Natalie French

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From fairy tale castles and country house estates to award-winning spas and English vineyards, West Sussex is one of the UK’s most diverse counties. What’s more, it spans both the rolling South Downs National Park and quintessentially English coastal towns making it a great place for a weekend escape. 

This red-brick manor hotel, set in 120-acres, is all towering chimneys and mullioned windows. The Five Red Star hotel has a very grown-up escape vibe; feast in the three AA Rosette restaurant AG’s, by Head Chef Johnny Stanford, quaff one of the 30 hand-picked Champagnes in the 1608 Champagne Bar or robe up and head to The Utopia Spa, located in its own wing of the hotel. Outside, you’ll find a stylish spa garden complete with hydro pool, barrel sauna and private hot tubs to sink in to. 

Fancy staying in a 900-year-old castle, once visited by King Henry VIII? Well now you can. Privately-owned Amberley Castle can be found at the foot of the South Downs and now offers luxurious accommodation within its medieval walls. The stunning gardens are home to two lakes, an 18-hole putting green and you can even play croquet on the lawn. Dine in the 12th Century Queen’s Room beneath vaulted ceilings or the Great Room with its oak flooring and gleaming suits of armour. Resident peacocks roam the grounds and you can even watch the portcullis get lowered at night. 

This country retreat has 39 bedrooms, a collection of cottages and houses, and is just 10 minutes from the medieval Arundel Castle. Expect crackling log fires, cosy lounges and a beautiful rose-clad courtyard and garden. Set in 30-acres of private grounds, dogs will love it here, too, and are very welcome; saunter down to Climping beach for sunset zoomies. Once you’ve had your fix of fresh Sussex air, head to the nature-inspired spa where the expansive glass windows bring the outdoors in.  

Garden lovers rejoice! You can now stay at Leonardslee House – famous for its 240-acre Grade I-listed gardens, home to wild orchids, rare acers and 100 different species of Oak trees from around the world. In the summer months, look out for blue Emperor Dragonflies; come dusk or dawn, a rare colony of free-roaming wallabies. The glorious views can also be enjoyed from the 10 elegantly-designed bedrooms - think: vintage chandeliers, statement wallpapers and marble bathrooms. And did we mention there’s a Michelin-starred restaurant, too? 

If you’re searching for a countryside bolthole with style, the White Horse has it in bucket loads. Mixing contemporary design with rustic elegance, this pub-with-rooms is all exposed wood beams, sheepskin rugs and architectural four-poster beds. Soak in the South Downs view through large picture windows and skylights. The ensuite bathrooms are a mix of rainforest showers and copper roll-top baths for optimal chilling. Make your way to the award-winning pub for local fayre sourced from the surrounding farms and woodland. 

South Lodge pairs a honey-hued Victorian five-star manor with an ultra-modern glass-fronted spa - both taking full advantage of incredible South Down views that extend for miles. The 93-acre gardens and parklands are pretty impressive, too, best observed while you bubble away in the hydro pool. Brunch in Botanica is not to be missed – feast on Sussex smoked salmon crumpets; pancakes with plum compote and cured streaky bacon butty on sour dough. Yum. 

Every spring, Plush Tents lovingly build their sustainable yurt village in the South Downs, just a few miles from Chichester and a short drive to West Witterings Blue Flag Beach. All yurts are sumptuously decorated – chesterfield sofas, beautiful drapes and antique wood-burning stoves – and are nestled in a landscaped woodland. There’s a communal treehouse kitchen and huge amphitheatre firepit to toast marshmallows beneath the stars. For a little extra, book a slot in the wood-fired hot tub, too. With plenty of outdoor space, you can disconnect from the humdrum and kick back in nature. 

If it’s history and character you’re after, Ockenden Manor is happy to oblige. Less than an hour from London, this 28-bedroom Elizabethan manor house is set in eight acres of parklands and gardens overlooking Cuckfield Park in the West Sussex countryside. Elegant sitting rooms with wood-panelled bars and roaring fires contrast the contemporary cubist spa that sits inside the 19th century walled garden. Highlights include an indoor/outdoor pool and walk-through rainforest shower, fed by Ockenden’s own natural underground spring.

A boutique Victorian guest house, East Beach can be found directly opposite Littlehampton Beach. Bed down in one of the nine individually-designed bedrooms painted in hues of Farrow & Ball - a nod to contemporary coastal-style with sea views from the window. Dogs are welcome here, too, so fuel up with breakfast in bed before heading off with your furry friend to blow away the cobwebs on some coastal walks.

Located in the pretty Sussex market town of Midhurst, the 39-bedroom Spread Eagle Hotel & Spa is set in one of England’s oldest coaching inns. With a history harking back to 1430 you can expect character and charm in spades. Take afternoon tea in the sun-filled conservatory, sample some of 100 gins in The Gin Bar or retreat to the spa and float beneath the Scandi-style vaulted ceiling in the indoor pool. 

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