Substantially interfered with by the Romans and blessed with the sea and the Downs, West Sussex is an ideal place to stretch limbs and breathe clear air. Or find the perfect country pub, packed with local produce, fine ales and fires in wintertime. But you don’t want to end up in an overpriced B&B where the net curtains look worryingly flammable and the bedside kettle is a time machine straight back to 1976. Follow our guide to five of the best hotels in the county.
You can swan about Alexander House
feeling as though it’s yours, especially in the quiet, high-ceilinged room with the incidental piano. In Turner’s Hill near (but not too near) Crawley and Gatwick, the hotel is a grandiose 38-room pile where the traditional and contemporary get along nicely and you feel as if you are about to bump in Miss Marple solving things. The informal Reflections brasserie offers an impressive monkfish with Thai red curry sauce, and a liqueur by the fire in the library is nearly the perfect ending to an evening. In summer, the courtyard has a large central fire and music. The spa is modern and huge, with 25 treatment rooms and a lovely pool to drift about in. The hotel is set in 170 acres of undulating parkland, with numerous trails to hike or bike on.
In the small village of Cuckfield, close to vineyards and fine gardens, Ockenden is a luxurious old-school retreat filled with uneven floors and oak panelling. A former manor house dating from Elizabethan times, its dark beams, yellow walls and bookish corners are ideal for a weekend of doing not much, especially if it rains and you are forced to stay inside and scrutinise the extensive winelist. Stay in Raymond, the oddly-named but very comfortable first-floor corner-room. The impressive four-poster is complemented by lead-lined windows and a decent TV. Downstairs, the restaurant is a big draw, with exquisite venison, and the conservatory overlooks terraced lawns where you can stroll and admire the healthy rabbit population. The New England Reserve nearby is good for a walk – ask the receptionist for directions.
If you prefer somewhere that feels like your own place out in the sticks, the Park House Hotel
in the tiny village of Bepton is a wonderful place to wake up and listen to the pigeons. A family house that has been handed down through the generations, the classic floral décor goes well with friendly, attentive staff. In fact, the house has retained so much of its original character that after reading the papers in the drawing room for half an hour you start feeling like you really belong here. The grounds are ideal for wandering, there are two grass tennis courts in summer and a small golf course to mess about on. The wooded ridge of the Downs rears up just to the south, which is perfect for walkers or serious joggers to challenge themselves on. The bar runs a charming honesty policy, meaning you can honestly get drunk on a range of beers and wines, surrounded by pictures of famous actors and polo players who have stayed while plying their trade in Chichester or at Cowdray Park. The unpretentious and delicious cuisine is simply served in the dining room next door. The showers are invigorating, there is a heated outdoor pool and a new spa opens in July 2009.
There is something simple but brilliantly clever about upscale B&Bs. You get all the comforts of a large hotel but none of the hassles. Set in the village of Easebourne, just outside the market town of Midhurst, York House Rooms
is the brainchild of Felicity Lock. She has designed two luxurious and modern suites in an annexe adjoining her lovely house. Self-contained and stylishly done out in greys and creams, they are popular with polo fans and wedding guests or just people slipping away from it all for a bit. Summer drinks in the garden come as standard, a walk around Cowdray Park across the road is pleasant and for supper the Halfway Bridge Inn is a five-minute drive east. This is a classic country pub specialising in game and fish dishes and good wines. But the piece de resistance
is Felicity’s fabulous breakfast, where hand-cooked muesli and vividly colourful slices of fresh fruit are followed by the best eggs and bacon for miles around.
Young, colourful and creative, the new Myhotel in Brighton
is a riot of karmic delight. Centrally located on a square next to the modern library in the North Laines, it's close to both the station and the Pavilion, and the sea is a short walk south. One look at the cushions, candles and huge Buddha painting in reception confirms that a weekend here is destined to be fun. The purple UV light in the lifts makes you feel like a suspicious banknote but stepping out on each of the three floors reveals madly painted doors and vivid carpets that you can’t help liking. The rooms are ultra-modern, devoid of corners and each comes with it own crystal. If you really want to spoil someone, book the Jade artist’s studio, with corner views, a Roche-Bobois bed and an oval bath. Teaming up with Italian chef Aldo Zilli means the Zilli café is full of tempting goodies (the homemade ice cream is treacherous), which young professionals come to graze on during lunch hours. The bar is filled with bowls of fruit, curves and fish in tanks, which sharpens one’s appetite perfectly for the restaurant itself next door. The fritto di calamari
is done perfectly and the wines are excellent.