Our verdict on Sopwell House's new £14million spa in St Albans
The moment you step through the door, Cottonmill Spa sprawls before you like the promise of paradise. Not for nothing are guests given maps to help them find their way around. You could easily get lost here, but oh what a place to get lost in.
Following a £14million investment, Cottonmill Spa at Sopwell House opened in August as the first private members’ spa in the country. There are two distinct areas to the spa – Cottonmill and The Club at Cottonmill, with The Club providing access to exclusive new areas.
If you are lucky enough to experience The Club at Cottonmill, you will be given a wristband upon arrival at the bright and welcoming reception. These grant you access to areas only available to those on Club packages. Pressing the wristband against the sensor beside the door illuminates a green light and a message on the little screen reading ‘Welcome Kelly’. These same wristbands are used to open and close your locker in the dressing rooms, which are kitted out with Elemis products, Dyson hairdryers and a heated stone floor.
Ascend one flight of stairs to the Garden Room and you’ll find an area lined with cushioned beds and illuminated by light streaming in through the floor-to-ceiling windows. Here you’ll find the heated pool, with buttons around the outside to switch on massaging jets. For a while I enjoyed drifting around peacefully under cover of the roof, before wading over to the glass door which slid effortlessly out of my way and swimming outside to the infinity edge, where the sky stretched gloriously overhead and the only sounds were the bubbling of the water and the singing of birds.
The spa gardens are a stunning space designed by Ann-Marie Powell, a gold medal-winning RHS Chelsea Flower Show designer. Stretching out on a sunbed, with friendly staff ready to fetch tea, wine or water, it’s a lifestyle you could get used to all too easily.
The Garden Room is also where you will find two of the spa’s new saunas. One of these, the Organic Sauna, reaches 90°C and is scented with essential oils. The Salt Steam Room, designed to release toxins, is kept at a slightly lower temperature and was wonderfully soothing.
Up the next set of stairs, on the first floor of the spa, is the Whisper Room. This room is far cooler than the Garden Room, perfect for if you start to feel a little overheated, and the huge windows offer amazing views of the Hertfordshire countryside. Here you’ll find heated ceramic chairs designed to fit perfectly to the curve of a reclining body, and the Panoramic Sauna, with three-tier wooden benches and stunning views over the hotel grounds.
Both the Garden and Whisper Rooms have tea stations stocked with different flavours of teabags, a tap that delivers both boiling and chilled water, and flavoured water in glass dispensers. It’s a nice touch that makes the spa feel welcoming and homely. Guests don’t have far to go for a bite to eat either – and there’s no need to change out of those robes – as the Pantry can be accessed from within the spa and offers both hot and cold buffet lunches.
One of my favourite rooms in the spa has to be the Deep Relaxation Room. Outside the door is a screen showing which beds are taken and which are empty, so you can slip inside with the minimum of fuss. It’s dark inside, and the beds look like something out of a sci-fi movie, with glowing surfaces that gently vibrate to the touch. Rainforest sounds trickle through speakers overhead while aromatherapy oils drift on the air. I felt all my worries fade far into the distance, and an easy sleep beckoning.
No trip to the spa is complete without a treatment or two, and as Cottonmill has partnerships with Elemis, ESPA and Aromatherapy Associates, you can be sure you’re in the best hands.
For my treatment I opted for the Elemis Exotic Frangipani Body Scrub with Vichy Shower. Above the massage bed are five Vichy shower jets. My therapist, Danielle, explained that the shower helps to invigorate the body and increase circulation, as well as reducing stress.
The treatment began with a gentle facial massage, followed by a salt body scrub to exfoliate the skin. The shower jets are then turned on, moving in sequence to target different pressure points on the body with varying temperatures. The sensation is somehow both relaxing and invigorating at the same time.
A wonderful scalp massage followed the Vichy shower, and the treatment ended with an application of Elemis body moisturiser which left my skin feeling soft and nourished.
In a frangipani-scented haze my therapist led me to the Rose Relaxation Room. It’s the perfect place to really enjoy that post-treatment bliss.
That night, we stayed in one of the Mews Suites, which are separate from the main hotel. Cute country-style cottages and landscaped gardens which include sunken hot tubs, are tucked away behind a private gate, adding a luxurious sense of exclusivity.
With a plaid sofa, electric fire and animal-themed artworks on the walls, our suite, Lilyturf, is the epitome of country chic. It’s a lovely, peaceful cocoon, the perfect place to curl up and chill out.
Dinner that night was served in The Brasserie, a cosy and welcoming space with huge windows overlooking the hotel grounds. The menu is one of simple, classic dishes, and the staff are friendly and attentive, eager to make recommendations. When I ordered the sea bass, our waiter warned that it comes whole, but that he would ask the chef to fillet it for me if I preferred. The fish was soft and flaky with a delicious crispy skin, served with cherry tomatoes on the vine that have the most delicious flavour from the Mibrasa charcoal oven they are cooked in. Dessert was a chocolate and banana brownie, served with ice cream, which was no less rich and decadent for being vegan.
We left Sopwell House feeling relaxed and rejuvenated. As we were heading back up the long and winding drive, we were already planning our return to Cottonmill Spa, an oasis of calm in an otherwise frantic world.
For more information visit www.sopwellhouse.co.uk
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