There’s nothing subtle about Seaham Hall. As soon as you swing through the large stone gates emblazoned with the hotel name and sweep up the drive, you can tell you’ve arrived somewhere special. The Seaham Hall team has created something really special at this Georgian country house sitting high on the cliffs above the County Durham coast and I was eager to visit.
Big, loud and proud, nothing is understated here. Arriving at the entrance, the contemporary water fountain (an air-core vortex water sculpture called In Charybdis by William Pye) is modern and unique, standing and swirling in front of the Georgian hotel’s grand façade. Through the white entrance pillars and into the cosy reception hall, the restored building is just as impressive inside as it is outside. You can leave the tweed hat and Barbour jacket behind for a visit to Seaham; it’s no ordinary country house hotel. Here, you’re more likely to feel like a glitzy celebrity than landed gentry.
The original part of Seaham Hall was built in 1791 by Ralph and Judith Millbank and was extended by the Londonderry family in the 1800s. During the First World War, Seaham Hall was handed over to the British Army to be used as a military hospital, treating more than 3,500 patients before being returned to the Londonderry family at the end of the war.
In 1922, when the family sold off the house contents and left the property, it became the secret bottling and distribution centre for Scotch Whiskey. Five years later, the family gifted the house to the council and Seaham Hall became a sanitorium for people suffering from tuberculosis. In 1985, the property, which had stood empty for years, was finally converted into a hotel and was bought by the current owners in 2012 with one goal in mind; to maintain its status as the finest five-star hotel in the North East. Something it has absolutely nailed.
Guests can choose from Seaham Hall’s refined selection of 21 stunning suites and my guest and I were lucky enough to be staying in one of the hotel’s beautiful garden suites with a private garden and our very own hot tub.
This is five-star luxury at its finest; the Seaham Hall team has thought of all the little details to ensure guests are comfortable, pampered and left wanting for nothing. Our teal-tiled bathroom was clean and ready for me to jump into the bath; towels were hanging on the towel rail warming nicely, bubble bath and hand sanitiser had been decanted into small glass bottles; and a candle was ready (with matches) to be lit to set the ambience for the evening.
A unique roll-top bath stands centrally with a rain shower and 360-degree spray jets, and a cute rubber duck and perfumed bath products – made exclusively for Seaham Hall – are ready to use. Elsewhere, there were essential refreshments in the fridge, fresh apples on the table and a miniature bottle of pillow mist to soothe us into a deep slumber at the end of the evening.
The bedroom itself is bold and beautiful with voluptuous gold-patterned wallpaper and heavy, striped drapes bringing privacy to the double-aspect, corner suite with huge floor-to-ceiling windows. Peek out onto your own terrace and lawn, fringed with tall conifer hedgerows to screen you from other guests. The 8ft-tall headboard towers above the bed and makes the super king look practically small, if dreamily comfy and snuggly. Vivid artwork lines the walls, and bright furnishings and oversized lamps make the décor chic and contemporary.
A huge corner sofa splits the bedroom from the lounge area, but you’d be forgiven for missing the 46in flatscreen TV which, framed, resembles a mirror hanging on the wall above the minibar and coffee station. The lights are all controlled by panels located around the room but are far too complicated to use and, it was luck more than judgment that we managed to turn the lights out as we headed off for dinner.
We took our table in the window of The Dining Room; a country chic restaurant with high gilded ceilings, rugged wood furniture, tweed furnishings, finessed with modern flair with glittering chandeliers. The room and staff were both warm and welcoming, although the thumping beat of the modern house music didn’t really fit with the glamorous surroundings or the mouth-watering menu!
Warm bread and salted butter started our meal and I chose a first course of delicate and sweet heritage beetroot with blackcurrants before moving onto the daily fish served with spinach, tartare veloute and the most deliciously crispy French fries I’ve had in a long time. My husband’s dry-aged beef was cooked perfectly but, at £25, seemed quite a stingy-sized portion. We finished with dessert; the chocolate cremeux for me, which was delightfully smooth, and rich, the egg custard tart for him.
Awarded five bubbles last year and winner of the Best Customer Service accolade in the Good Spa Guide 2019 Awards, Serenity Spa can be found at the end of a magical underground walkway which connects the hotel to the expansive 40,000sq ft state-of-the-art facility. Descend the spiral staircase into the secret tunnel and follow the purple glow, rippling stream and wooden decking to the giant white elephant which signifies the entrance to the spa.
We were greeted at reception and shown through to the waiting lounge with a glass each of refreshing tropical juice before our therapists whisked us off into one of the spa’s 17 treatment rooms. The space had been set up as a warm and intimate couple’s room and we both took our places on the toasty massage tables.
No expense has been spared kitting out the spa with high-tech reclining, adjustable beds which bend and mould your body into comfortable postures as the therapists knead and rub your back and shoulders with warm oil and hot stones. Our 75-minute Temple Spa Rocks of the Mediterranean treatment was wonderfully relaxing. The warm water flowing through the bed beneath me and the shroud of thick towels wrapped me in a cosy cocoon and eased me into a stupor of tranquillity.
We headed into the zen lounge to laze on the heated recliners, enjoy a chilled glass of water and sample a sweet fruit skewer while taking in the panoramic tree-top views from the balcony which is perched amongst the leaves which were shifting from green to autumnal red. The treatment menu is packed full of different options featuring classic, relaxing Temple Spa treatments or uplifting and organic Ishga treatments, derived from Scottish seaweed and natural spring water.
Outside the treatment rooms, there’s plenty to keep hotel guests and day spa visitors busy. Serenity Spa boasts a 20m tropical pool and hydro pool inside, with an outdoor infinity pool and two large open-air hot tubs nestled in the picturesque spa gardens. Inside the atrium, guests can try the sauna, steam room, herbal sanarium, snail showers and plunge pools. The salt sauna, with its orange-glowing wall of shimmering salt blocks, was my favourite spot to kick back and relax.
A glistening mosaic wall curves around the tranquil tropical pool, which sits at the heart of the spa with views over the terrace and mature spa gardens. An island sits at the centre with massage stations, and the gym on the first floor offers guests the opportunity to work out with views onto the serene pool below. A small hydro pool is hidden around the corner and, at the touch of a button, is transformed into a raging torrent of power-jets and a whirlpool of bubbles. Be sure to find the secret Hammam with hot steam showers and its own secluded Jacuzzi where you can sit and soak under a starry ceiling of twinkling lights.
We visited the spa in the late afternoon and enjoyed the twilight timing which meant we had the pick of the loungers and could try out all of the highlights without having to fight for space. Deliciously tempting smells waft out of O-Zone – the spa restaurant – where lunch and dinner can be enjoyed.
Other facilities and packages
The Vortex game room is the perfect place to unwind after dinner with a board game, a movie on the big screen or a game of pool. While the Covid-19 curfew and social distancing rules mean hotel guests must abide by new restrictions during their stay, staff at Seaham Hall have gone above and beyond to provide new packages and in-room treats to keep everyone happy.
We certainly felt special (and spoiled!) sampling the packages, which include Gin Lovers Joy – a gin-inspired night cap of Durham gin and a selection of flavoured tonics served chilled to your suite – as well as a s’mores picnic. We arrived back to our suite after dinner one evening as staff laid out our fluffy Tattinger blankets and lit our fire pit and hopped in the hot tub for a soak while the fire raged. We wrapped ourselves in blankets and sat fireside to taste strawberries and toast marshmallows (and G and Ts!) under the stars. As if that wasn’t enough, guests looking for a late-night snack can order the Midnight Munchies package for a seasonal British cheese plate served with sourdough crackers and grapes.
In a nutshell
Hospitality has had a tough ride this year. But as soon as Seaham Hall could throw open its doors again, the team were ready and raring to go – with a whole host of new, creative ideas to ensure that guests could enjoy their stay while still adhering to all of the Covid restrictions. If you’re looking for the celebrity treatment and a special escape – lockdown or not – then Seaham Hall could be the perfect destination. After all, it is the finest five-star hotel in the North East.
Prices start from £405 for a Garden Suite with private hot tub on a B&B basis. Gin Lover’s Tray costs from £45pp and Midnight Munchies costs from £12pp. Serenity Spa packages start from £79pp.
Address: Seaham Hall, Lord Byron’s Walk, Seaham, Durham SR7 7AG
Phone: 0191 516 1400