We take a trip to Hertfordshire for a novel-worthy getaway at Sopwell House
If Jane Austen were still alive and looking to book herself a scenic getaway, I have no doubt that Sopwell House, the four-star spa hotel in leafy Hertfordshire would have been top of her list. A sprawling Georgian manor house with endless aces of manicured countryside, 128 guestrooms and quintessential Brtish style, I almost half expect to find her peering out from behind one of the many blossom trees as we drive towards the building.
There’s no sign of her of course, but the welcoming warm fireplace, team of smiling faces and beautiful soft lighting makes a perfectly acceptable compromise. One thing’s for sure – Sopwell House knows how to make an entrance.
After a friendly greeting and swift check in, we’re not shown to just an ordinary hotel room but to the Orchid Studio, a gorgeous outdoor cottage-esque building. Part of the new Mews Suites, our home for the night is nestled within an exclusive enclave only accessible to certain guests.
The 16 VIP buildings are surrounded by landscaped gardens (the work of Chelsea Flower Show Gold Medalist Ann-Marie Powell) and an inviting illuminated hydro pool, which set the scene for a fairytale-like atmosphere as we approach the gated door.
Ideal if you’re after a little more privacy, the room itself is gorgeous – channelling comfortable luxury with another glowing fireplace, welcoming plate of sweet treats and my knight in gleaming armour – a Nespresso machine. The charming artwork on the wall adds to the atmosphere with quirky black and white photographs and the striking jade bathroom has me demanding my friend come and admire the interiors, as well as the ESPA toiletries. We haven’t got long to bask in our ultra-comfortable surroundings before dinner time fast approaches – and food o’clock is never an appointment to be late for.
Suited (well, skirted) and booted, we make our way back to the main hotel and wander through to Sopwell House’s elegant restaurant, which is full of couples either holding hands across the table or avoiding eye contact with each other. The award-winning two AA rosette Restaurant focuses on serving seasonal British and European dishes, prepared by Head Chef Mathew Bird (ex-L’escargot) and his team. It’s apparently a firm favourite with the Arsenal football team – the hallway outside is lined with signed photographs and shirts.
Open to residents and visiting foodies alike, the menu’s full of classics – think hand-dived scallops, foie gras and lots of seasonal fare. I opt for the creamy squash soup to start, followed by butter-poached halibut with broccoli puree and a flavoursome herb emulsion. Both courses are presented beautifully, leaving me with just enough room to split a decadent Dark Chocolate Pave with my friend. Post-dinner and ever so slightly unbuttoned skirt, the hotel’s bar makes an excellent spot to unwind with a nightcap or two before we head back to the cloud-like bed.
Breakfast at Sopwell is served in the Brasserie, a charmingly informal dining space separate to the main restaurant. Lively and full of chatter, this is what weekend brunches are made for. We test the offering out the following morning with a few rounds at the buffet – which is full of continental and hot options. There’s everything from grapefruit and almond milk for the health-conscious to a Full English plus fresh pastries for the rest. With a large window looking into the spa area, diners can also people watch those going for their morning swims and saunas.
What to do
If it’s spa time you’re after, the facilities here are excellent. Unwind in the steam room, swim lengths across the 14.5metre indoor pool, sweat out stress in the sauna or simply recline upon one of the many loungers dotted around. There’s also a range of treatments on offer, including oil scrubs, Clarins boutique facials, many a massage and more.
Should weather permit, explore the exquisitely landscaped grounds complete with koi carp pond and flower beds or take a trip into the nearby city of St Albans for a few hours of perusing. Marvel at historic markets, explore areas of ancient woodland or simply pitstop at one of the many coffee shops and cafes. George Street Canteen, The Pudding Stop and The Courtyard Cafe are all excellent options.
Austen, eat your heart out. Whether you’re after a romantic rendezvous or simply a girly getaway, an escape to Sopwell House offers it all.
Make it happen
Where: Sopwell House Hotel, Cottonmill Lane, St. Albans, Hertfordshire, AL1 2HQ
Cost: Rooms start from £134 per night. To make a booking, click here or phone 01727 864477