It was a freezing February evening but for once my bald head was not in need of any woolly protection.
I was relaxing under the stars in the hydrotherapy infinity pool at Rudding Park hotel, near the Yorkshire gem of Harrogate, its jets gently pummelling my back.
The steam from the water was making little clouds that seemed to drift across the moon, which was shining bright above mature, illuminated trees in the 300 acres of landscaped gardens and woodland.
Complimentary glass of prosecco in hand, all seemed well with the world and I could have stayed there all night, but I was in a race against time to sample the rooftop spa’s other facilities for you, dear reader.
It’s a tough job but…
A UK first, it also features foot spas, a panoramic sauna, experience showers (complete with tropical thunderstorms) and two steam rooms, one of which looks like it belongs in the presidential suite of the most expensive hotel in Dubai.
I ended up in the rooftop spa bath (next to another glass-fronted sauna), reluctantly climbing out only when the bells from the clock tower (or was it the country estate’s chapel) struck nine, signalling closing time.
Split over three levels, with glass walls bringing the outside in, the complex was opened last year and has made an immediate impression, being named Best Newcomer by the Good Spa Guide at its annual awards in November.
But there’s a lot more to Rudding Park’s spa than just the rooftop bit.
Downstairs there’s the rather swish 17m indoor swimming pool, where earlier in the day my wife and I and our two young children took the plunge (‘splash times’ are from 8.30am to 9.30am and 4.30pm to 6pm every day).
Then there’s yet another sauna (this one juniper log), a bucket shower to cool down under, a manicure / pedicure and make up bar, hair studio, spray tan room and Rasul room, where a Moorish warm mud treatment allegedly leaves your skin feeling baby soft.
I also followed the line of fluffy clouds which doubled as ceiling lights to the basement where there are several treatment rooms, including the VIP room, complete with copper bath for two and your own ‘bath butler’ who’ll bring you Champagne and chocolates.
There’s an extensive menu of facials, massages and sports rehabilitation treatments and I experienced the ‘Anti-Oxidant Booster Ritual’ (£80) which helped iron out those knots in my shoulders, the result of spending all day sat at a desk.
The 50-minute treatment, on the comfiest of tables, concluded with herbal tea and a small chocolate brownie. After all, the tongue is made up of muscles and they deserve a treat just as much as any other in the body.
Following treatments, guests can relax in any of the four Mind and Sense zones.
Choose from ‘Relax’ for a quiet, cosy time under a twinkling night sky; ‘Audio’ for meditative tracks played through headphones; ‘Visual’ for a giant screen showing Mother Nature at her best (chill on soft leather seats or in a swing chair); and ‘Mind’ for games, novels and grown-ups’ colouring books.
A multi-functional wrist-band gives guests access to the spa’s thermal facilities, as well as to their designated locker in the changing rooms, which contains a fluffy robe, slippers, towel and tons of room for your possessions.
The rest of the privately-owned, 90-bedroom hotel is equally adept at putting guests at ease, which is probably why it has spent a decade ranked in TripAdvisor’s ‘Top 3 Best Hotels in the UK’.
Officially, it’s a four-star, but the facilities and service shout five stars, as you would expect from somewhere that has welcomed Mikhail Gorbachev, George Bush Snr, Bill Clinton, Jesse Jackson and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, to name a few.
At the heart of Rudding Park is a Grade I-listed Regency house and there’s an 18-golf course and a six-hole short course, so while the girls are in the spa the boys can play a round (or vice versa, of course).
The contemporary, fine dining restaurant Horto has been awarded 3 AA Rosettes and is therefore deemed outstanding. It’s also located in the new spa wing and diners are welcome to eat lunch in their robes.
It makes use of the hotel’s Kitchen Garden, where more than 100 different herbs, salads, fruit and edible flowers are grown. So its menu is dictated as much by nature and the skills of the gardener as the flair of the chef.
However, we ate in the more child-friendly Clocktower restaurant, which serves modern British cuisine with a twist. Diners can either sit beneath a striking pink chandelier or in a conservatory built around a 400-year-old olive tree.
For a place with such fine food and service in such lovely surroundings it was surprisingly un-stuffy. There was a kids’ menu and those all-important activity packs to keep them from ruining any special occasions on adjacent tables.
After dinner, I quickly grabbed my swimming shorts for my night time visit to the rooftop spa, while my wife helped the kids prepare for the highlight of their weekend – bedtime (although to begin with it didn’t involve much sleep).
Our spacious family room came with bunk beds hidden behind a sliding door which turned them into a ‘den’. Inside, the kids had their own reading light and flat screen TV. They loved the sense of independence it gave them.
Mum and Dad were equally impressed with the rest of the comfortable and quiet room – a super king size bed (with a pillow menu), a sofa, a table and chair, and a luxury bathroom with underfloor heating and roll top bath.
Doors opened on to a terrace which looked across a lovely garden to the spa wing.
After a sumptuous breakfast there was just enough time before check-out to head back to the rooftop spa, while my wife stoically got the bags packed (after all, I needed to know it was just as pleasant in daylight hours!).
This time I could properly see all the loungers dotted amongst trees and shrubs on the south facing sun deck, and vowed to return in warmer months – when I’d insist on my wife coming too.
Because however selfish my actions may have appeared, I did feel a pang of guilt as it’s the type of place you really want to share with a loved one.
The spa, and Rudding Park as a whole, is really something quite special.
I was a guest of Rudding Park, two miles from Harrogate in North Yorkshire. A one-night stay starts from £189 per room per night. This includes access to the indoor pool and juniper log sauna. Access to the rooftop spa and garden is £35 for two hours. Or guests can upgrade to one of the suites (which have their own steam room, sauna and spa bath, plus private garden) for complimentary access. Alternatively, a one-night spa break starts from £177 per person including half board, a 50-minute treatment and access to the rooftop spa. For more details call 01423 844 840 or visit ruddingpark.co.uk.
The Good Spa Guide – the UK’s leading authority on the spa industry – honoured a total 12 spas in its 2017 awards following scores from its ‘secret spies’ and votes from over 100,000 consumers. See goodspaguide.co.uk
Newspaper article here