Clive has fun at a spa break
PUBLISHED: 10:09 21 March 2012 | UPDATED: 18:06 20 February 2013
Clive has exhausted himself watching speedway, cricket and opera. Now it's time for a rest, so he has headed off to a spa at East Grinstead
Choosing a holiday destination is often tricky in our household. Whereas I look for decent golf courses my wife Rose is more interested in what might broadly be described as cultural activities. Consequently, we perennially struggle to find anywhere mutually acceptable and why were still flicking through brochures in the autumn trying to find somewhere for this year while everyone else is working on 2011 and beyond.
Eventually, having rejected Italy, Tibet and Peru, we plump for East Grinstead. In doing so we believe that we have simply taken the irrefutably powerful rationale that lies behind staycations to its logical conclusion. If it makes sense to take a holiday in your own country, how much more sensible it must be to stay in your own county.
There will be those, I know, who will consider East Grinstead a strange choice and will query its holiday destination credentials. To them I should like to point out that, like all pukka resorts, it has a tourist information office. However, what makes it so attractive in these uncertain and unsettling times where civil unrest can play havoc with your holiday itinerary is the undoubted political stability of East Grinstead Town Council.
Because of financial constraints and other pressures, instead of the usual two weeks, this year weve opting for just two days. However, to compensate for this extreme brevity, were moving decidedly upmarket and staying in the luxurious Alexander House hotel. So, after just three-quarters of an hours drive and absolutely no dreary airport delays, security checks, vaccinations or need to change any currency, were pulling into an imposing drive for our one night away.
Eyeing a car parking space close to the handsome entrance, I'm about to slide my nine-year-old Mondeo with its matching pair of battered wing mirrors between a shiny Porsche and flash Mercedes when Rose spots a less prominent spot. Not wanting to start our holiday with a bitter row, I slip alongside a fellow Ford.
Although my car is not quite top of the range, there's nothing embarrassing about our two small suitcases and I consequently hold my head high as we check in with Elise on the front desk. The rooms are named after trees and arranged alphabetically starting with Acer and ending with Yew. Were in Elm, which is on the top floor next to Eucalyptus.
Despite my slight disappointment that all the furniture is not made of elm, its a gorgeous room with magnificent en-suite bathroom complete with his and her basins. Why can't our bedroom and bathroom at home be as lovely as this?
To me, even more appealing than the exquisite decor and opulent fittings is the free wifi and so I plonk my laptop on the handsome desk and leave the unpacking until later
Whilst sitting at the desk and wading through my email, I am able to enjoy two spectacular views out of the window. One is across verdant countryside to distant hills which Keith the porter assured me are the North Downs and the other is down upon two pretty young women enjoying the alfresco hot tub. The trick is to take in one view while appearing to be focused on the other.
Feeling guilty about having eaten all four of the biscuits put in the room for guests, presumably to share, I suggest a pre-prandial walk around the 120-acre estate. What begins as a gentle stroll along neat lawns and terraces escalates into something far more serious after we inadvertently stray onto the trekking trail, which I assume is primarily intended for horses and riders. After a horse-less half-hour trek, we return to the warmth and comfort of Elm to prepare for dinner.
Despite being an extremely smart hotel, Alexander House is decidedly unstuffy and therefore, much to Rose's relief, I eschew my golf club tie and soup-stained jacket in favour of an altogether more relaxed look comprising casual trousers and striped shirt. Although it's just an ordinary Wednesday, AGs Grill Room is buzzing.
We both start with salmon ballantine, which is perfectly prepared and absolutely delicious. I stick with fish and enjoy a brilliant sole and scallop combination while Roses risotto primavera is perfect. Because they only have one bottle of Chateau Le Pin Pomerol, which is in any case a tad pricey at 1,200 pounds, I opt instead for the New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, which is roughly 1,170 cheaper. Rose has chocolate mousse and red pepper sorbet for dessert while I, almost certainly because Ive drunk most of the wine, can't recall what precisely it was I ordered but it's a caramelised something and is mind-blowingly good. (Although its doubtful whether on reading this the Editor will be persuaded that he has discovered an exciting new restaurant critic, I remain hopeful as more magnificent meals like this would be much appreciated.)
I mustnt leave the restaurant and retire into the comfy library for coffee without paying tribute to Maxime, our charming French waiter, and Anca, our delightful waitress from Romania. Cheerful, friendly and helpful staff enhance a good meal and these two certainly did that.
Although the coffee is both good and strong, nothing keeps me awake as I collapse into our massive bed and dream of swimming in a hot tub filled with Pomerol.
A fair proportion of the guests at breakfast are unselfconsciously in bathrobes and slippers. Some have already had a swim in the superb pool downstairs which, with its marble pillars and domed ceiling, would not have looked out of place in ancient Greece. Its part of the Utopia Spa, which also contains a plunge pool, steam room, hydrotherapy pool, fitness gym, yoga studio and various other facilities designed to help you exercise, relax or both. Feeling guilty at having eaten and drunk so much the previous evening, and for not having spent an hour or so pumping iron in the gym before breakfast, I opt for an especially healthy combination of fresh fruit, yoghurt and muesli.
Before we know it its 11.00 and time for spa treatments. While Rose is having a pedicure, Im treated to the gentlest of massages by Emma. Despite only having been up for little over an hour-and-a-half after a wonderful nights sleep, the combination of the dim lighting, soothing oriental music and Emmas light touch nudges me into the twilight area on the edge of consciousness. Because we have lunch booked, when the massage is over Im obliged to make the supreme effort of pulling myself together and off the treatment table to rejoin Rose.
After a tasty salad in the bistroesque Reflections Restaurant, our brief holiday is virtually over and its with genuine sadness that we leave the lovely Alexandra Hotel. We hope, over the next few years, to work our way gradually through the forest.
Check it out
Alexander House Hotel and Utopia Spa, Turners Hill, East Grinstead, West Sussex
T: 01342 714914
Throughout the festive season the hotel will be putting on fabulous party nights. As well as special Christmas menus there will be opportunities for both intimate occasions and lively celebrations. Visit the hotels website, ring or email for details.