On my lifelong search for the quintessential holiday fitness facility, I came across Wickwoods Country Club, Hotel and Spa, tucked away in England’s verdant Sussex Downs. It’s not just a private hangout for local ladies who lunch; it’s a boutique hotel with spa and gym with exercise classes, tennis and a ritzy restaurant. Oh, and an English cream tea destination to boot!
Over decades of travel I found Daydream Island in Australia where I exercised overlooking the Great Barrier Reef and discovered I was gluten-intolerant at their state-of-the-art nutrition center. In Gran Canaria I hopped from icy cold to steamy hot experiences in an 18-station spa adventure at the Hotel Costa Meloneras followed by a sumptuous buffet lunch. In Las Vegas my I practiced yoga at the Mirage in a subterranean room surrounded by incredulous dolphins, followed by a lavish massage at the Zen-like Mandarin Oriental and finally English cream tea overlooking The Strip at sunset.
But despite these eclectic exercise experiences, to me, Wickwoods is the one facility I wish I could take home with me. If only I could go each day to workout overlooking sun-dappled green lawns, and do Pilates classes to the tones of upper-class English, luxuriate in the pool and Jacuzzi, and then chill on the flower-edged patio with a decaff soy latte to the ping of tennis balls.
Tourists often feel like onlookers rather than participants while traveling. So being able to stay at Wickwoods boutique hotel, getting an insider eye on authentic everyday life is a real bonus. The setting is sylvan with sheep grazing in surrounding fields and birds and butterflies frolicking in the lush English gardens. Just driving here is therapy with narrow country lanes shaded by branches almost braided overhead. The route features flowery garden centers, country pubs and ramshackle antique outlets housed in quaint cottages.
After tennis, classes, gym and spa, visitors can take advantage of the food, local English wines or afternoon tea. Tea time is sacred in Britain: there are tea shops everywhere, some dedicated tea shops, others housed in castles, galleries, garden centers, department stores, pubs or top hotels.
This thoroughly British ritual is honored each afternoon between two and five at Wickwoods alongside a three-tier menu. Traditional cream tea includes two fruit scones, strawberry jam and clotted cream plus pot of tea. But at Wickwoods Afternoon Tea guests can upgrade from the traditional option to add homemade cake, torte and refined finger sandwiches. Luxury Tea is the topnotch option and includes petit fours, rare roast beef and horseradish sandwiches and award-winning teas paired with sparkling English wines from Nyetimber in West Sussex.
Overnighters at the 7-bedroom B&B style hotel can also eat dinner on site at The Glass House, a brand new restaurant in a stylish orangery. The menu includes duck, braised pig’s cheeks, guinea fowl and fish and chips attesting. Dishes such as Provençale fish stew, Asian marinades and Thai green-spiced mussels add a cosmopolitan flare but the overriding atmosphere is chic English contemporary cuisine.