As the days get shorter and the dark nights draw in, autumnal weekends in the country provide the perfect escape from the city gloom.
Those seeking a quick-fix cure to the September blues should look no further than a spa break at the spectacular South Lodge hotel.
Set in the rolling South Downs, the hotel is less than an hour’s drive from London and, as a member of the Pride of Britain family of first-rate hotels, you don’t need to worry about what you’ll find when you arrive.
South Lodge is nestled in a hundred acres of gardens and parkland, surrounded by camelias, daffodils and rhododendrons through the warmer months and stunning colour through the autumn as the leaves begin to turn.
The floral theme continues inside the 19th century stately home. From the individually styled rooms, each named after a species of flower and complete with empty vases for guests to fill with blooms from the surrounding grounds, to the floral engravings in the wood panelling of the pink-hued Camellia restaurant, South Lodge has been modelled in the legacy of the house’s original owner, botanist and collector Frederick
Du Cane Godman.
His explorations around the globe saw him return with myriad orchids, magnolias and rare plants – many of them now a feature of the hotel.
One of the finest examples is the 30ft high and 40ft wide, ‘Old Cornish Red’ rhododendron – believed to be the largest in the UK – that towers near the entrance to the hotel.
Floral theme aside, South Lodge has the feel of a classical stately home, but with modern and quirky twists, such as the wire sheep sculptures placed on a second-floor roof to enhance an otherwise nondescript balcony.
The hotel’s lounges, bars and restaurants are decorated with contemporary art, impressive glasswork displays and chic but comfortable furnishings, perfect for sinking into after a long autumnal walk.
The 89 bedrooms are large and comfortable and include plush four poster beds and state of the art bathrooms, complete with surround-sound speakers and waterproof televisions to keep you occupied during
a long soak.
Small personal touches complete the experience, including fresh biscuits by the bed, garden games in the cupboard for use on the sweeping lawns and the hotel’s very own “pillow menu”, which allows guests to choose from a range that includes lavender and manuka-scented, anti-snoring and the intriguingly-named ‘The Romance’.
The new jewel of South Lodge is the impressive 44,000 sq ft spa, which opened last year. While the hot stone massage comes highly recommended, the spa has plenty to offer visitors less inclined to fork out
With two types of steam room, sauna, outdoor pool, gym, spinning rooms, barber and large infinity indoor pool overlooking the green lawns, the spa is pristine, state-of-the-art and extremely well-equipped.
Braver souls than us can test their mettle in the chilly outdoor natural pond, complete with water lilies, reeds and even some marine life, which is guaranteed to take your breath away – quite literally.
Guests don’t have to stray far from their lounger to refuel at the spa’s Mediterranean-style restaurant, Botanica. While diners enjoy their post-swim snacks in cosy gowns and slippers, the food is far from casual.
Fresh and seasonal ingredients are used in the wholesome, veggie-heavy dishes, with the grilled cauliflower, heritage roasted carrots, and artichoke and truffle ravioli particular standouts.
Dinner at the more casual Camelia restaurant is no less tasty. Spread across three stately dining rooms, the restaurant makes for an intimate and romantic setting.
The locally sourced dishes, with many ingredients plucked from the hotel’s walled vegetable and herb garden, are beautifully presented and perfectly prepared, with a good range of fish, meat and vegetarian options. The menu changes daily to ensure only the freshest ingredients are served up.
Spa and sumptuous dining aside, South Lodge has a lot more offer. Guests can enjoy a drink in the house’s old billiard room, now a cosy bar, take high tea in the splendid drawing room, or sample a glass of wine or three in the cellar.
But while one could easily spend a weekend wandering around the hotel’s grounds by foot or on bicycle, there are plenty of other attractions within
On your way home, make a detour to Guildford, which played home to a prominent Jewish community in medieval times. In 1995, excavations unearthed a 12th-century chamber under what is now a branch of Monsoon. An alcove and a scorched section of wall – signs of an ark
and Ner Tamid – led experts to conclude that it was the remains of an ancient synagogue – one of the oldest such remains in Western Europe.
The room is not open to the public, but a stone from the chamber is on display at the nearby modern shul, and artefacts and more information can be found at Guildford Museum, which has now partially reopened and is open Wednesdays to Saturdays.
Other nearby attractions include the footpaths of the South Downs, Arundel Castle and the south coast towns. Whichever you choose, South Lodge makes the perfect base for some autumnal exploring – if, of course, you manage to tear yourself away from the spa.
Ben’s travel tips
- Ben stayed at South Lodge, where rooms start from £301.50 based on two people sharing, including breakfast. Contact Pride of Britain Hotels on 0800 089 3929 or visit www.prideofbritainhotels.com
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