Words by Rowena Marella-Daw
For many of us at this time, a holiday that doesn’t involve long airport queues, crowded planes and expensive PCR tests sounds like bliss. The solution, of course, lies in a leisurely break right here on British soil. Apart from being stress-free, it’s a welcome opportunity to discover and explore places we’ve always wanted to visit but keep putting off – lush landscapes, historical sights, vibrant cities, sweeping coastlines and placid waterways.
Meandering canals and rivers have a way of calming the mind, and a few languorous days spent in a riverside retreat can do wonders for our wellbeing. Cruise along the Thames on an electric-powered boat, learn to paddle board, or stroll along the banks and observe the lifestyle of riverbank denizens. But first, you need a good starting point, and an ideal candidate is The Runnymede on Thames Hotel and Spa in Egham, Surrey.
The Runnymede is a family-owned hotel built in 1974. And although it had undergone complete renovation in 2009, the structure still retains the architectural style typical of that decade. Inside, I found a trendy vibe reminiscent of 70s retro chic giving warmth and character to The Lounge, where mood lighting glows through glass tassels dangling from the ceiling. Velvet chairs and sofas in rich tones and quirky shapes also invoke a free-spirited approach to design and unpretentious elegance.
Floor-to-ceiling glass windows and sliding doors allow guests to observe the comings and goings along the river and promenade while chilling out in the lounge or dining in the adjacent restaurant. There’s also a running theme around the hotel devoted to ducks, the focal point of which are rows of colourful rubber ducks on display at the lobby, each one representing British characters. I discovered artwork of these quacky creatures dotted around on walls and even next to a fire alarm. There’s even an art installation by the outdoor pool area – naturally dedicated to ducks!
All rooms blend elegant contemporary style with modern comforts, and the ones overlooking the river are more popular – an ideal spot for a bit of barge and motorboat spotting. Invigorating ESPA toiletries with Bergamot and Jasmine aroma also came with a bottle of sanitiser with 80 percent alcohol content, and these are available everywhere in The Runnymede. This was my first hotel visit since the lockdowns last year, and I was impressed with the hygiene protocols in the room and the entire hotel. Hopefully this is something that will continue as standard in the travel and leisure industry.
The dining experience at the Leftbank restaurant and outdoor terrace comes with unrivalled views of the river. A scrumptious selection of British favourites include starters, such as chicken and smoked ham roulade with sun-blush tomato and watercress, and seared cod cheeks spiced with lemongrass, ginger, coconut and fried shallot. A main course of Hogs Back TEA (Traditional English Ale) beer battered fish and chips comes with freshly made mushy peas and tartar sauce. What makes this one special is the light and crispy batter made with award-winning ale produced from Surrey-grown Fuggles hops. Decadent desserts will satisfy sugar cravings, but a refreshing, palate-cleansing trio of tangy lemon, raspberry and mango sorbet helps to cool down during a sweltering summer’s day.
Just around the corner is the River Hideout, the hotel’s new summer hot spot designed to make picnics stylish and effortless while tucking into barbecue favourites, Hawaiian poke bowls or home-made pizzas. Replacing the traditional ice cream van is a gleaming Airstream trailer to add a touch of nostalgia while serving chilled refreshments and frozen treats. Bean bags and deck chairs are at the ready for some serious relaxation.
After a long spell of hibernation we could all do with some serious pampering. The hotel spa offers several indulgent treatments, and the Guinot Detoxygene Facial sounded like the perfect solution for my lacklustre skin. It started off with a Detoxygene mask specially formulated to eliminate toxins and impurities lodged deep within the skin. The cooling sensation and creamy texture indeed helped me to relax in no time.
Protected with a mask and visor, my masseuse, Becky, made me feel at ease as she applied massage and pressure point techniques with masterly strokes all over my face, neck and scalp using just the right amount of pressure. Sixty minutes went by quickly, I didn’t want it to end. My skin certainly felt more supple and brighter. This was by far one of the best facials I’ve ever had. Spa facilities also include an indoor pool, sauna, steam room and infra-red cabin, which would be beneficial especially during the winter months.
Hotel pools can be hit or miss, and in my books they have to tick several boxes: design, layout, cleanliness, water quality, atmosphere, loungers, health and safety measures, facilities, surroundings and service. The Runnymede’s outdoor swimming pool ticked all of the above. At the time I visited, only a limited number of guests could book a one-hour slot each, with a 15-minute gap in-between for staff to clean the pool and sanitise the loungers. This ensured that the pool area was never crowded at any one time, even at peak hours.
Loungers were spread across the lawn and poolside area, and the presence of a lifeguard at all times was reassuring. The water quality was good and didn’t smell of chlorine at all – a major plus. At most, there were only three people swimming at any one time in the huge pool, I even had it to myself for quite some time. As of writing this, the hotel confirmed that hourly slots will continue to be enforced – because the last thing we need is an overcrowded pool.
Indeed, life slows down by the riverbank. While strolling along the promenade, I paused to admire a tranquil tableau of passing barges, motor boats, water cascading from the Bell Weir Lock, a thriving barging community and boatyard. Denizens of these floating homes have done amazing transformations to their surroundings, creating deck gardens and adorning promenade walls with colourful hanging plants.
Both sides of the river are lined with sprawling old properties – some derelict, others impeccably maintained. Being on the flight path, I reckon these residents must be enjoying a brief lull in the air traffic, if they even noticed. Within walking distance is a monument marking the site where the Magna Carta was sealed by King John on 15th June 1215. On this location also stand memorials to John F. Kennedy and the Allied Air Forces of the Second World War.
In a nutshell
The Runnymede on Thames appeals particularly to those who want to escape London but don’t want to travel too far. Its close proximity to Heathrow Airport also makes it an ideal retreat after a long-haul flight. Following a busy day either exploring nature, visiting historic landmarks, or cruising, coming home to a hotel with a chilled out ambience, award-winning spa treatments, great food and attentive staff makes all the difference. I came away relaxed and revived.
Nightly rates start from £170 for a double room, on a room only basis.