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.
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