I feel absolutely marvellous. Utterly happy. Well, fat and happy if truth be told, looking down at my distended stomach. I’ve just finished what is undeniably the best meal I’ve had all month. I’m at South Lodge Hotel in West Sussex for the start of a relaxing weekend getaway with a close friend – and this is an excellent start. A luxury five-star hotel, South Lodge boasts a state-of-the-art spa, three restaurants, 93 acres of grounds with views onto the South Downs and an array of well-appointed rooms. It’s also the perfect countryside break thanks to its proximity to London (the nearest station of Horsham is under an hour from central London).
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So, the reason behind my current fat and happy state? I am trying out lunch in South Lodge’s stylish and friendly Mediterranean-inspired Botanica restaurant – and I cannot recommend it enough.
First, we tuck into appetisers of herby, crunchy marinated olives and pillowy rosemary and olive focaccia with lashings of balsamic and olive oil – all accompanied by a bitter orange, strawberry and ginger spritz which is perfectly refreshing and tangy.
For mains, I opt for a deliciously zesty artichoke and truffle tortellini which is firm yet creamy and paired with Twineham Grange (a vegetarian hard cheese akin to Parmesan and a feature across the menu), artichoke crisps and fresh rocket.
A glass of Sussex sparkling English wine is the perfect partner, and I choose the Ridgeview Fitzrovia rosé with notes of raspberry, citrus and honey. Sublime. The chicken Caesar salad comes with rave reviews, too.
Feasting not yet complete, I finish lunch with a rich, plant-based sticky toffee pudding complete with caramelised walnuts and salted caramel gelato. Any reservations about the vegan nature of the dessert is soon swept aside as I lap up every last tasty morsel. My friend enjoys the chocolate tart with cold brew gelato and spice butterscotch – and is still reminiscing about its greatness a day later.
The food is not the only thing to write home about at Botanica. It’s located in the spa building and you’re more than welcome to dine in your spa robe and slippers – and what could be more lazy weekend than that?
There’s also a gorgeous view of the rolling Sussex hills out of the floor to ceiling window while in warmer weather there’s a terrace for lunches and drinks al fresco.
Next up is the spa itself. I realise as I take my replete and content body downstairs that perhaps post-lunch is not the ideal time to be parading around in a bikini, but there we are. Luckily, there are various pools in which to submerge myself.
Excitingly, South Lodge offers not only an indoor pool but also an outdoor vitality hydrotherapy pool and wild swimming pool.
The latter – a sort of glorified (yet clean-looking) pond – is particularly unusual. It visibly sparks the curiosity of many guests who tentatively pop a toe into its cold waters only to retreat shivering. The 18m-long pool’s surrounding decking is bristling with a vast selection of sun loungers which strikes me as optimistic for the UK but the place likely really comes into its own in the summer months.
I eschew the chilly deeps in favour of the hydrotherapy pool from which steam radiates in billowy clouds, adding a rather Icelandic atmosphere to the location.
From here one can enjoy a fetching view of both the countryside and the hotel itself. Another benefit of this pool is the lack of children for those hoping for some peace and quiet. Inside, the 22m x10m indoor infinity pool attracts a number of little ones during the day.
South Lodge spa also boasts an infused sauna, a marble-lined salt steam room and a jasmine herbal steam room.
These offer plenty of tranquillity and I leave them feeling purified and cleansed, if not rather sweaty.
For those looking to get a real sweat on during their stay, there is a 200 sq m gym with state-of-the-art equipment, a spin studio and a plethora of fitness classes.
I, however, plump for a spa treatment instead. The elegant spa provides a wide range of body, face, nail and hair treatments in their treatment rooms, mudroom and Ridgeview Beauty Bar. I opt for a hands-on full-body massage. I request firm pressure, and good lord does my masseuse deliver.
Her touch seems to oscillate between sadistic and sensual – but perhaps that’s the result of the three drinks at lunch. It’s certainly hugely relaxing, though, and at one point I confess I’m so soothed I break wind. Mortifying.
Afterwards, I am led to the aftercare room which features colourful glowing pods to sit in, which have the comical effect of appearing to transform their occupants into alien babies regenerating as they loll around, fully unwound from their treatments.
I am served a herbal tea and overhear one woman who’s just enjoyed the pregnancy massage saying it’s the most relaxed she’s felt in the whole pregnancy, which is really quite something.
The indulgent experience continues even in the changing rooms where the fig and vanilla shampoo and conditioner leave my hair smelling fabulous while Dyson hairdryers and straighteners can help guests return to their best. The interior design here is delightful, too.
The space is home to chic, earthy tones with highlights of gold and the lockers are all named after fruits, herbs and spices. Even the copper-coloured fire extinguishers manage to look fancy!
Elsewhere, the hotel sticks to the old-fashioned country house ambience. The Billiards Bar is wood-panelled with decorative carved fireplaces and a peacock-adorned frieze, lending an aristocratic yet homely feel to the place. Murano glass chandeliers lend the only modern twist.
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For seasonal, traditional dining head to the two AA Rosette winning Camellia restaurant. Breakfast is served here. Expect an array of pastries and cereals, a cooked English breakfast buffet plus an à la carte menu.
Top tip – get there well before the end to avoid items running out. An unlikely highlight for me was the selection of delectable handmade jams. Be sure to try the rhubarb and ginger concoction as well as apricot and amaretto.
As for dinner, we eat in The Pass which is led by head chef Tom Kemble and only opened last year. The restaurant serves up the chef’s table experience and diners are afforded a view right through into the kitchen where the magic happens.
My friend and I indulge in the six-course tasting menu. This starts with a pumpkin velouté before moving onto a wonderfully creamy and tasty Maitake mushroom risotto with 36 month aged parmesan.
Next up is Cornish Cod with green shoots of monk’s beard and seaweed beurre blanc (caviar can also be added for a supplement). The cod is soft and succulent, fresh, lemony and melt-in-the-mouth beautiful.
Another strong contender for the winner of the dinner is the South Downs venison. This is served with chestnut and juniper purée, Cévennes onion and sauce Bordelaise.
The meat is juicy and tender with a sweet smokiness and is oh-so-easy to eat. It paired perfectly with a recommended glass of red.
While an optional cheese course is available for a supplement, we move onto desserts – there’s a Pear William sorbet with buttermilk panna cotta and an ‘open’ mille-feuille. The six-course menu will set you back £70 but it’s top quality – and there’s an eight-course version for those even bigger appetites.
I, however, am thoroughly satiated and roll back to my spacious accommodation. Every room is individually styled and designed so that no two are the same at South Lodge.
My junior suite features a large living area which opens up onto the lawns in front of the property through a French window which is lovely to wake up to in the morning and no doubt charming in warmer seasons in the evening.
The bathroom – which comes with his ’n her sinks – has a vast walk-in shower and an in-built “acquatelevision” in front of the bath for those who bathing in the spa did not quite satisfy (unimaginable if you ask me).
Other perks of the rooms are the night lights to guide one’s way to the loo in the night and also the in-room tablet from which you can make various requests and find information. I particularly like the option to ask for a turn-down service – five-star assistance but without having to speak to anyone, just how modern travellers like it.
And so, thoroughly pampered and well-fed I crawl into my very comfortable bed to sleep. Still fat, still very happy.
Rooms at South Lodge Hotel in Lower Beeding near Horsham start from £265 on a bed and breakfast basis.
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