My heart often sinks when I discover my room is in a separate building to the main hotel – this usually implies some modern, soulless extension – but at Sopwell House luxury hotel near St Albans, our room’s outside location was really quite special.
Just across from the hotel reception, a tap of our room card opened up a gate beyond which was a totally enclosed courtyard – the newly refurbished mews suites. Around the outside of the courtyard were the suites themselves, looking like designer apartments, while in the space itself was a hot tub, sofas, trees and water features. It was like having your very own VIP enclosure.
The five-star Sopwell House hotel is no stranger to VIPs, particularly of the footballing kind, and indeed just the night before my visit the entire England football team had attended a gala dinner at the hotel with sporting legend Pele. I felt rather like a VIP myself when I entered my room, which is one of the nicest I’ve ever stayed in.
Just when you think you’ve stayed in the best hotels in the Cotswolds, along comes Whatley Manor and tops the lot. From the moment the gates opened to reveal a beautiful cobbled courtyard, the entrance garlanded by wisteria and lavender, through to the spa, private cinema, two Michelin-starred restaurant and superb gardens, Whatley Manor didn’t disappoint in any way.
You would have to start pretty early and finish late to be able to squeeze in the maximum amount of relaxation possible at Nirvana Spa near Reading.
I spent who day there and yet when it was time to leave I realised I still hadn’t fallen asleep on a poolside lounger as I’d planned, nor read the Sunday papers that I’d been lugging around with me all day, or even tried out the futuristic-looking endless swimming pool lanes which let you swim against a current rather than having to turn at every end. So what on earth had I been doing all day?
My friend Lisa and I arrived at the spa as planned at 11am (in spite of the best attempts of my phone’s satnav) having driven from London, but the spa is open from 8am at the weekends and 6.45am during the week.
It is always a good sign when you can start to feel your shoulders unwind just on walking into reception and there was indeed a very relaxing air to the place, from the smells and the music to the sight of the large hydrotherapy pool through the glass wall.
I would grandly descend the staircase from my room – no, make that my set of rooms – and then sweep out of the front door as if I owned the place. It was especially fun to sweep out of the front door, because directly ahead was a fabulous mile-long drive lined with 400 lime and beech trees.
‘This is my driveway,’ I would tell myself as I rounded the corner to the view, and then reverse to do it again. ‘I have a mile-long tree-lined driveway leading right up to my front door.’