If I’m being completely honest, spas are not the main attraction for me. Anywhere. Ever. Relaxation is something I do alone with a book or with a pair of trainers and a long stretch of pavement. Skincare is something I do when I mainline water and avocados. So, when I head to the newly revamped Rudding Park Spa in Harrogate, it’s less the £9.5 million refurb I’m chomping at the bit for, and more the hotel’s brand new Horto restaurant.
Horto is a cosy space so provenance-traceable that you can practically have one foot in the exact pea patch in which your entree’s relatives still live (the delightful kitchen garden is a mere stroll away from the restaurant), as you chomp down gleefully on its tender green sweetness.
We were given the option of ‘eating blind’ or of tucking in with a fully-informed head and pre-conceived palate. Never ones to ignore a recumbent gauntlet, our menus were turned resolutely face down as we ventured enthusiastically with deliberate ignorance into the seven-course menu.
It was an extraordinary experience - not only because every glorious mouthful was sublime, but because it’s quite something to gauge the extent to which our palates are shaped by expectation, from whichever source that expectation has arisen. A silky blob of mozzarella - I recognised it to be so - was topped by a sundried tomato. A clear, cold broth was then ladled over the top and I was stumped. The taste was welcomingly familiar - sweet, earthy, sharp - and yet I had no idea what on earth it was. It was tomato.
In the absence of the expected colour, removed from the centrifugal process that has transformed the very fruit I sampled in the kitchen garden earlier into this transparent, intense liquid, I had nothing but my palate to rely on, and it seemed that my palate wasn't all that clever. It was a delightfully jarring sensation, the clash of singing tastebuds, whirring, wondering brain, slightly aggrieved ego (“I thought I knew about food?!”) and a curiosity about what was to come, which whetted an already acute appetite.
Step out to enjoy the fresh country air and work up an appetite for some sensational cuisine
This appetite of mine wasn’t born of mere greed, nor of genuine hunger - although both of these were primary players. In keeping with my professed lack of interest in things of a treatment-related nature, I eschewed an earlier session in the spa in favour of a run through Rudding Park’s grounds and out into the village beyond.
It’s a sun-dappled route characterised by leaping rabbits, distant golfers, a tumbledown churchyard and the odd stile - and although I’m reliably told by hotel staff that doubling the path will give me my desired 5 miles, my running tech even more reliably told me I completed 6 miles - so it was without a moment's hesitation that I smacked my lips and rolled my eyes over all seven courses.
The Kitchen Garden
Run or no run, you’d have to be a tiny bit dead inside to not bliss out over the food, especially after a tour of the kitchen garden, where more varieties of rhubarb, apple and oregano than I ever knew existed are planted in tidy yet enticingly wild beds. There’s my heart’s favourite too - fig - as well as fennel, rhubarb, gooseberries and lavender, which I’m certain needs to be incorporated into one of the hotel’s afternoon teas (you can enjoy these in the garden’s Breeze House, as well as in the ‘main’ hotel).
Back in my room - spacious and comfortable, although with a decor that's slightly more masculine and corporate than some of the public spaces have led me to expect - my soak in the freestanding bath was shorter than planned as sleep grabbed me, hauled me out and over to an enormous bed and hung on to me well after the sun streamed through the glass doors and past the heavy drapes I’d thrown back open after the turn-down service had visited.
Good coffee and avocado toast placed me back in the land of the living and then it was on to the spa, where I drifted up to the rooftop to relax before my noon appointment. Here, the same integrity of design as I had admired in our previous day’s wanderings was beautifully apparent. Award-winning designer Matthew Wilson has cast his magic both in the pre-renovation gardens, working around existing flora to create spaces as perfect for childish games of hide-and-seek as for clandestine kisses. Taking in views of these gardens from my deck chair, I was impressed and soothed by the talent that’ created such a calming haven.
Away from the rooftop, encased in my thick toweling robe, I glided breezily between pools and relaxation spaces before my appointment. As a lover of ‘outside’, I tend to find spas (why are they so often subterranean?!) a bit claustrophobic but here there is a seamless flow of indoor and outdoor space, enhanced by floor-to-ceiling views of those dreamy gardens.
I’d deliberately opted for the most hippy-dippy sounding of the treatments - a crystal facial, so that my scepticism towards everything of a spa-related nature would be pushed to its limits, and even though my therapist, Amy, instantly won me over with her lovely smile and demeanour, I was still as Grinch-ish on the inside about facials as my complexion probably indicated.
The facial was lovely. The products felt and smelled divine, and the sensation of having a warmed crystal, with all of its professed vibrations, gliding over my skin, in a warm, nurturing space was relaxing. Best of all? Amy wasn't averse to conversing with me when I ask her questions (relaxing is one thing; falling asleep on your back when you might snore in the face of the lovely person ministering to your skin’s needs is another) and I loved how she talked enthusiastically and adoringly about her employees and her job. I left with a glow that was much from the inside as the out.
Unsurprisingly, I wanted to eke out every last minute at Rudding Park, so I cut it fine to make the train back to London, but as I hurriedly throw things into my case, I caught sight of myself in a mirror and, I really did look kind of radiant - so much so that I, rather cringe-inducingly, told our taxi driver this when he commented on the outstanding reputation of the hotel and asked how our stay had been.
After I hauled my bag out of the boot, he commented in his rolling Yorkshire brogue, “You know, I have no idea what you looked like before, but I must say, you really do look younger!”
A one-night stay at Rudding Park starts from £172 per room per night. A one-night spa break starts from £177 per person including half board, a 50-minute treatment and access to the spa. Access to the Roof Top Spa and Garden is £35 for two hours.
Rudding Park Hotel
North Yorkshire HG3 1JH
*During my visit I was hosted by the lovely team at Rudding Park Hotel. All views and opinions are my own. Images courtesy of Rudding Park Hotel.
Situated within 163 acres of lush Irish countryside in County Antrim (just outside Belfast), Galgorm Resort & Spa is an impressive luxury spa hotel with 127 rooms, an outdoor Thermal village and three large dining areas. Galgorm caters to both locals seeking a fine dining experience as well as spa enthusiasts from across Europe who book in for a restful weekend.
At most spas, you come to expect fluffy towels, an array of saunas and steam rooms, lovely food, staff happily attending your requirements and a feeling of overall relaxation and enjoyment. What we didn’t expect was delicious lemon sorbet served after a massage, a free (and regularly replenished) mini bar, a Quality Street chocolate wrapped in our dinner napkins, a 3AA Rosette dining experience and a Gin Library with more than 250 gins. It’s that extra attention to detail and the impeccable hospitality at every point of your stay that made our stay at Galgorm feel truly exclusive.
The Thermal Village
The Thermal Village is a vast and welcoming labyrinth of cold rooms, hot rooms, invigorating aromatherapy rooms and meditative rooms, which provide a great place to while away a few hours with only the sound of the fast-flowing River Maine in the background. The outdoor hot tubs, hydro pools and the open fire pit are the perfect place to hole away for warmth and relaxation during the depths of winter.
The impressive 25-metre pool is perfect for getting in some lengths and The Orangery is a fab place to relax and enjoy a light snack.
Despite the hotel being busy with guests and the spa being busy with day visitors, there was always enough space to accommodate everyone without it feeling cramped.
The Celtic Sauna Ritual
A gong sounded to mark the start of the ritual and we entered the sauna with a group of nervous looking people, all slightly unsure as to what to expect. Chris, our ‘sauna master’, soon put our minds at rest with his relaxed confidence, healthy glow and friendly introduction. Over a 12-minute period, Chris mixed a variety of essential oils, which he placed on hot stones, while instructing us to inhale deeply as he wafted hot air in our faces with a hot towel, all while explaining the health benefits of essential oils.
To help keep us cool, Chris provided us with snow that we could use to cool down and he also ensured that we stayed hydrated. Afterwards, we were led to the riverside lodge where we were instructed to lie down while Chris opened the window to let in the soothing sounds of bird song and the flowing River Maine as he guided us through a mindfulness meditation session.
At only £15, this really is an essential treatment!
To help us unwind, my friend and I both had the back and shoulder massage. I often find that massages can be a bit of a disappointment at spa hotels, but not at Galgorm; my masseur gave me a fantastic deep tissue massage that left me feeling amazing.
The River Room
The highlight of Galgorm’s three restaurants is The River Room, a 3AA Rosettes restaurant where head chef Johnnie Boyd serves up delicious high quality locally sourced Irish cuisine. The smallest of the three restaurants at Galgorm, its intimate atmosphere and excellent service make it a truly special dining experience.
We knew we were in for a treat when we were offered delicious canapes compliments of the chef. We devoured the crispy chicken skin with brown crab mayo; haggis fritter with turnip puree; and the turbot ceviche.
The short rib starter served with parmesan crisp and quails egg wrapped in potato string was fab. We loved the quality of the fresh fish and the perfect balance of flavours, which we savoured with every bite.
Throughout our meal, we were impressed by the presentation and the incredible mix of textures on our plate. The restaurant is currently striving for a Michelin star and we're confident they’re on their way to great success.
Gin lovers are in for a treat with the Gin Library, which boasts more than 250 gins. Here knowledgeable staff are on hand to help guests find a gin that best suits their tastes. Sitting in The Conservatory, listening to jazz as we looked at the river and sipped gin cocktails (served with popcorn, which we thought was a nice touch), we began to feel fully relaxed.
For true gin connoisseurs, there is the option to enjoy a gin tasting with your meal for £50.
My friend and I had arrived at Galgorm stressed from the chaos of London and work demands. Forty-eight hours later, we sprung out of Galgorm transformed, akin to two giddy teenagers who were full of life. Everyone made such an effort to look after us during our stay (especially John the Head Concierge), helping us to leave feeling so invigorated we’re already planning our trip for next year.
Galgorm Resort & Spa
136 Fenaghy Road
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