quality of the meat and shellfish is very high and portion size is appropriate: generous, but not overwhelming. The selection of English and French cheeses is sensational, with highlights including ripe, stinking Epoisses and piquant Roquefort. The wine list is weighty and classic - fitting you might say. Bordeaux, Burgundy and Italy are well represented, with mature wines at punchy prices. There are also some interesting, lesser-known wines from the Loire Valley and New World - innovation amid all that classicism.
Ockenden Manor is somewhere to go when in need of a rest, indulgence or just a little reminder of what a fine thing a weekend in the English countryside can be. There can be few hotels that offer such a pleasurable experience within forty five minutes of London Victoria.