On first impressions, Sopwell House looks every inch a modern building with clean angular lines that is home to a contemporary spa on the outskirts of London. But like a book cover, appearances can be deceptive. For Sopwell House is steeped in history. The Sopwell nunnery is believed to have been where Anne Boleyn took refuge following her return from France and where her secret marriage to King Henry VIII took place. And years later, Alice, the mother of Prince Phillip Duke of Edinburgh, was proposed to by Prince Andrew of Greece, in the 12 acre garden of the house. Today though the property has been sensitively developed and updated but immense care has been taken to retain the character and charm of the original Georgian house.
The building is still grand but not intimidating and it still looks and feels like a true country house retreat. Having undergone a recent refurbishment, the reception area looks fresh and inviting with an open fire. With huge comfortable sofas brimming with fluffy cushions on them, it was hard to tear myself from them to check into my room.
The Hertfordshire spa is open to both day and overnight guests. They have 129 bedrooms and suites and a further 10 mews apartments for those wanting to make their stay that extra special. My sister-in-law and I stayed in one of the suites complete with a four poster bed and overlooking the gardens. The room was extremely large, complete with a sofa and seating area. And the cherry on the top? A much needed bottle of wine and a bowl of fruit on arrival with a few magazines to welcome us.
There are two options to dine at Sopwell – the restaurant and the Brasserie. The restaurant is closed on a Sunday evening so we had lunch there. Formal and romantic, it still appeals to families which I noted had specifically chosen the venue for a Sunday roast. The food here is modern British and European prepared by award winning chef James Chapman. With its high ceilings and classic sleek décor and AA Rosette award-winning status, the atmosphere is just as good as the food. My pressed shoulder of lamb with roasted lamb cutlets was just divine.
The Brasserie in contrast is less formal but the food is equally as good. Surrounded by floor to ceiling windows, it’s a lot more airy and light during the day but turns into a cosy eatery in the evening with soft lighting. There’s also a bar with velvet sofas ideal for both pre and post dinner drinks. During the afternoon, it is used as an area for creams. It’s worth going along just to see the quirky collection of unusual teapots.
With some time to spare before a scheduled back massage, we sampled the swimming pool. There’s also a Jacuzzi, experience showers, a starlit steam room and heated mosaic seats to lounge around on.
Sopwell House uses ESPA and Clarins for their range of face and body treatments. They cater for men and mums-to-be as well as offering a range of holistic therapies including an Indian head massage, reflexology and hopi-ear candling. A fan of massages, I opted for the back massage – a complete 45 minute indulging treatment. It’s what I can describe as a ‘facial for the back.’ One cream after another was lavishly applied while the therapist massaged them into every inch of the surface area, paying particular attention to the shoulders as I had requested. It was so truly blissful that I needed to go back to the pool area to lie horizontally again. Who would’ve thought such a tranquil spa lay just a few miles from the busy M25?
For more information on Sopwell House, visit www.sopwellhouse.co.uk
By Sabi Phagura
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