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.
It felt like my very own home, with a huge double bed on one side, and a plush sofa on the other. There were all sorts of luxuries, such as a massive TV, fireplace which sprang into life at the touch of a button, an espresso machine, fresh milk in the minibar, ample storage, a smart bathroom with underfloor heating and – the crowning glory – a private terrace with my very own hot tub. I instantly wanted to move in for several months.
However there was no time for lounging – lunch at the brasserie called. This turned out to be a buffet but with excellent food – the fat slabs of pink roast beef were especially good – and while I tucked into the various salads, meats, hot dishes, cheeses and desserts, I realised you could see into the spa pool which ran alongside the restaurant. This makes it perfect if you have your family with you who want to keep swimming when you want to eat, so you can keep an eye on them, possibly less so if you’re hoping to relax in private.
The spa itself was rather well designed, managing to pack a lot into not a vast space: there were clean changing rooms, a glass-fronted sauna overlooking the pool, two jacuzzis, a steam room and lots of showers, though without all the hair products and moisturiser I’d expect at a posh spa like this. There were also two gyms and a whole area for treatments such as massages and facials.
Before the threatened rain arrived, it was time to walk around the vast gardens. Just through the brasserie and conservatory was a newly-landscaped terrace area, with flower beds and a koi carp pond, where wedding parties and conference guests could spill out onto the lawn, and which would be glorious in the summer months.
Beyond this there was still a vast amount of land, rather untouched, although there are plans for further landscaping and garden design. The hotel building is more functional than beautiful – it’s not a classic country house hotel in style – but it was nice to walk around and work up an appetite for cream tea.
After eating more sandwiches, scones and cakes that I really should have done, I felt a walk into St Alban’s was called for, and headed off into the countryside. Sopwell House is located in a curious mix of green countryside and housing estates and just 20 minutes I was in the town centre by the cathedral.
After an hour of so of wandering about I found a footpath along the River Ver which took me almost all the way back to the hotel and the gated suites complex. It felt like a self-contained resort, with music drifting in from one of the nearby suites and various couples drinking champagne in the communal hot tub, and indeed I later found that the hotel’s turn-down service doesn’t extend to the suites as people tend to just stay in their apartments for the whole stay.
However I had research to do, and sampled a fruity gin-based Black Bramble cocktail in the bar before dinner. The restaurant was closed so it was back to the brasserie, which had a classic British menu. I had a very good prawn and crayfish cocktail and a equally good roast lamb, and the meal was only slightly marred by being interrupted both courses mid-mouthful, asking if everything was alright. (Just keeping an eye on diners should tell you if everything’s ok or not).
I skipped dessert in favour of lounging around in my hot tub, and after 10 hours dreamless sleep there was just time for a quick dip before reluctantly heading off through ‘my’ gates for the last time. As a family room the suites would be perfect as you feel incredibly safe and secure, but whether there’s one, two, three or four of you it’s a perfect place for a indulgent break.
Hotel information and to book Sopwell House
Sopwell House, Cottonmill Lane, St Albans, Hertfordshire AL1 2HQ
T: 01727 864477
Rooms in the main hotel from £139 per night, suites in the main hotel from £199 and Mews Suites from £249, all including breakfast
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Sopwell House is a member of the Pride of Britain Hotels group of 50 luxury hotels across the UK. To discover more excellent Pride of Britain Hotels, check out the reviews below