A country-house getaway in the north
Nicole García Mérida indulges herself at Rockliffe Hall spa in Darlington, near the North Yorkshire moors
The Backhouse room at Rockliffe Hall gets its name from the Backhouse family, who founded the Backhouse’s Bank in the mid-18th century. The family were Quakers, originally in the linen industry, moving onto banking then railways, but they were also passionate botanists. The bank’s headquarters were in Darlington, which is where Alfred Backhouse moved to manage it. It was a pleasing synchronicity to learn he had married his wife Rachel in Plaistow, not far away from where I had travelled from in east London.
The room is one of Rockliffe Hall’s Old Hall suites, all of which feature a king-size bed draped in luxurious linen, a lounge with a smart television, and sweeping views of the resort gardens and surrounding woodlands. We were lucky enough to call it home for two days, and it really did feel like it.
Original plans for the hotel date from 1774, but it wasn’t until 1863 that it became the Rockliffe Hall estate. Today, it is a golfer’s paradise, foodie haven and spa destination, with kind, attentive and friendly staff. Shortly after we checked in we were whisked away to the aforementioned spa, where we were the lucky recipients of a bespoke, hour-long facial that left us revitalised and glowing. The spa also offers Indian head massages, anti-ageing treatments, body scrubs and massages. The Old Hall suites and the spa are connected, meaning you can go from your bed to the treatment room in the comfort of your swimsuit and complimentary bathrobe and slippers, so that you’re ready for a dip in the heated pool straight afterwards.
Or if you’ve worked up an appetite after your treatment, you could also head to the hotel’s latest offering, Nu Sana, also linked to the spa. The laid-back feeling of relaxation in the spa extends to its restaurant, which focuses on healthy, nourishing dishes. I had the flake-in-your-mouth tender grilled sea bass, accompanied by a zingy fennel and citrus salad and lemon and herb new potatoes. My partner had the belly pork ramen, a hearty, rich broth that warmed the insides, perfect to counter the icy wind that swayed the chairs on the outdoor terrace.
Time for cocktails
Before dinner, make time for a visit to the cocktail bar, which is stocked with what I am sure must be every spirit under the sun. The bar is nestled in a cosy nook of the hotel, and the bartenders are knowledgeable and classy.
If you’re only staying for a night, book dinner at The Orangery. It’s the hotel’s fine-dining experience, serving innovative, seasonal à la carte and tasting menus. We were treated to the nine-course tasting menu, to which you can add a wine pairing (£50) or a premium wine pairing (£90). We opted for the former. Our excellent sommelier talked us patiently through the light white wines that paired with the hand-dived Orkney scallops, topped with pork cheek and coconut, and the cured chalk-stream trout served with cucumber and marigold. Full-bodied reds followed along with tender salt-aged Ripon lamb, and finally sweet, thick dessert wine to accompany my favourite course, the chocolate orangery, a sweet orange ice-cream ball coated in velvety dark chocolate that melted in the mouth.
The indulgence of dinner meant all alarms were snoozed the next morning, meaning we missed our reservation for breakfast at the same restaurant, which is open for afternoon tea too. The staff booked us in for brunch at the Clubhouse instead, the hotel’s more laid-back restaurant serving English staples, overlooking the vast golf course.
It wouldn’t have been a true British getaway if the weather hadn’t been rainy and grey. Luckily we escaped this in the spa, which extends outside the treatment rooms to encompass a 20-metre long pool and a Hydropool, a round, heated pool with a wide array of timed pressured jets that massage the body. The spa also features several unique saunas, and an ice room for the very brave. The spa garden is also well worth a visit. The outdoor space has a heated infinity pool, comfortable enough to make us forget about the cold breeze and mild rain, as well as a sauna and tepidarium beds. It only allows about a dozen people at a time, guaranteeing peace and quiet.
If you’re the type to choose a walk over lounging by the pool after a hefty meal, there are several walks through the hotel’s surrounding woodlands and alongside the river, perfect for birdwatching, or just to help make space for the next meal.
Nicole was a guest of Rockliffe Hall. Rooms from £239. See rockliffehall.com