Okay, so you’re going to enjoy a lovely Christmas at home with the family, eat plenty of food and probably drink a bit too much of the good stuff. January will come around and it’s back to reality and the grind of the routine. However, to keep up with the spirit of excitement, why not plan yourselves a little New Year adventure and get out of the city, even if just for a couple of days…
Nr Glastonbury Somerset BA4 4PR
Charlton House – Spa Hotel
Charlie Lyon steers well clear of the Den and heads instead to Duncan Bannatyne’s Somerset spa, to find out if the entrepreneur has invested wisely…
What an absolute treat: the chance to review a Dragon’s enterprise (or at least a cog in it) without the fear of being interrogated about my observations or having to justify my opinions.
Although I admire Paphitis, Meaden and co, and watch Dragon’s Den with masochistic glee, nothing terrifies me more than the thought of meeting one of them in the flesh. So it’s with delight I accepted the offer of reviewing a Bannatyne Hotel, safe in the knowledge Duncan is resting in Darlington following a heart scare, ie far, far away from Charlton House Spa Hotel, his fourth hotel located next to picturesque Shepton Mallet in Somerset.
Renowned for its good-value spa days, I invite along Mother, who thinks it’s quite extraordinary to be whisked off to such luxury on a rainy October evening. As soon as we arrive, she celebrates by heading straight to the spa for a Gelish nail treatment in hot rod red.
I’m not sure it’s quite the look suited for this shabby-chic hotel whose interior design, a lot of which was realised by previous owner, Mulberry-founder Roger Saul, consists of heavily slubbed silk wallpaper, dark distressed wood, sheepskin tiebacks, and highlights of leather everywhere you turn. For me, it’s beautiful, and having just moved back from Dubai, I’m delighted by the Arabic touches that take this hotel’s style from stuffy English country to Middle Eastern elegance.
Even better, the spa is Moroccan- themed, and the sand-coloured finish, low, colourful cushions and glints of gold do a marvellous job of whisking me away from any Western worries I may have (lack of Gulf sun meaning that my skin is now practically translucent; too much West Country cider meaning my bikini is much tighter than it should be). And what’s more, the hydrotherapy pool, outdoor Jacuzzi, sauna and other spa delights are included in your hotel stay. I enjoy working up an appetite for dinner fighting against various water jets that propel me wildly around the pool.
As it happens, my fear of not being hungry enough for my three-course meal was unwarranted. The menu at Charlton House (£27.95 for a two-course dinner, £13.95 for a two-course lunch, although this will be included in your £40 day package) is punching at fine dining.
My starter of veloute of baby spinach, confit chicken and quail’s egg is homely and warming, while Mother’s golden, candy and red beets with Jerusalem artichokes and goat’s curd is pretty to look at and packs a flavoursome punch. We spend ages debating what the slightly sweet, slightly sour brown powder that’s livening up the goat’s curd is. “Pecan crumble,” informs the waitress. Marvellous!
Unfortunately, the similar game I play with my main – trying to guess the shiver-giving sour red berries – is not for the fainthearted. But they’re easily swept aside as I devour the rampantly rich dish of Salisbury Plain venison and red cabbage. Juicy, soft, flavoursome: absolutely delish.
Mother’s been too quick with her fillet of Stokes Marsh beef, Jacob’s Ladder pie, fondant potato and roasted roots for me to try, but those hot rod red nails are flashing up and down as she wildly gesticulates with murmurs of ‘mmmmmm’, which I translate as: “This is really rather tasty.”
While the cheeseboard lacks lustre (they’re locally sourced – you want them to be good) the homemade banana ice cream brings the last ray of sunshine to our day and we slink back to our room, looking forward to another invigorating dip the next morning before breakfast.
Reviews since Bannatyne’s takeover of Charlton House two-and-a-half years ago have been mixed. But as I arrive it seems previous criticism has been duly noted and now, not only is the service of Stateside quality, our room feels lived in and the breakfast spread is ample. Which is why, Duncan, I have to say: “I like your business. I’m in.”
Devon TQ13 8RE
A new year getaway in one of Bovey Castle’s luxury lodges allows you to admire the hotel’s wintry Dartmoor surroundings from just £99 per person, based on a three-night stay for six people.
Tucked away in the estate and a short walk from the main hotel, Bovey Castle’s three-storey granite lodges make ideal accommodation for families and friends wishing to stay together and enjoy country living in a contemporary setting.
While the lodges are self-catering accommodation, all of Bovey Castle’s leisure and dining facilities are available for use, giving lodge guests all the benefits of Bovey Castle and independence too.
Hotel Endsleigh is at the end of a mile-long drive, nestling on the banks of the River Tamar. This is an idyll of peace and quiet and, surrounded by Repton-designed gardens, this is the best-kept secret in England – a real hideaway in the depths of the countryside.
The rooms have been designed by Olga Polizzi. In an understated fashion, they mix fabulous fabrics with stylish, simple furniture. This is a chintz-free zone!
Of course the most important element of a stay is a comfortable bed, and you will not be disappointed. With Hypnos beds and quality bed linen, a good night’s sleep is assured.
Every morning a buffet of pastries, cold meats, cheeses, seasonal fruits, yoghurt and cereals are laid out. To follow you can choose from a variety of hot dishes that are cooked to order. The Tamar Valley is a foodie’s paradise. With an active Farmers Market in nearby Tavistock and a tradition of fabulous soft fruits, the Chef has a wonderful ‘store cupboard’ to raid. You couldn’t get a better breakfast to set you up for a day on the moor (wellies always available) or a quiet read by the fire.
Hot Bath Street
Bath BA1 1SJ
0844 888 0844
Thermae Bath Spa
flavour editor Nick Gregory enjoyed a ‘ladies that lunch’ experience as he took in the heritage of one of Bath’s most famous calling cards…
I’ve never been one of those people who’s particularly at home in my own company – especially on an outing or excursion – preferring more the interaction of others and the sharing of experiences. As such, a solo trip to Thermae Bath Spa, complete with tailor-made 50-minute facial and an interim lunch in The Springs Cafe & Restaurant, was one I was a little daunted by. I needn’t have been.
Despite having had plenty of time to prepare and plan my day, I still managed to forget my swimming shorts, but fear not: The No. 8 shop in reception stocks all you need to not scare the other Spa users, as well as a selection from the Pevonia skincare range – more of which later.
The whole operation here is slick; from checking in, picking up your robes and slippers, securing your locker and paying for food, drink and treatments – the swiping of your wristband as a transaction and settling up at the end of play could not be simpler.
Thermae Bath Spa is the only spa in the UK to offer bathing in naturally warm spring waters and, from the off, on the lower ground floor in the Minerva Bath, that’s exactly what I enjoyed. My preconceptions of possibly being a little bit ‘lonely’ quickly faded as I fully immersed myself performing gentle lengths in a very big bath. My bathroom suite at home simply does not offer-up this opportunity. Within the Minerva Bath there is also a massage jet, a whirlpool and a lazy river.
Moving up a couple of floors you reach the Steam Rooms and Waterfall Shower, a dedicated level devoted to ensuring you are gently relieved of fluids in the essential oil-scented, glass-enclosed booths that really do revitalise and refresh.
A quick cold shower then it’s off to the pièce de résistance, The Rooftop Pool. By day or by night the views offered of the city and surrounding hills are breathtaking, and that coupled with the natural warm water and evaporating steam make for an idyllic and ‘wow factor’ experience.
I could have stayed there for hours. I couldn’t however as I was booked in for my treatment in one of the many rooms in the Hot Bath area. Being a part-time rugby player and outdoorsy type I maybe should have opted for a deep massage, but inquisition got the better of me and I plumped instead for the 50-minute facial; basically sleeping while having your head played with. I know now why dogs look so content when you scratch behind the ears. Despite attempts to stay awake – much like battling a general anaesthetic – it wasn’t going to happen as I was expertly taken through a medley of cleansing, toning, masking, rehydrating and exfoliation with their chosen range of Pevonia skincare products.
I didn’t wake up a new man, but I was as comfortably lethargic as I have ever known and, after a few minutes in the relaxation room adjoining The Hot Bath lunch beckoned.
There is something quite odd about sitting to eat in robes and slippers, but I was one of many so the feeling soon abated. The Springs Cafe & Restaurant offers light, healthy (albeit I did have a beer) and tantalising options that won’t undo all the good work and keep you in that health- conscious zone for a little longer. I enjoyed the breaded Gruyère cheese escalope followed by the king prawn noodles. Both dishes delivered oodles of flavour and the king prawns packed a punch to boot.
Another trip up and down the lift saw me complete a further circuit of the facilities, once again the Rooftop Pool being a particular highlight and ‘going home time’ was delayed as long as possible.
The Thermae Bath Spa suits all, is an experience that all Bath residents should take advantage of at least once and all visitors to the city should be made aware of. As it turned out going on my own was not just a pleasure, it really did mean I could do everything exactly ‘in my own time’ and that set me up perfectly to complete my ‘ladies that lunch’ day with a bit of early evening shopping in the many surrounding excellent shops that Bath houses.
For a full breakdown of facilities, treatments, history and prices you really should visit the website as just a page in a magazine is nowhere near enough space to do The Thermae Bath Spa the justice it so deserves…