The Yorkshire fog clung to the side of the car as we made the short drive from Harrogate to Rudding Park Spa, the vista slowly shifting from historical sandstone buildings to unspoilt rolling hills and sheep-dotted farmlands.
Entering through the huge gate posts, it wasn’t long until the huge manor house, built in 1874, came into view. Set in 300 acres of woodland, landscaped gardens (and two golf courses), Rudding Park is just one of the many spas in the affluent Yorkshire town, which has been popular with relaxation aficionados since Victorian times - and centuries prior.
But while the dedicated pamper-seekers of old would have been happy to simply sit on a chair and dunk themselves in the area’s natural spring water or take a sip for their health, I was there to immerse myself in the stately home hotel's incredible spa, a three storey emporium of all things steamy, bubbly, and er, relax-y - I know who has it better.
So what are the Victorians missing out on?
The owners spent £9.5m on Rudding Park's The Spa complex, which guests are able to access for four hours at a time. Up on the Rooftop, you’ll find gloriously scented steam rooms, oxygen pods, a juniper sauna, and a huge, warm, infinity spa pool. If the bubbles in there aren’t enough, then the ones in your Champagne glass will be!
There are sun loungers galore on both sides of the bifold windows, but on gloomy days you can get your fix of vitamin D from the Sunlight Therapy room, which emits fake sunlight to combat SAD, aches and pains.
Be brave and have a hot-then-cold foot bath inspired by Kneipp water therapy - it boosts your circulation, and believe it or not, your frozen toes quickly feel human again.
Down on lower ground you’ll find treatment rooms and the Relaxation Zone - check out the slumber room, the sky is peppered with twinkling lights that mimic a dark, starry night.
Sandwiched between the two spa zones is a huge indoor pool (the only place where under 16s are allowed, at limited times), and a Rasul, a traditional mud bath that removes impurities with mineral-rich, heavenly scented clay.
What are the accommodation options?
It's not just the prospect of indulgent relaxation that makes Rudding Park popular with Yorkshire locals and folks from further afield, the 4-star hotel itself is a major draw. The staff - from front of house to treatment team - are warm, welcoming and friendly.
Of its 90 bedrooms, we were lucky to be allocated the spacious Follifoot Wing Suite, a luxurious double-room with woodland views from a huge balcony, a separate sitting area, and an en suite bathroom complete with a huge, deep bath (with its own TV!) and a shower that doubled up as a hammam steam room.
The style of the hotel blends traditional details with colourful and modern additions, with plenty of cosy areas to sit and relax with a hot chocolate and a good book.
There are also cottages and lodges off site which all feature the same high end finishes - and some even have a private hot tub.
What else is there to do?
The outdoor space of the 148 year old house is undeniably impressive, and you can stretch your legs with a brisk walk through the hotel’s beautifully kept grounds, ancient woodlands, or clock up 3.5miles and pay a visit to the picturesque village of Follifoot.
Rudding Park’s on-site chapel is popular for weddings - its pastel stained glass windows have also earned a spot on my Pinterest board - and the hotel’s cinema room comes in handy for entertaining guests and bridal parties ahead of the big day.
What's the food like?
It's not just The Spa that brings visitors to this part of Harrogate. Rudding Park's 3 AA Rosette Horto Restaurant, one of two dining options on site, uses fresh, seasonal ingredients from the hotel’s garden kitchen, which is one of the many luscious outside spaces to roam when you fancy some fresh air.
Make sure to order truffle parmesan tater tots at the less formal but equally indulgent Clockhouse Restaurant - you’ll never look at a potato in the same way again. We were (unsurprisingly!) too full for breakfast the next morning, but the menu covered all bases from a fry-up made with all local produce to a warming bowl of porridge.
Is it easy to get to?
I travelled to Harrogate from London's King's Cross on a LNER train, a 2-and-a-half hour journey. From the station, it was a 20 minute drive out to the spa. Driving? It's easily accessible from the A1.
What else is there to do in Harrogate?
The town is full of lovely cafes and restaurants (check out Portofino on Albert Street for great value Italian food served by very kind staff), and of course a trip to Yorkshire institution Betty's Tea Room.
As Harrogate has been a spa town since 1571 (even Queen Elizabeth I visited to 'take the waters') there are numerous health and wellbeing experiences to discover across the district, which covers Knaresborough, Pateley Bridge, Masham and Boroughbridge, the city of Ripon and Nidderdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. You can find out more about Harrogate's spa heritage, its fine dining options and outdoorsy activities here.
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