Getting out of London for a night has be one of my favourite pastimes; for those days when you need a little break, a time out from real life, but the time constraints and budget won’t quite stretch to a proper mini break in a far flung city. Luckily, there’s a raft of rather delightful spa hotels a mere stone’s throw from the capital that are begging for a post-work sojourn on a Friday evening.
The Runnymede on Thames in Egham is exactly that. Leaving work at 5.30pm on a Friday, we were crossing the hotel’s threshold by 6.45pm, ready for a night of rest and relaxation. Situated on the bank of the river and just a short taxi ride from Egham station, it’s an ideal getaway for a night away from London. With rooms overlooking the river, a spa and fitness room and two restaurants on site, it’s no wonder we found it buzzing with guests upon arrival.
Rooms vary from singles for the solo traveller to doubles overlooking the river, family suites and even dog-friendly rooms for those travelling with a faithful companion. Checking in to ours, I instantly eyed up the ESPA toiletries in the bathroom, ready for my post-prandial soak, along with a bottle of prosecco chilling in the minibar, part of the hotel’s current 'Fizz & Films' package, offering couples a bed and breakfast stay with unlimited films, a bottle of fizz and popcorn from £160 for two. Nevertheless, having leapt on a train straight from work dinner called…
The hotel has two restaurants; The Lock Bar and kitchen is the a la carte offering, boasting a 2018 AA Rosettes award for culinary excellence with a menu of hearty, home-style cooking and a regularly changing menu. The Leftbank restaurant however, our dinner location, may well be the best buffet I’ve ever encountered. Completely spoilt for choice, we absolutely gorged on a smorgasbord of delicious fresh salads and nibbles to start, from lentil, butternut and goats cheese to devilled eggs, before helping ourselves to a selection of fresh fish, calamari and mussels, which the chef cooked up before our eyes in a creamy white wine sauce. With an array of sides to accompany, guests can choose from a plethora of dishes from the theatre kitchen, from sizzling roasts with all the trimming, pasta and sauces cooked to order and stone baked rustic dough with delicious cheesy toppings. The range of food on offer was something else. Puddings must not be overlooked; given we visited on Burns’ Night I very much enjoyed the Cranachan … though the individual strawberry cheesecakes were rather delightful. And the meringues, and for that matter the chocolate brownies… OK, so it was all delicious! The danger with a buffet however is one’s tendency to overeat, so perhaps be mindful when dining that you WILL want it all so probably best to stick with small quantities.
A pre-breakfast swim was just the ticket prior to another gorge at the buffet; fresh fruit with coulis and homemade compotes, a cereal and yoghurt bar, homemade Bircher and granola, a continental spread featuring ham, mortadella and smoked salmon, cheese, pastries and a full English buffet to pick and choose from… needless to say breakfast is another hefty affair, made all the sweeter by the addition of comb honey from their very own resident bees.
With the spa open until 10pm the temptation of a post-dinner session proved too much to resist; after all, is there anything better for the digestion than a jacuzzi? Resplendent with the addition of a steam room, dry and infra saunas and pool, it’s the perfect place to while away an evening. Sauna, swim, steam, repeat is my new mantra in life.
The spa’s treatment many encompasses a whole manner of massages, facials, body wraps and more, with a number of spa day experience packages available. They’ve even earmarked particular treatments for younger guests, a great option to those who might want to treat their teens. Should it strike your fancy the gym and studio classes are also available… though admittedly I didn’t feel the need to break my relaxation with a workout. Come the summer months there’s an outdoor pool available, while guests can also indulge in the riverside hot tub, though the thought of being exposed to all and sundry jogging along the public towpath doesn’t particularly fill me with joy.
Although our January sojourn wasn’t quite the right timing for it, guests can also enjoy messing about on the river in one of the hotel’s boats, with a number of staff licensed to skipper you up and downriver from their private mooring, something it’s certainly worth keeping in mind for the summer months.
The only criticism I had of our stay was the somewhat dubious array off films on offer; for a film package the choice was disappointing, with absolutely zero chick flicks or rom coms (yes I was on a girls’ minibreak…) and more *ahem* adult films than actual entertaining choices we wanted to watch, though given we were so stuffed from supper and drowsy post-bubble bath it wasn’t the end of the world.
For a deliciously relaxing night away less than an hour from London, The Runnymede on Thames is certainly one to add to your little black book.
There is something to be said for escaping London for a weekend to indulge in a relaxing retreat. So, when The Vineyard Hotel, a five-star specialist wine hotel located in Stockcross near Newbury in Berkshire, invited us for a wine-focused night away with wine, delicious food and a spa on the cards, we couldn’t resist.
This delightful, award-winning hotel boasts 30,000 bottles of wine housed in the on-site cellar and features 49 individually designed rooms and suites - all named after famous wines. The property also admiringly houses more than 100 pieces of art.
Everything at The Vineyard Hotel is about wine. There are no rules to a visit here, whether the guest is a wine lover or a vineyard explorer, the enigmatic staff do their best to ensure wines on offer are tasted and enjoyed in the upmost luxurious surroundings, to ensure every guest enjoys the wine tasting experience to the fullest.
The hotel's award-winning sommelier Romain Bourger won 'UK Young Sommelier of the Year' in 2016, so guests looking for inspiration can be assured they’re in good hands when he recommends wines to be paired with their meal.
To introduce wines from around the world to a wider audience, The Vineyard has unveiled a Grape Priced Wine campaign (#GrapePricedWine), to showcase fabulous wines that are accessible – whatever your price point.
For those who are serious about wine, the hotel also runs WSET courses and exams across several levels, to allow guests to achieve a qualification in wine.
One of the hotel’s great offerings is its 3AA Rosette restaurant. The a la carte menu is fantastic, however, it’s the tasting menus that make a stay here truly memorable. Guests can choose from the Judgement of Paris tasting menu (£89), where each course is paired with two wines - one Californian and the other French, or The Discovery Dinner tasting menus (£75). We tried the Discovery Dinner menu, an exciting and at times blinder of a menu (one of the wine parings is a blind test), allowing the taster to enjoy five exciting courses, each paired with a different wine.
We loved all the courses, especially the starter of octopus, tomato and green olive sauce, fregula and sweet potato, which was paired with a gorgeous 2015 Viognier from Australia.
Celebrating 20 years of culinary excellence
To mark the hotel's 20th birthday, the hotel has created 'Back to the Vine' a culinary festival featuring the culinary delights of seven Michelin starred chefs who have graced their kitchen over the years. From 25 June - 30 June guests will be able to enjoy a five-course dinner with expertly paired with wines for £150 per person. On Sunday, 1 July guests can enjoy a fabulous four-course Sunday lunch also with paired wines, and priced at £90 per person.
The Vineyard Hotel Spa – the perfect place to relax
All that eating and drinking can sometimes get the better of us, so it’s a blessing that the hotel has an award-winning 5-star spa to help people unwind. In addition to an indoor pool, sauna and steam rooms, the hotel is unique in that it offers a selection of wine-themed spa treatments featuring red grapes including a body wrap, body polish and a back treatment.
This luxury hotel is ideal for a relaxing retreat while broadening one’s wine knowledge. The staff are very helpful, the sommeliers are proficient and the evening meals, superb. It is all about discovery and adventure at The Vineyard, a concept that we love.
Priced from £247 for accommodation including breakfast (based on two guests sharing and depending on time of year and availability).
The Vineyard Hotel
A summary of our stay at The Vineyard Hotel
The Swan at Lavenham
If you love quirky, higgledy piggledy historical properties you’ll be swanning with joy over The Swan at Lavenham Hotel & Spa.
A study in beams, this medieval 15th century gem is everything you’d wish for in a period property. The hotel is comprised of three houses from which the hotel was later developed. It's not fully known when the conversion from houses into an inn took place, but it was well established in 1667. During its heyday in times bygone, it served as a public and posting house, with stabling for 50 horses.
So many beams!
Today, the 4-star hotel has 45 bedrooms, all of which are unique. We stayed in Room 34, The Newton Room, which had a very low ceiling and original timber-beamed walls. Although the room was on the small side, we had enough room for a cosy double bed, a desk, two arm chairs and an en-suite bathroom with chequered tiles and country-chic wooden panelling.
Our cosy bedroom - The Newton Room
Within the hotel there are two on-site restaurants – the Brasserie, a relaxed restaurant with original stone floors and contemporary décor serving casual fare, and the award-winning two rosette The Gallery restaurant. On a warm summer’s day, guests can also enjoy afternoon tea in the garden.
The back entrance of the property adjacent to the garden
The chef at the helm is Head Chef Justin Kett, who is passionate about classic British cuisine featuring quality, local ingredients. Wine lovers will be pleased to know that the restaurant also has a sommelier, Head Sommelier Francois Belin (previously of the Goring Hotel in London), who is on hand to help guests navigate the extensive wine menu to find a wine that beautifully matches their chosen dishes.
Dining at The Gallery has a real sense of occasion to it, with its stunning minstrel's gallery where a pianist plays popular medleys on the grand piano while diners enjoy their meals. We opted for three courses, all of which were delightful and served with a smile by our friendly server.
After a restful night's sleep, guests can tuck into the complimentary breakfast, which includes a selection of breads, porridge, yogurts and a cooked breakfast featuring favourites such as smoked salmon and scrambled eggs or Eggs Benedict.
Weavers' House Spa located within the hotel is a serene space with a soothing colour palette of sage green and white, making it the perfect place to chill out after a hectic week. The spa uses Temple Spa products, all of which are available for purchase.
Weavers' House Spa at The Swan at Lavenham
The on-site spa facilities include a sauna, steam room and an outdoor terrace with a small whirlpool - a great place to relax if the weather is cooperating! Guests can choose from more than 30 treatments from hot stone massages to a unique brush massage or more traditional facials, manicures and pedicures.
Upon arrival guests are given an exceptionally fluffy robe and slippers and are then asked to fill out a questionnaire, which arrives on a cute tray with an olive branch decoration and a hot towel and a fresh fruit smoothie to help you ease into your visit.
During my visit, I experienced the New Beginnings mummy-to-be massage (£70), an extra-gentle 60-minute massage tailored for pregnant women. Instead of a traditional massage where you lie on your back, you rest on your side on top of a special water bed as the therapist gives you a head-to-toe massage. Although the massage was relaxing, I found myself wishing for a bit more pressure, but to ensure safety, the therapists have to be as careful as possible, which is why they use such a light touch throughout the treatment.
Exploring further afield
As the hotel is located right in the heart of town, taking a stroll is a must. Lavenham is considered one of England’s best medieval villages with more than 340 listed buildings, so it’s worth checking it out. One of the key things to see in Lavenham is its gorgeous church - the church of St Peter and St Paul - which boasts a striking 141ft-high tower.
If you’re into shopping, head to Snape Maltings with its seven acres of Victorian buildings with shops, galleries and restaurants. If you’re a foodie, head for the Suffolk Food hall, near Ipswich, which boasts more than 8,000sq ft of space filled with some of the best food from Suffolk.
To book a stay at the Swan at Lavenham Hotel & Spa visit www.theswanatlavenham.co.uk.
Rooms start from £185 per night for two sharing including a full Suffolk breakfast; dinner from the a la carte menu is from £39 per person for three courses. Overnight guests have a complimentary two-hour session with use of the facilities in Weavers’ House Spa including the sauna, steam room, outdoor vitality pool and relaxation lounge.
The Swan at Lavenham Hotel & Spa
I love a good spa weekend. It’s the perfect tonic for truly relaxing after a hectic work week. What’s more it’s even better if I can escape London without having to embark on a massive journey to find a bit of solace. So, Bedford Lodge Hotel and Spa in Newmark (located less than an hour and a half train journey from London) was the perfect place for a bit of R&R.
Set within three acres of secluded gardens and adjacent to some of the most famous paddocks and training stables in the world, this 4-star spa hotel has an on-site restaurant and an award-winning luxury spa.
The hotel is contemporary in style and the rooms are typical of what you’d expect from a 4-star hotel – quite plain but with everything you need for a short stay, including complimentary Molton Brown toiletries. The real highlights of the hotel are the cracking cuisine at the 2AA Rosette Squires restaurant and the superb ESPA spa, which combined provide the perfect weekend escape.
The Spa at Bedford Hotel
Heralded one of the best spas in the east of England, this award-winning ESPA spa complex is a chic retreat. A muted colour palette of creams, sage green curtains, bleached wood floorboards provides a restful atmosphere.
Before we settled into our spa day, we started with lunch in the spa lounge. Lunch options include afternoon tea (with or without champers), and other light bites such as sandwiches and salads. We opted for the Eggs Benedict with Parma ham and a Coronation Chicken wrap, which were both nice.
After lunch, my husband and I each made our way to spa where we’d spend the next couple of hours relaxing before our treatments. The spa area has a vitality pool, sauna, steam room, and a relaxation room with a selection of comfy loungers and two welcoming lounge beds with draping over them, which lend a beachy feel to the décor. To help while away the hours, there are also a variety of magazines to enjoy while you wait for your treatments.
Outside, there is a small hot tub that can comfortably hold four people. As it’s very warm inside the spa, popping outdoors to feel a cool breeze on your face as you bubble away feels fabulous. On the rooftop, you can also view the neighbouring paddocks with the horse residents poking their heads over the stable doors.
Our spa treatments at The Spa at Bedford Hotel and Spa
After our lazy spa day, my husband and I went our separate ways for our spa treatments. My husband enjoyed a 60-minute personalised massage (£70) and I had the 60-minute personalised facial (£65), which starts with the therapist examining your skin to determine the best products for your individual needs. I selected my favourite scrubs and oils from the selection and they were used throughout my treatment.
During the hour-long treatment, my skin was steamed, massaged and moisturised. I also had a neck and head massage, which was so relaxing I fell asleep! There are a variety of spa packages to choose from, depending on the treatments you’d like to indulge in, whether it be a bridal weekend, a romantic retreat or simply a day for a bit of ‘me time’.
Dining at Bedford Hotel – 2AA Rosettes Squires Restaurant
Squires is a contemporary restaurant located within the hotel. Here guests can enjoy breakfast, lunch and dinner in a classy environment.
The charcoal and dove grey dining room with its tapestry print arm chairs, large palladium windows and smartly dressed waiters is the perfect place to enjoy a sophisticated meal. Diners are spoilt for choice with two menus to choose from – the ala carte menu and the daily menu, ensuring that even picky eaters are certain to find something they like.
The cuisine at Squires
We started off with an amuse bouche of raw trout and caviar - compliments of the chef – which was a great start to our meal.
For our starters, my husband went for the mussels in garlic white wine broth, which were salty and garlicky with a bit of creamy goodness from the broth. I opted for the sweet potato ravioli with sage butter, which was gorgeous - each bite was a perfect little parcel of joy.
For our mains, the waiter recommended the Scotch sirloin and the Dover sole, which didn’t disappoint. The sirloin was superb and was served with a homemade béarnaise sauce that was seriously moreish and generous portion of hand-cut fries. The whole Dover sole arrived deboned and was light and flaky and accompanied by a rich butter sauce, which added a bit of flavour.
Although the dessert offerings looked amazing, we sadly didn't have enough room in our bellies to indulge (that’s got to be a first), so we gave it a miss. Next time, we'll ensure we save room! After dinner, we went to bed pleasantly full and tired after such a restful day.
The following morning, we headed down to Squires for our breakfast. I’m a huge fan of breakfast and the breakfast offering here is wonderful. Guests can graze from the continental spread which includes freshly baked croissants and pastries, fruit salad, thick yogurt with fresh fruits, cold meats and cheeses, cereal and a variety of fruit juices. I also ordered scrambled eggs and sausages (they were fab) and the full English that my husband tucked into also looked delicious.
Throughout our stay service was welcoming and friendly in all aspects of the hotel from reception through to the wait staff and the spa attendants. We thought the evening turn down service was a nice touch and they even brought me peppermint tea upon request, so I could enjoy a relaxing cuppa before bed.
This is a great place to visit if you want to feel pampered while enjoying great good and fabulous spa services without a long jaunt from London.
Perched on the side of Richmond Hill, The Petersham Hotel is a gorgeous 4-star hotel in Richmond overlooking the bend of the River Thames and the surrounding Petersham Meadows. Built in 1865, this historical hotel has 58 elegant bedrooms and an award-winning 2 AA Rosettes restaurant.
If Victorian buildings are your cup of tea, then you’ll love this glorious example of Victorian architecture at its finest, which at the time it was built was referred to as ‘florid Italian Gothic’ style.
The first thing that strikes you when you enter the lobby is the magnificent Portland stone staircase, which seems to go on for days. If you continue to cast your gaze upwards toward the magnificent ceiling, you’ll notice a plethora of intricate oil paintings - the work of Italian painter Ferdinando Galli - which further adds to the hotel’s opulent feel.
Guests can choose from a variety of rooms including Classic Bedrooms (the most budget friendly option), Superior Bedrooms overlooking the countryside, Classic Riverview Bedrooms overlooking the Thames or for those who really want to treat themselves - the Penthouse Suite.
We stayed in one of the Classic River View rooms, which had large floor-to-ceiling windows and a patio door, which led onto a long narrow balcony with two iron chairs, which would have been the perfect place to sit and enjoy a cuppa as we watched the boats go down the river had it not been a dreary January afternoon! Needless to say, it was still a pleasure lying in bed and look at that view. The décor was very traditional, think heavy drapes and antique style furniture, but having looked at the website, some of the rooms feature more modern décor.
The best feature of our room was our HUGE bathroom, which was the size of most bedrooms, boasting a large bathtub and shower, both of which fit two people comfortably, should you wish to have a cheeky, romantic weekend.
Feel like a star for a weekend
After we settled into our room, the hotel’s friendly and knowledgeable concierge took us on a tour of the hotel, where we learned that the hotel has been graced by many stars from the worlds of sport, music and film. If you stroll the halls, you’ll see a Hall of Fame with pictures of famous guests who have visited such as Mick Jagger, Jerry Hall, Catherine Zeta Jones, Sandra Bullock and Michael Douglas, who stayed at the hotel for two weeks in hopes of escaping the prying masses while holing up to read a script.
The hotel is also exceptionally popular with brides who want to feel like a star for the day. During our stay a wedding was in progress, which made our visit feel all the more special as we watched the bride and groom in all their finery flit from room to room with their photographer in search of the perfect photo opportunity.
The Petersham Restaurant
The 2AA Rosettes Petersham Restaurant has become a foodie destination thanks to chef Adebola Adeshina, whose culinary credentials include working with the Aubergine team under Gordon Ramsey and at Petrus under Marcus Wareing.
The décor is elegant with inky blue furnishings and mirrored walls featuring sconce lighting, which lend an air of Art Deco chic to the restaurant, while its navy velvet chairs and crisp white table linens add a sense of formality.
The restaurant is unique in that the large picture windows afford guests at every table the opportunity to drink in views of the serene River Thames as they enjoy classic modern British cuisine, focusing on fresh, seasonal produce. Diners can order from a variety of menus including an a la carte or fixed price menu or they can enjoy a spot of afternoon tea or a hearty Sunday lunch.
The food at The Petersham Restaurant
When we visited on a Friday evening, we plumped for the three-course dinner menu, enjoying starters of rabbit terrine - very moist and a great balance of flavours without tasting too ‘gamey’ - and the pork belly served with a spiced apple - also tasty, but not nearly as nice as the rabbit, which was in a league of its own.
For mains, I opted for a whole Dover Sole, which was expertly de-boned by our waiter at the table, accompanied by new potatoes and a mini jug of an indulgent brown butter sauce with capers, which added a buttery saltiness to the fish. It was also served with a lemon presented in a muslin cloth - a nice touch to the overall presentation.
My husband sprung for the Halibut with chorizo and lentils, which was exceptionally moreish - and very photogenic as you can see below!
Although we were stuffed to the gills after dinner (no pun intended), after seeing fellow diners greedily devouring the Cherry Soufflé, there was no question which dessert we’d be going for. When the soufflé arrived in all its fluffily risen glory it didn’t disappoint. Its lovely smooth texture and intense cherry flavour was in one word - sublime. We felt like MasterChef’s Gregg Wallace as we slowly savoured each bite, trying our best not to coo with pleasure to avoid strange looks from neighbouring diners.
Throughout our meal service was faultless and attentive without being intrusive. The mark of a great restaurant.
Another lovely addition to the hotel is their wine cellar, which boasts an extensive wine list that would appeal to any wine connoisseur. The cellar is small and quaint with two rooms for hosting tastings. Within the cellar, thousands of bottles line the walls, giving the impression that one could have a very good time here indeed!
There is also a separate room for champagne, which was only half full but I was informed that they went through a LOT of fizz over the festive period. It would be rude not to imbibe after all! For those who want a private tasting, the cellar can be hired out for groups of 12 or more.
This is a fabulous place to stay if you want a peaceful retreat away from the madness of London but near enough that it's an easy journey when you're ready to join the seething masses feeling fully restored.
A beachy, buzzy oasis is probably the most apt description for Urban Beach, a quirky boutique hotel near Boscombe Beach in Bournemouth, which is the ideal place to hole up for a weekend beach escape.
Urban Beach is proof that good things come in small packages. With only 12 rooms, it feels more like you’re staying at a stylish mate’s house, rather than a hotel, and you get the feeling that this is precisely the vibe they want you to feel when you stay with them as everyone who works at the hotel is exceptionally laidback and on hand to ensure that you feel welcome during your stay.
The rooms at Urban Beach
Each room at the hotel has a different design, and some rooms are larger than others, however, they all offer luxury en-suite bath or shower rooms, crisp white Egyptian cotton linen, down bedding, fluffy white towels, arran aromatic toiletries, fair trade tea & coffee making facilities, complimentary Wi-Fi, plasma TVs and DVD players.
Our room (Room 1) was tastefully decorated and had a gothic-inspired black glass chandelier, which lent a touch of rock star opulence to the room. Our en-suite shower room was small, but the natural tiles made it feel luxe.
Food and drink at Urban Beach
The hotel features a modern bistro with inside and outside seating, depending on your preference. Food and drink is served in the bistro from 8am – 10pm, and the menu boasts a wealth of tasty entrees, with the majority of the ingredients sourced from local suppliers, something that we love. The ala carte menu features a wide variety of options including mains such as the ‘fish of the day’ (£16.00); wild mushroom risotto with tomato pearl barley (£13.00); and Beef Wellington (£22), to name a few, so if you leave hungry, it’s your own fault! They also offer a sensational breakfast, which is in my estimation, the best way to start your day right.
Those who are exceptionally lazy can also spring for room service, which we did the following morning, when we couldn’t bear to pry ourselves out of bed!
Urban Reef restaurant
If you like your breakfast, lunch or dinner, with a seaside twist, then you can’t miss their sister restaurant, Urban Reef – an easy, breezy seaside restaurant with cracking sea views that will make you want to savour your meal all day just to watch the waves rolling in.
The fare here is also casual dining (think fish and chips, burgers, mussels, etc), however, they also have a variety of small plates to choose from, which we had during our visit. We loved the Dorset crab paté, grilled sourdough, taramasalata, pickles; the Lamb kofta, coriander pearl couscous, smoked paprika yoghurt; the Salt baked candied beetroot, rosary goat’s cheese, honey and mustard dressing and the Isle of Wight heirloom tomatoes, Laverstoke mozzarella, figs, pesto dressing. The small plates are great value as well, either £5.50 each, 2 for £10.50 or 3 for £14.00.
We found all of the small plates to be seriously flavourful and nicely presented and you could tell that the ingredients were really fresh. All of this was enjoyed with an ice-cold glass of Riesling, which we sipped while gazing out at the mesmerising view.
All in all, the Urban Beach hotel and Urban Reef restaurant combined are the perfect elixir for easing into a lazy weekend. Just be warned, you might become so relaxed that you may never want to leave.
Prices from £55 per night (staying in a single room).
Our experience overall
Food and drink ****
Staff attentiveness/friendliness ****
Book your stay at Urban Beach Hotel here:
*During this trip I was hosted by the Urban Beach Hotel and the Urban Reef Restaurant. All words and opinions are my own.
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From cosy B&Bs to luxurious 5-Star accommodations, you're spoilt for choice when it comes to amazing accommodations.