Sopwell House review: pampering without pretension in St Albans
With restaurants, bars, 12 acres of grounds and a world-class spa, this hotel is a one-stop shop for ultimate relaxation
When you think of unrivalled luxury, St Albans may not necessarily be the first place which comes to mind. But Sopwell House – a Georgian manor house found deep in the Hertfordshire countryside – delivers un-pompous pampering in abundance.
Located just 20 minutes by train from London St. Pancras, this hotel is the idyllic getaway location – far enough from the hustle and bustle of the city to feel truly relaxing, but close enough to be manageable for a short weekend (or midweek) break.
With two restaurants, an elegant cocktail lounge and bar, 12-acres of beautiful grounds and a world-class luxury spa, Sopwell House is a one-stop shop for guests looking for the ultimate relaxation experience.
The hotel has 128 rooms designed in a quintessentially British style, with duck feather duvets and super king-sized beds. Opposite the main reception area is a path to 16 exclusive Mews Suites, which are situated around a peaceful botanical garden and infinity-edged hydrotherapy pool.
Where to eat
On the casual side is Sopwell House’s Pantry restaurant, which serves classic British dishes including a traditional Sunday roast beef with all the trimmings.
Several spa packages include a three-course meal at this relaxed joint, which has a special, private section where guests can eat in their provided towelling robes and slippers. It’s worth noting, however, that you have to access this enclosed eating area via the main entrance of the restaurant. Walking through tables of people wearing regular clothes in what is essentially an oversized towel can make you feel just a little self-conscious!
For slightly more formal – but still unpretentious – dining, the hotel contains the Brasserie restaurant, which serves a fusion of British and Mediterranean cuisine. The menu is simple in a way that makes you feel confident about every dish (I was pleased by the lack of jou, smears and foam which have sadly become ubiquitous with “special treat” dining).
I opted for a cheddar cheese soufflé to start (not something you see on a menu very often so I couldn’t resist!), which was perfectly light and fluffy. My dining companion’s salt and pepper squid had a delightful crunch and was a good-sized portion.
Our mains – a salty sea bream served with caponata-esque vegetables, olives and sauté potatoes, and a plant-based Moving Mountains burger with chips – were delicious. I appreciated the chef’s no-frills approach; it was a good reminder that so often in gastronomy, less is more.
We took our dessert (a cheese platter) back to our Mews Suite, along with the remains of our Pinot Grigio. What could be better than a slightly drunken cheese course enjoyed in hotel robes?
Inspired by our delightful dessert set-up, we opted for a room service breakfast, which incurs a £5 “delivery” charge. Tucking into eggs royale and avocado, along with coffee, tea and fresh juices, from the privacy of our sun-kissed suite was definitely worth the extra fee.
To order room service, all you need to do is tick the boxes corresponding to the breakfast you’d like on a paper form and “post” it in the letterbox outside your room, along with the time you’d like it to arrive (ours arrived exactly on the dot).
What to do
Sopwell House’s pièce de résistance is undoubtedly its adults-only playground – in other words, its no-holds-barred spa, which is technically two luxury spas rolled into one.
Facilities at the award-winning Cottonmill, which all hotel guests have access to, include a 14.5m indoor pool, two vitality pools, a gym, sauna, steam room and a special “rose relaxation room” where you can unwind following a treatment.
But for a truly lavish experience, there’s also The Club at Cottonmill – available for hotel residents staying in a Mews Suite, or those booked onto a Club Spa Day or Club Spa Break. Individuals can also join The Club at Cottonmill, which the team says is the UK’s first private members’ spa, with prices starting from £145 a month.
I had the pleasure of experiencing The Club at Cottonmill’s labyrinth of luxury facilities, which include several outdoor hot tubs, an indoor/outdoor hydro pool, a panoramic sauna, an “organic” sauna (organic due to the coals which are used, apparently), a sea salt steam room and a “sensory shower”.
The latter has three settings which each provide a different experience involving temperature and water pressure variation, misting, an array of aromas and mood lighting. The utter pointlessness of the sensory shower only added to my enjoyment of it.
Going all out
Various treatments are on offer including the Cottonmill Signature Massage (£105), a full-body massage using warmed Elemis products. With heated beds, calming music and the opportunity to unwind afterwards in dedicated relaxation zones, this was a next-level massage experience.
I particularly enjoyed letting my brain melt in the “deep relaxation room”, a sensuous, immersive space filled with cocoon-like loungers (inspired by Japanese sleep pods) which softly vibrate, change colour and play relaxing music.
Guests can order drinks directly to their lounger or cosy indoor swing – or even to a specific hot tub. The spa was pleasantly empty when I visited, which made the whole experience feel totally relaxing – and less concerning from a Covid perspective (I noted that staff were regularly cleaning the facilities throughout my visit, although, interestingly, no temperature checks were taken on arrival).
How to book
Deluxe rooms in the Mansion House start from £229 per night on a B&B basis and include complimentary use of the Cottonmill facilities.
Mews Suites start from £529 per night on a B&B basis and include complimentary access to The Club at Cottonmill spa from 3pm on your day of arrival until 11am on your day of departure.
Bookings can be made on Sopwell House’s website.