Hotel Review: Sopwell House, St Albans in Hertfordshire
Sopwell House is a luxury four star spa hotel near the glorious town of St Albans. Once the country home of Lord Mountbatten, this upmarket Georgian mansion is nestled in 12 acres of gardens and is only 26 miles from London. The hotel was bought by the Bejerano family in 1986 and is still run as a family business today, headed by Abraham Bejerano. It is part of the AB Hotels group consisting of three hotels in London and the South East of England (Sopwell House, The Arch London and Crowne Plaza Five Lakes).
The hotel has an art deco theme and is modern and contemporary with opulent mirrors, grand fire places and unusual art work. It gained fame as the gathering place for the England national football team before international football events. It has also hosted other club and international football teams and one of the hallways is adorned with framed signed football shirts, which is certainly a sight to behold. The facilities include a conference & banqueting centre, two restaurants, two bars, a gym, dance studio, and spa.
The hotel also boasts some highly luxurious separate mews apartments, which are set away from the hotel, with access though a secure gate. They are beautifully decorated, some having four poster beds, spa baths and access to a communal hydro pool and gardens which have been designed by award winning gardener, Anne-Marie Powell.
My guest, Sue, and I stayed in the main hotel on a wet Sunday in January and had the most wonderful time. We were greeted on arrival and our luggage was taken to our room, whilst we eagerly went off to sample the spa facilities. We were given soft, luxurious robes and a pair of flip flops and headed off to the pool area. The atmosphere was calm and tranquil and couples and groups of women were leisurely lounging by the pool, sleeping and reading books or the Sunday papers. We noted and welcomed the absence of children and was told that there are set times for children to use the pool (8am-10am). The spa had the standard facilities you would expect, a gym, steam room, pool and jacuzzi and there is a large range of Espa and Clarins beauty treatments and massages on offer but these need to be booked far in advance as they are very popular.
Next to the spa is a lovely conservatory and brasserie, which allow guests to enter wearing their robes. We decided on the conservatory as the perfect place to have a mid afternoon pit stop, where we enjoyed a delightful cream tea with fresh clotted cream and warm scones. We then went back to the pool for a swim, steam and a snooze!
We were shown to our room by Gimi, who was very friendly and was happy to show us the facilities. The room was a superior double with countryside views, a super king bed and was absolutely stunning. The room was modern and followed the art deco theme with highly brocaded fabrics and beautiful mirrors. The colours were autumnal with a mustard yellow, heavily brocaded sofa and muted coloured wall paper, which was complemented by deep, rich dark red and yellow striped cushions on the bed, in luxurious felt. There was a bowl of strawberries and mini pistachio Battenberg cakes laid out on the coffee table and we felt this was a lovely touch. The bathroom was also modern and very clean, with a range of espa toiletries; and thick white bathrobes and slippers. There is a full sky package and a large flat screen TV in every room with other extras including a hair dryer, iron and ironing board and tea and coffee making facilities, but no mini bar.
The hotel has two restaurants, a formal restaurant and a brasserie. We were booked into the brasserie, which was an open plan design, with subtle lighting and large modern lampshades. There were two menus on offer, the brasserie package, which cost £30 per head for three courses and an a la carte menu, which was individually priced. They were very similar, with the addition of grills on the al a carte menu. Starters on this menu were an average of £7.50, the mains ranged from £15.50 for a stir fry, to £25.00 for the grilled lamb cutlet and on average the prices were £16.50 per main. Desserts were £6.75 and the cheese board was £9.50. The menu was typically brasserie, with a variety of fish dishes, salads, pasta and burgers.
Our waiter was very attentive and friendly and brought us a selection of warm rolls, butter and balsamic and olive oil dip whilst we waited for our first course. I started with ham hock, red wine reduction, caramelised walnuts and croutons. This was a very tasty ham terrine, stuffed with plenty of meat and walnuts, with a sweet chutney like sauce, crouton triangles and fresh salad leaves. It was very simple yet very delicious. Sue had a prawn and crayfish cocktail, which was jam packed with juicy prawns and crayfish, nestled on crunchy iceberg lettuce, with a good dollop of marie rose sauce. She described it as “how a prawn cocktail should be”.
For our mains, I ordered 28 day aged, 8oz Angus rib eye steak, confit plum tomatoes, portobello mushroom, watercress, béarnaise sauce and fries. The steak was cooked perfectly and the accompaniments of tomato and mushroom was a classic and winning combination. The fries were beautifully crisp and were even more delicious when dipped in the creamy béarnaise sauce. A really good, classic steak dish.
Sue chose the grilled lamb cutlet, rosemary potatoes, portobello mushroom, confit tomato and sauce paloise. She remarked that the lamb melted in the mouth and that she hadn’t tasted lamb that good in a long time, it was very tender and the rosemary potatoes were sautéed with a crisp outside and fluffy in the middle and again were accompanied well with the mushroom and tomato. The sauce complemented the lamb well and was sharp with mint and vinegar.
For dessert we were spoilt for choice, with every option sounding delicious. In the end I chose white chocolate and raspberry creme brulee with a Breton biscuit. The brulee was so light and the white chocolate was not at all overpowering. The raspberry cut through the sweetness perfectly and the crunchy Breton biscuits were a superb accompaniment. The whole thing was utterly delicious.
Sue had a warm chocolate and hazelnut brownie, Welsh gold honey ice cream and chocolate sauce. The brownie was rich, soft and dark, with plenty of hazelnuts and was decorated with berries, a raspberry coulis, chocolate shavings and drizzled in thick, oozy chocolate sauce. The star of the show, however, was the ice cream, packed with pieces of honeycomb and was truly out of this world.
The restaurant’s menu looked lovely too (two courses for £30 and three for £35), with a far more sophisticated range of food, such as soused mackerel, guinea fowl, lemon sole and braised short rib of beef.
After dinner we retired to the cocktail lounge for coffee (for Sue) and gin and tonic (for me!). The cocktail lounge was also decorated beautifully in warm blues and browns with velvet chairs, thick striped blue and white wall paper and a patterned carpet with an extravagant fire place, large ornate mirrors and glass cabinets holding the most exquisite collection of art deco tea pots. We then retired to our room and sunk into the ginormous bed and slept very soundly on the very comfortable mattress.
The next morning we went back to the brasserie for breakfast and were greeted with a very ample buffet. There was the choice of a full English breakfast, Danish pastries, fruit, cheeses, cold meats, yoghurt, cereals, toast and French stick. There was also a selection of freshly squeezed juices, water tea and coffee. We stacked our plates and sat overlooking the well-maintained gardens, enjoying the peace and tranquillity, “I’d like to live here,” Sue remarked.
After breakfast Sue went to the spa for her pre booked hot stone massage and returned an hour later with a big smile on her face. She explained that the massage was extremely relaxing, with invigorating oils. The hot stones were an unusual but enjoyable experience, with a lovely sensation of heat concentrated on the stressed and knotted muscles and was the perfect end to a perfect stay.
In summary, Sopwell House is a four star country house hotel, seeped in history, in the heart of leafy Hertfordshire. The staff were friendly and attentive and the hotel beautifully decorated in an art deco theme, with well maintained gardens and a fabulous spa. The whole experience was fantastic from start to finish and I would recommend this hotel to couples wanting romantic country breaks, mums and daughters wanting to get away from everything and groups of friends who want to have a relaxing catch up.
Room price: £134 for superior room with breakfast- £184, dinner bed and breakfast rate. Check their website, as they do two-night deals and spa deals throughout the year.
Address: Sopwell House, Cottonmill Ln, St Albans AL1 2HQ / 01727864477 / sopwellhouse.co.uk