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.
Relax at this stunning property in the heart of the countryside...
Nestled away on 200 acres of lush farmland in North Yorkshire, The Coach House at Middleton Lodge is the perfect retreat for those looking to escape the stresses and strains of city life. As you make your way up the long drive flanked by towering trees, you feel worlds away from any cares or worries.
The stylish and understated décor with its soothing muted palette and emphasis on raw materials that serve as the centrepiece of the design aesthetic, creates a restful haven for guests who want nothing more than to relax.
Here, laziness isn’t guilt inducing, but one of life’s finest luxuries. In fact, the only gripe I have about the place is that it really throws all ambition out the window in favour of curling up for a snooze, enjoying a good book, or taking a leisurely walk. But, if like me, you could probably do with slowing down a notch every now and again, then there’s no better place to be.
At The Coach House at Middleton Lodge and its equally fashionable restaurant, every detail of the impossibly chic decor has been considered, meaning I found myself making mental notes of which finishing touches I’d like to recreate in my own home. Apparently, I wasn’t the only one who was conspiring to steal their design ideas and pass them off as my own, as I overheard one inspired woman planning an ambitious re-furb of her bathroom, and saw another cooing over a large hand-blown green glass vase in the dining room.
From the rustic chic wooden beams in the bedrooms, to the claw-footed bath tubs and luxury toiletries from British company Noble Isle in the bathrooms, you’re aware of the love and attention to detail that the owners have bestowed on the estate during the 18-month restoration of the property.
Designed by John Carr of York for a local barrister, George Hartley, the building was completed in 1780. A traditional Georgian estate, it’s comprised of a main house, coach house, walled garden, estate cottages, gatehouse, farm and farmhouse. Country types will love strolling the grounds and taking in the beautiful natural surroundings.
Owners James and Rebecca moved into the lodge in 1980 and since 2005 started restoring the estate to bring it back to its former glory. The couple continue to update the property with the vision to one day restore the entire property.
The Coach House Restaurant
The restaurant's aesthetic, cuisine and the exemplary service of its staff, is all down to owners James’ and Rebecca’s attempt to bring a bit of London to Yorkshire. Inspired by the great dining experiences they’ve had at world-class restaurants in London, they sought to create a restaurant that was both stylish and inviting.
Its urban industrial country chic look (think exposed brick, tongue and groove panelling and purposefully bare plaster combined with comfortably luxe furnishings with wool and velvet upholstery), certainly wouldn’t be out of place in Islington or Shoreditch.
To the right of the restaurant and bar, visitors will find a seductive den with a sexy charcoal herringbone tweed banquet style sofa and mustard-coloured velvet armchairs, which provide the place to relax while sipping a glass of Cognac by the fire. Wile away the hours with a good book or simply settle in for a cosy tête-à-tête. Whatever your choice, you’ll find that it’s amazingly easy to lose track of time doing absolutely nothing.
*During this trip I was hosted by the lovely team at The Coach House Restaurant and Middleton Lodge. All words and opinions are my own.
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