Stay in a traditional country inn within easy reach of London where previous guests have included royalty, famous writers, and at least one villainous character…
In the midst of the beautiful scenery of West Sussex and on the border of the South Downs, The Spread Eagle Hotel and Spa in Midhurst is steeped in history, dating all the way back to its 15th–century foundations. The timber-framed structure of the oldest part of the hotel is filled with historic artefacts relating to its distinguished roll call of guests, ranging from Queen Elizabeth I – whose stay in 1591 gives the Queen Suite its name – through HG Wells, Hilaire Belloc, and even the notorious Nazi official Hermann Goering (who dined here in 1939). Plus, of course, our very own Prince Charles, who visited in 1978.
Along the creaky hallways of the hotel you will find some truly special rooms, the most spectacular being the aforementioned Queen Suite, which boasts ancient beams, a four-poster bed and a roll-top bath, with the added feature of what is suspected to be the last remaining Wig Closet in an English hotel – complete with wig stands and mirror.
The communal areas of the hotel all maintain a high level of atmosphere and meticulous furnishing. The historic lounge bar and dining rooms, with their oak beams and huge open fireplaces, are full of eclectic old furniture and art; the semi-private Cromwell dining room offers sophisticated intimate dining for groups of around 20 people, while for larger functions, the renovated Jacobean Hall offers more grand surroundings and a private bar that opens on to a garden and patio.
It is from here that you pass through into the modern and luxurious spa, which subtly welcomes guests to use its pool, steam room and sauna, as well as to indulge in relaxing massage treatments, facials, pampering pedicures and a whole range of other treatments provided by knowledgeable and friendly staff.
Breakfast and dinner are both served in the dining room or the conservatory and neither will disappoint. Highlights of breakfast include homemade Bircher Muesli and locally smoked kippers, though we were told the full English is also quite a treat. The dinner menu is small but well thought out, combining classic French techniques with traditional English fare and occasional eastern flavors. From the rib-eye steak to the Asian confit duck, everything is presented beautifully and prepared with care. There is a comprehensive wine list, which happily includes two varieties of local sparkling wines – both of which are well worth trying.
If you can tear yourself away from the medieval confines of The Spread Eagle, there are plenty of things to see and do in the surrounding area, too. The most famous of these is, of course, the ‘Glorious’ Goodwood racecourse, which can be viewed from the earthworks of an Iron Age Fort at Trundle, just a few miles away. Less famed but certainly as impressive are the ruins of Cowdray Castle only a 10-minute walk away via a forest path that weaves alongside a slow and elegant river walkway – truly magical.
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