Spread Eagle, Midhurst
Prepare for layer removal with a spa day, or, hole up, fine dining in cosy surrounds in an inn hotel visited by Elizabeth I!
The weather’s doing the hokey kokey – do we need to prepare for layer removal with a bodily spring clean in a spa, or should we still be holing up in cosy surrounds? Thankfully The Spread Eagle Hotel at Midhurst has it covered either way.
This historic coaching inn, which dates back to 1430, has to be one of the oldest places I’ve slept (I’m not really counting a kip in the car on the approach to Stonehenge). Elizabeth I stayed the night here and I got to do the same in a four poster in the very room she may have lain her head, and where she certainly sat at the window to watch entertainment in the square below.
The monarch having been a favourite of mine in my school days I was girlishly excited to see a wig closet she might have used in the room – now a containing an antique dressing table where you can still plug in a hairdryer! The Queen’s Suite also includes a small lounge at the entrance and opens onto a large communal lounge with a beamed ceiling for use by guests in the surrounding rooms. One of several lounge areas in the hotel. Thankfully the ensuite bathroom, though it includes a low beam, – padded in case you bash your head – and a roll top bath, also has the usual mod cons (including Temple Spa toiletries). Bathrobes and a tea-making station were other thoughtful touches. It’s worth knowing large rooms in the hotel’s old section have sofa beds for children.
There are antiques throughout the hotel and in the corridor I was delighted to discover a display of found objects from around the Inn plus framed letters from notable people. The smart staff will tell you tales of the building’s history if you quiz them. The old floorboards on the upper levels actually undulate so that you feel like you’re aboard an Elizabethan galleon whether or not you’ve indulged in the bar downstairs.
And what a bar that is, surrounded by old rippled stained glass windows. It’s accessible from the street so you can easily make a night of it here even if you’re not staying over. As if you needed further enticement, gin is a specialiity with a wide range available. Elsewhere on the ground floor is a Jacobean Hall which can be hired for functions.
Of course the heritage windows and the inn’s location on a corner in the town mean it’s not the quietest place to get a good night’s sleep so if that’s an issue for you you’d best request one of the rooms that face into the courtyard, where, incidentally, there is ample parking.
Spa and pool
Not all the hotel is historic – the 39 rooms are spread over different wings – and the old and new have been nicely merged, almost as if they represent different seasons. Leading from the old cosy part of the hotel there’s a conservatory-style covered terrace where you can have afternoon tea, which leads to the spa. I’m not sure what the Elizabethan equivalent would have been – a slosh down with cold water, or a stretch on the rack perhaps – but thankfully this is a modern addition with popular treatments.
There are seven treatment rooms and a fitness room, with classes available. The changing area is rather cramped but it opens onto a lovely swimming pool with loungers and hot tub, a lofty Scandinavian style wooden ceiling and large windows at one end where, weather permitting, you can emerge to sit on benches in a little hidden courtyard with a fruit tree. To maximise relaxation time I was fetched from the loungers at the allotted time to enjoy a massage. My therapist had a good professional approach with the technique and products discussed with me before and after. Massage and facials are the mainstay. Check out the 90 minute detoxing South Downs Soother which ends with a glass of Sussex bubbly, the hour-long Red Carpet facial, or, for real indulgence, the Champagne and Truffles massage and mask incorporating luxury ingredients like gold and diamonds – because you’re worth it. Packages and offers incorporating afternoon tea are well worth a look.
The formal restaurant has a large old fireplace where handmade Christmas puddings in muslins are often hung.
I was impressed with the menu, which had a good balance of meat, fowl, fish and vegetarian. As you’d expect these days from a quality restaurant, the food is predominantly locally sourced. I had a stuffed tempura courgette flower, followed by duck with sour cherries and foie gras (minus the foie gras at my request) followed by a lovely arctic roll with strawberries. It’s all very stylish and beutifully presented with interesting flavours, though perhaps because of the heritage surrounds I expected something a bit more hearty – or maybe I’m just a pig!
Breakfast was certainly plentiful. Among the choices, you can have home smoked salmon and scrambled eggs, a full English including black pudding, or a vegetarian option, as I did, with a proper butcher-style sausage – much better than the dreadful Quorn ones. You can get boozy too, helping yourself to a Bloody Mary from the buffet (which, incidentally is named after Elizabeth I’s half sister, Mary Tudor).
In the area
The inn is in a smart part of Midhurst with boutiques like Me & Maya nearby in Knockhurst Row and, in West Street, The Country Brocante Store, Black Sheep (for country clothes and homewares), Arnage vintage fashions and the newly opened Midhurst branch of Chichester’s popular Q Hair & Beauty.
Midhurst is only two miles from Cowdray Estate where you can try activities like polo, golf and clay pigeon shooting. Also within 10 miles are Goodwood’s famous motor circuit; the outdoor gallery of the Cass Sculpture Foundation, which I was impressed with on a visit last year; pretty Petworth with its National Trust pile and antiques shops and the wonderful Leconfield restaurant.
THE MUDDY VERDICT:
Good for: History lovers, a luxury break, treating someone special. I saw several mums and daughters on spa days, which combine well with an afternoon tea. There were couples and older family groups in the restaurant, where the atmosphere’s best suited to dates, treats, business lunches and special occasions. The dark wood cosiness makes the old part of the hotel good for a winter break. The location makes it great for building an active or cultural weekend around.
Not so good for: If you like sleek minimalism this is obviously not the place for you. Although there was an amusing child in the restaurant loudly declaring she needed a poo while I was there it felt rather formal of an evening so not the sort of place you’d usually think to bring young children or hang out with a group of friends unless part of a special occasion.
£££ Standard double rooms cost from £119 a night including breakfast. The Queen’s Suite is from £329. A three-course meal is £22 for lunch (£28.50 on Sundays), £38 for dinner. A members’ dining club gives discounts across the Spread Eagle and its two Sussex sister hotels Baliffscourt at Climping and Okenden Manor at Cuckfield. Check out the £10 lunch offer at the Spread Eagle till the end of May 2017.
The Spread Eagle Hotel, South Street, Midhurst, West Sussex, GU29 9NH 01730 816911, hshotels.co.uk