Travel review: Unwinding at Swinton Estate's new Â£8million spa in North Yorkshire
Auburn leaves crunched beneath our feet as we made our way up the sweeping entrance to Swinton Park Hotel, whilst the distinctive red hues of Virginia creeper hugged the tower of the stately home '“ this was a postcard of autumn come to life.
Though I’m a regular visitor to North Yorkshire, the Swinton Estate, quite literally a stone’s throw from Masham and 15 minutes from the rush of the A1, had thus far passed me by. But with the addition of a gleaming new £8million Country Club and Spa, which opened its doors this summer, the estate is firmly stamping itself on the luxury weekend getaway map.
Though there was plenty to entice visitors to this destination pre-spa, the new addition really ups the ante to complete this country estate, meaning you need never leave its rolling 20,000 acres during your stay.
The vision of estate owners Mark and Felicity Cunliffe-Lister, the spa, which overlooks the estate’s walled garden, is themed around bringing the outdoors in.
As such, feature walls are a carpet of greenery, chairs take the form of plush pebbles and fluffy clouds pepper the walls in the post-treatment relaxation room.
In reverse, the indoors has been taken outside too, with loungers that come complete with sheepskin slippers and hot water bottles under infra-red heaters, overlooking the pretty terrace.
From your toasty spot you can also look onto the 10-metre natural water swimming pool. As it’s unheated, it makes for an invigorating swim, but there’s always the Swedish style hot tub to plunge yourself into afterwards to warm yourself up again.
Sticking with the Scandi theme, inside there’s a Finnish sauna in an aromatic wood cabin, a gym, a sleep room with heated water beds, a salt steam room, an aroma steam bath featuring seasonal natural fragrances, a hydrotherapy pool and an 18-metre indoor swimming pool. All that, and I haven’t even got onto the treatments yet or the fact that the country club also features its own restaurant, The Terrace, which has chef Christopher McPhee at the helm.
At his fingertips, literally, is a wealth of local produce grown in the estate’s four-acre walled garden, which is the largest hotel kitchen garden in the UK no less.
For those wanting to don some whites too, there’s also a cookery school to teach you the art of getting the best from nature’s larder.
It’s no surprise then, that this garden and its daily supply of fruits, herbs and vegetables and the nearby undulating hills of the Yorkshire Dales, also inspires the spa’s treatments.
This is an estate which embraces Yorkshire’s elements to the max.
Much like the colourful food menu, there’s a kaleidoscope of treatments on offer, using premium spa brands Elemis and Bamford, such as the Elemis Garden of Rose Restore Wrap and the Elemis Thousand Flower Detox Wrap.
I chose the Bamford De-Stress Massage, 60 minutes of top to toe relaxation, which begins with a soothing footbath, followed by a shiatsu massage to really work out those knots, a Swedish back massage and leg massage. Pure bliss.
After a tour of the facilities, I was pretty sure this was the best spa I’d visited in the North, but the treatment confirmed it.
Feeling thoroughly unwound, it was a hop and skip back to our hotel room at Swinton Park Hotel. Its most photographed architectural feature is its striking castle turret, which dates back to the late 17th century, and though it certainly has a sense of the regal, much of the building is a Victorian addition in what was once a grand family home. Today, it’s a hotel brimming with old school opulence.
With its imposing oak-panelled corridors, walls festooned with gilded portraits that loom large over residents and William Morris wallpapered private dining rooms, its character is far removed from the Scandi luxury of the spa.
But it’s a stately home charm which will appeal to those who lap up classic English grandeur.
Its 32 rooms are vast, huge, in fact and are named, and themed, around places in the locality, such as Whitby and Middleham.
They’re a balance of traditional, such as heavy brocade curtains and four-poster beds, with a sprinkling of modern, with new bathrooms with walk-in showers and complimentary Raisthorpe Manor sloe gin, which is distilled in Yorkshire, placed in each room.
There’s two choices for dining: the aforementioned The Terrace, a more informal affair offering charcuterie, small plates and bar snacks, or the more elegant Samuel’s which holds three AA rosettes.
Though the two restaurant styles are at opposite ends of the traditional / contemporary scale, both use produce from that vast walled garden.
Samuel’s head chef Mehdi Amiri uses the fruits of the gardeners’ labour to spectacular effect, crafting imaginative dishes with a real wow factor.
We took our seats in the handsome dining room, with its spectacularly ornate gold and purple ceiling and grandiose windows offering views of the grounds, lake and even the estate’s free-roaming deer as they canter past.
We were dining from a tasting menu, giving Mehdi the chance to really flex his culinary muscles, with which we also enjoyed an informative wine flight.
The theme was inventive Yorkshire dining at is finest. Appetites fully whetted with snacks featuring local favourites, such as Whitby crab and North Sea cod, we took our seats for the main event.
It was eight courses of gastronomic indulgence, which started with hay smoked Yorkshire feta, served with a zingy compressed watermelon, pomegranate and garden mint which cleansed our palates in preparation for the richer dishes to come.
Next up, a goose liver ganache. An ingredient that’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but it was beautifully executed here. Rich, but not sickeningly so, it was balanced with a contrasting blood orange, ginger crisps and citrus that made for a perfect medley of flavours.
Meatier dishes followed: a silky diver king scallop with Marmite (there’s that inventiveness again), pork cheek, curried cauliflower and sorrel oil, followed by a spiced lamb (Yorkshire, of course) which was given a North African twist with squash, Raz al Hanout and tarragon.
Our tastebuds were brought back to Yorkshire with a dish of squab pigeon, a deep and gamey meat, that doesn’t require much faff, which was served with sweetcorn, broccoli and a perky apricot jam.
I was already feeling comfortably full, but I couldn’t resist the next dish. A theatrical take on the humble Granny Smith, this pre-pudding was served in a spectacular frozen teardrop which was hollowed out to hold a punchy apple sorbet. A fusion of Granny Smith essence and dry ice, which saw the dish encircled in plumes of smoke, made it all the more memorable.
It was an unexpected treat and we couldn’t photograph it fast enough. Annoying, I know. But when food looks this good it demands to be committed to Instagram.
Our dining dénouement came in the form of a blackberry mousse with moreish depth, served with crémeux, white chocolate aero and chervil.
Why blackberries? Because they’d had a particularly plentiful crop in the garden that season. No corner of the estate is left unturned in a quest to please your palate here.
Our goal for our stay was unadulterated indulgence and relaxation, but for those after a more active break you can take a bracing stroll through the grounds, follow the running trail, go shooting, hire a bike, go fishing for salmon and trout on the river, enjoy falconry at the bird of prey centre, saddle up for a pony trek or have more of an overall outdoor experience by glamping at the Swinton Bivouac site with is trendy meadow yurts and tree lodges.
The estate is practically a poster boy for country pursuits for all generations.
As I warned you earlier about this striking hotel and spa: you’ll never need – or want – to leave.
For more information on Swinton Country Club & Spa, spa packages, and overnight stays at Swinton Park Hotel, which start from £195 per room, per night based on two people sharing, visit http://swintonestate.com/