by Madeleine Howell, The Telegraph, November 21, 2017
A quaint town near my mother’s humble seaside abode in West Sussex has been named “the most mindful destination in Europe”, beating such trendy meditation meccas as Ibiza and Brač in Croatia, and even health-reviving Alpine mountain resorts like Chamonix in France.
The secret to Mum’s zen mastery is out, and perhaps what the newly launched Mindful Getaway Guide (compiled by TravelSupermarket) claims is true: the ultimate wellbeing refuge can be found just over an hour’s train ride from Clapham Junction, and is an eminently “daytrippable” destination for most people in the South East.
In the vale of the South Downs (which last year became the world’s latest International Dark Sky Reserve) there are plenty of opportunities for soul seekers to find a sense of calm, including yoga retreats, spa treatments and nature reserves. The Arundel Wetland Centre is a brisk 10-minute walk from the famous castle, and the town even has its own circulation-boosting outdoor lido, closed until spring but open for a refreshing dip over Christmas and New Year.
It’s not far, either, from the cobweb-blasting sea air of Climping Beach, where you’ll also find the glorious mock-historic Bailiffscourt Hotel and Spa. Two weeks today, Arundel by Candlelight will see roasted chestnuts, mulled wine and hog roasts served in the shadow of a traditional Christmas tree. Blissful.
Other mindful UK destinations on this latest list include Newquay, Woodbridge, Malmesbury and the Isle of Man (all judged according to the number of mindful activities, the density of the “mindful population”, and the number of spa offerings).
But if you’ve missed the mindfulness boat, what exactly is it? According to Sarah Knapton, Telegraph science editor and qualified yoga instructor, it is quite simply “the practice of paying more attention to the present moment”. It sounds simple, but it’s been proven to lower stress hormones and decrease inflammation in the body.
Now, Arundel may have the increasingly popular Brooklands Barn wellness retreat – with its views of Arundel Castle and foraging opportunities in the nearby ancient woodland – to thank for the sudden media attention, but I suspect there’s even more to it than that.
It seems ironic that the top destination for a practice so firmly focused on the present is so steeped in history – but that’s precisely why Arundel is such a good place to escape the anxieties of modern life. The magnificent Roman Catholic Arundel Cathedral dates back to 1873, but the original Arundel Castle was founded on Christmas Day in 1067. It’s one of the longest-inhabited country houses in England, and is the seat and home still of the Duke of Norfolk (a bit of gossip for you: the current Duke and Duchess of Norfolk are said to have saved their marriage by spending five years living in separate wings of their 11th-century home).
Arundel, I find, is a toytown with nostalgic charm best enjoyed by gently pottering about (meditatively). I feel most “present” while browsing the shelves of Kim’s Bookshop, studying the brunch menu at the Loft café, losing myself in Spencer Swaffer’s world-famous antiques emporium, contemplating a tin of Annie Sloan paint at Lavender House & Garden Florists on Tarrant Street. My mood soars in the castle gardens, thanks to the organic kitchen garden and the artfully arranged “stumpery”, beloved by hedgehogs.
And vital for well-being it may not be, but a well deserved pint of New England IPA from the Arundel Brewery is also best enjoyed in the present – ideally chilled, and overlooking the River Arun.
Five good reasons to visit Arundel
Green Gate Wellness is a brand new addition to the centre of Arundel, situated in a grand, former bank. Spa founder and entrepreneur Innessa Bauer, whose superfood blends are stocked in Harrods, has installed an infrared heat therapy room and offers treatments including Thai, hot stone and Swedish massage, as well as vegan facials.
Get yourself a Christmas hamper at Pallant of Arundel, purveyors of fine food and wines, and fill it to the brim with local goodies like Molecomb Blue cheese from the nearby Goodwood Estate, fizz from Nutbourne Vineyards, and handmade Audrey’s Chocolates from Hove (on the health and well-being front, you can also stock up on seasonal, organic fruit and veg).
The antiques emporium
Spencer Swaffer is the darling of interior designers who favour antiques, and has been dealing in them for more than 40 years. It’s old school: you ring a bell to enter. He bills his curation as “effortlessly glamorous, achingly stylish; old money grandeur with a humorous undertone”.
Warm your cockles by the fire at The Norfolk Arms, a former Georgian coaching inn, after enjoying their vintage afternoon tea (£21 for two people).
Arundel Castle reopens in 2018 from Friday, March 30. Attractions include the Earl’s gardens and grounds, the Fitzalan Chapel, a restaurant and coffee shop and the castle keep and rooms – as well as the inevitable gift shop.