Despite being extensively invaded by the Romans, and more recently Londoners snapping up second homes, West Sussex has thankfully retained plenty of its character.
The South Downs are a wooded ripple across the middle of the county, offering good walking and views to the coast, where creeks and harbours hide waterside villages and the odd ice cream van. Classic events like horseracing and the Festival of Speed at Goodwood or the polo at Cowdray Park are tempered by simpler pleasures such as walking in woods carpeted with bluebells or having a beer in a fine country pub. In this varied landscape, places to hang your hat are also a mixed bunch.
Left over from days when folk went shrimping in Bognor for their annual escape, there is a sea of no-nonsense coastal guesthouses that do a brisk trade for the bucket-and-spade brigade. At the other end of the scale, five-star country piles abound, where former Lords and Ladies peer from their canvas haunts at corporate types having a pow-wow or girlfriends relaxing into the fluffy robes of a spa package. And, except for Brighton, which deserves a list all to itself, the green, pleasant countryside is where our top ten hotels were discovered; interestingly none are by the sea.
The hotels are listed by price category and their order bears no reflection on our preference.
Luxury: Oak-panelled cosiness and fine dining.
Location: Cuckfield; close to vineyards and gardens worth a visit.
One of the last of the great, unchanged English country house hotels: privately owned, passionately cared for, timeless. Service is old school, fuelled by kindness and commitment. Decoration is old fashioned but full of character with very pretty bedrooms and interesting details. The modern British cooking is Michelin starred, the house an Elizabethan gem and William Robinson's garden highly important. A treasure, perfectly placed for visiting the many fine gardens in the area.
Luxury: An imposing country mansion where you might just as easily bump into Poirot or Posh.
Location: Turners Hill; close to Crawley and Gatwick airport and set in 170 acres of parkland.
The high ceilings and classic feel of the handsome old building blend seamlessly with the new wing, which expanded the tally of well-furnished rooms to 38 and added an impressive spa and pool. We like the excellent staff and less formal Reflections Brasserie, where the Monkfish with Thai red curry sauce is superb. Finish with a liqueur by the fire in the Library in winter.
Mid Price: A traditional family house with timeless floral décor.
Location: Bepton; set in lovely, peaceful grounds, at the foot of the South Downs and burn off breakfast exploring the numerous trails of the undulating estate.
This atmospheric family house has kept its spirit - after reading the papers in the Drawing room for ten minutes you want to tell the staff to take the rest of the day off. The bar, full of pictures of visiting Thespians and polo players, has window seats looking out over two lawn tennis courts, a small golf course and the tree-lined ridge of the Downs. There is a heated outdoor pool and the showers are seriously invigorating.
Mid Price: two compact, luxurious suites with contemporary chic in a clever little annexe.
Location: Midhurst; just outside the market town, Cowdray Park over the road.
A pair of quiet, stylish sanctuaries set in the charming village of Easebourne, this is a B&B with designer credentials. The garden is ideal for summer drinks and the house is only a scenic five-minute drive from the Halfway Bridge Inn, a country pub with excellent fish and game dishes. But save room for Felicity's legendary breakfast, where hand-cooked muesli and slices of fresh fruit are chased by the best eggs and bacon in the county.