The festive season can often be a hectic fanfare. So escaping the hustle and bustle for a luxury country spa sounds like the perfect retreat.
Sopwell House is synonymous with relaxation, and the good thing is it doesn’t take an entire day to get there. Just less than an hour’s commute from central London, and a short drive from St Albans City station, this hidden gem is tucked away within 12 acres of Hertfordshire countryside.
Since owner Abraham Bejerano acquired Sopwell House in 1986, this 18th century, Georgian manor has been lovingly restored and developed over the years. Whilst appearing modest from the outset, it boasts a generous 128 rooms, 16 bespoke Mews Suites onsite, and four restaurants including the Cocktail Lounge and Conservatory Bar. The grounds feature a gazebo and a lovely pond with a bridge overlooking the country views.
As I step inside the warm lobby, I receive an equally warm reception by welcoming staff. Festive cheer is reflected throughout, from the glittering Christmas trees to the delightful, Gingerbread Bavarian Village model that takes centre stage. The lobby is charming with wood decor and autumnal tones, keeping to its country house style. The glass atrium ceiling allows natural light to flood in making the space feel bright and airy. Plush velveteen armchairs and sofas surround open fireplaces, adorned with festive wreaths. Making it all the more cosy and inviting – exactly what I needed to escape the winter chill outside. All that was missing was the roasted chestnuts on the open fire!
The Mews Suites
If you are after complete seclusion, Mews Suites is a peaceful hideaway. Just a stones-throw-away from the main building and behind private gates are 16 bespoke suites. Once traditional farmhouse cottages and stables, each suite has been individually designed with luxury in mind. Ranging from sophisticated studio suites with in-room baths, one-bedroom suites with private terraces and hot tubs, to cosy duplexes with high-spec kitchenettes.
The gates open to reveal a secret garden (literally) and I’m escorted through beautiful, communal gardens designed by Ann-Marie Powell, a gold-award winner at RHS Chelsea Flower Show. Passing a contemporary water feature and outdoor Hydrotherapy Pool, we finally arrive at my new abode. I was pleasantly surprised to enter through my own wooden front gate and courtyard, also noting the post box on the wall.
The Heather Suite is a ‘homely’ duplex split over two levels. And as I enter the cosy living room, I’m tempted to sink into the plush chaise lounge sofa or inviting leather armchair.
The interiors are quintessential country-chic. Combining earthy colours and plaid textures of a country house with contemporary touches. My favourite was the modern glass fireplace that you can control at just a press of a button. The spacious open plan lounge/dining area includes a well-stocked kitchenette, complete with integrated cooking hob, microwave, and Nespresso tea and coffee machine and kettle.
The pine stairs leads up to a cosy bedroom, with a spa-style, en-suite bathroom. There’s also a desk, safe, hairdryer, fluffy bathrobes and slippers, and indulgent ELEMIS toiletries. The views from my bedroom window overlooked the stunning, communal gardens and Hydro Pool.
It comes with all the mod-cons you’d expect from a premium hotel – a wall-mounted flat-screen TV, discreet wall switches to adjust the mood lighting, and a REVO sound system that is blue-toothed enabled so you can sync your favourite playlists.
Reminiscent of the festive romantic movie, ‘The Holiday’, I felt I had my very own country home…well, at least for one night! I was looking forward to curling up in front of the flickering fireplace with a glass of wine.
Cottonmill Spa and The Club
Relaxation and wellness take priority, and Cottonmill and The Club certainly exceeds expectations. As the first private members’ Spa in the UK, and thanks to a £14 million refurbishment, The Club is equipped with state-of-the art facilities and innovative treatments.
Fresh aromas of lavender and eucalyptus fill the air, and soothing music sets the ambiance. Guests in fluffy, white robes meander around or lounge on either one of the many relaxing beds or cosy swinging seat suspended from the ceiling.
Spread over three floors, you’ll discover a slice of paradise behind each door. Whether it’s the spa gardens with indoor or outdoor hydrotherapy pools, or the soothing deep relaxation rooms, there is something for everybody.
I was shown around four rooms in the ‘thermal suite’; including an organic sauna seasonally scented with oils, a panoramic sauna with countryside views, a therapeutic salt steam room, and botanical steam room.
But the treatments are the most popular, with an extensive list that reads more like a restaurant menu. With so many delights, I opted for the ESPA Quartz Poultice Massage – based on sand therapy to sooth and heal muscle tension. The poultice is a muslin cloth tightly packed with aromatic herbs.
After selecting my ESPA revitalising massage oil and ‘chilled music’ playlist, I rested on a rather high-tech Amber and Quartz Crystal Bed. Wrapped in a towel, I was cocooned by the warm crystals that were moulded into my body, before being massaged with hands and the poultice. The treatment incorporates the use of singing bowls placed on the body while the bed gently vibrates. This felt slightly odd at times, but was the most relaxing treatment I’d ever experienced.
After treatment, I was taken to the Post-Treatment Rose Relaxation Room where guests are encouraged to unwind and hydrate with a beverage. The dimly-lit space has reclining beds in individual cubicles, and a calming ambience to ease your mind until you are ready to leave.
Getting around The Club can seem a bit of a maze, but accommodating staff are always at hand to offer assistance. As far as luxury spas go, the Cottonmill really does deliver in offering a first-class, pampering service, leaving you revitalised.
Dinner was served in The Restaurant (yes that really is the name!) which is the main area for gourmet fine dining. Specialising in modern European cuisine, The Restaurant is stylishly with features such as the chic wine wall and grand piano. It is also recipient of the Open Table Diner’s choice award 2018 and 2019 and 2 AA Rosettes.
The special ‘festive menu’ was enticing with a wide range of seasonal dishes. For starters, I opted for the confit of Gressingham duck and had the seared venison fillet with glazed celeriac and burnt apple puree for mains. Both dishes were intricately presented and tasted divine. Desserts were equally tempting, and I opted for the spice apple terrine with a warm cinnamon doughnut (my favourite part) and roasted banana mousse.
Overall, the premium service, presentation and quality of the dishes were everything you would expect from fine gourmet dining.
For the perfect nightcap, the Cocktail Lounge is an elegant area that continues the country home ambiance. Here you can sit in front of opulent fireplaces or by the library of books at one end of the lounge. Or if you fancy a little privacy, you can hide in a cosy alcove armed with your favourite book.
Breakfast buffet was served in The Brasserie. A bustling, open plan kitchen/diner offering a vast selection of hot and cold breakfast dishes. I was more than content with my tasty full English breakfast, and attentive staff made sure that you had all your tea and coffee needs catered for.
In a nutshell
If you are after some solid pampering and peace of mind, Sopwell House offers a first-class experience. Mews Suites is ideal for your very own, country haven and the Spa will simply make you feel like you’re in paradise. Sounds like an idyllic way to start the New Year!
Mews Suites prices start from £244 per night including breakfast for two guests.
Address: Mews Suites at Sopwell House, Cottonmill Lane, St Albans, AL1 2HQ.
Telephone: +44 (0) 1727 864477