Alex Galbinski books in for a relaxing minibreak at Pennyhill Park, a stunning five-star resort in the Surrey countryside that was recently named Britain’s top luxury spa
We arrived on the first really cold day of winter and, as we walked through the covered walkway to the hotel, a wood smoke aroma filled the air. Opening one of the side reception doors, my friend Marjorie and I were enveloped in a cosy fug. It was the perfect way to arrive at Pennyhill Park, a luxury resort in the heart of the Surrey countryside.
Staying for just one night, after being shown to our room we made our way swiftly to the spa. The hotel and spa come under the Exclusive Hotels and Venues brand, and was recently awarded ‘Best Spa for Luxury’ in The Good Spa Guide Awards 2015. We knew we’d be in good hands.
Unsure as to what to try first – there are eight indoor and outdoor pools, as well as bubbling hot tubs, saunas, steam rooms and other amenities – we loosely followed the “relax and unwind” guide given to us when we entered the spa.
We acclimatised ourselves with a swim in the Ballroom Pool, which has calming underwater music. Then, despite having pooh-poohed the idea of trying out the ‘Canada Tubs’ – “Are they mad?! It’s far too cold for that!” we cried upon seeing others bravely immersing themselves in the hot tubs – after an about-face, we conceded that the Scandinavians might be onto something.
We declined the sauna and steam rooms, but the Foot Thrones massaged our feet and the warmth of the Tepidarium’s heated ceramic couches brought back feeling into our bodies – although they were so relaxing that they almost sent us to sleep.
But it was nearly dinner time so, after freshening up, we were shown to our table in the Brasserie, the recipient of two AA Rosettes. The hotel also boasts the fine dining Latymer Restaurant, which has two Michelin stars and five AA Rosettes, with innovative cuisine provided by chef Michael Wignall.
It’s lucky we hadn’t come to the hotel to detox as the food was delicious. I had the Yorkshire goat curd and croquette to start, which featured some tangy smoked baby beetroot – golden as well as red – minutely sliced grapes and tomato compote and charred fennel. Marjorie chose the caramelised duck liver parfait, which was mousse-like in texture and accompanied by crunchy miniature croustades and blackcurrant jam.
After an amuse-bouche of leek and potato soup – with the leek perfectly cut into tiny squares – I opted for the seared Cornish cod with a black quinoa crust and creamed mashed potatoes. The cod was so melt-in-the mouth delicious that, when I got home, I tried to find a similar recipe. The quinoa gave it a beautiful crunch and I also loved the accompanying tiny purple broccoli and creamy frothy sauce.
Marjorie selected the poached corn-fed chicken breast, which she said was expertly soft and came with leg ballotine, butternut squash, black cabbage, cep mushrooms and herbed Puy lentils. Finally we shared a ‘Lemon’: creamy lemon on top of a biscuit base, served with caramelised meringue, raspberry streusel and lemon sorbet. Delicious!
The next morning, we still managed a hearty breakfast before returning to the spa for a 60-minute State of Equilibrium Facial (me) and an Immaculate Manicure (Marjorie).
As my therapist Hazel gently kneaded my face with botanical marine extracts to plump the cells, I nearly fell asleep (again). When she placed the slippers by the bed, I reluctantly asked: “Do I have to get up now?” Marjorie’s manicure was still immaculate four days later.
I should mention here that the spa offers deals that are a good way to treat a loved one for a special occasion without the need to stay overnight at the hotel.
However, for those more energetic – and with more time on their hands – the hotel boasts a wide range of exercise classes (some of which are only open for members), 120 acres of Surrey parkland, one nine-hole golf course and one tennis court, an activity field for archery, clay pigeon shooting, team building and off-road driving, one full size sports pitch for football or rugby and a screening room for films.
There are 123 bedrooms, all of which are individually styled and named – no two are the same – and some epitomise pure luxury (with two baths – roll top or spa – or a four-poster bed in the middle of the room). You can take afternoon tea or cocktails in the Ascot Bar (we had tea and sweet potato fries) or out on the Lily Pond terrace.
The hotel – which was opened to paying guests in a previous iteration in 1973 – also hosts special events, such as bread-making courses (there is a bakery on-site) and talks.
It would be an ideal setting for a wedding, given its proximity to London (depending on traffic, it is around an hour’s drive from north London) and it is near Sunningdale and Wentworth Golf Clubs, Ascot Racecourse and Windsor Great Park.
The prices aren’t cheap at Pennyhill Park – but then they aren’t going to be at an exclusive hotel.
You do, however, get quality and perfection – and a very relaxing stay, which is probably why you came. I know that’s why we did – and enjoyed every minute!
• A double or twin room at Pennyhill Park costs from £280, to include overnight stay, with full English breakfast and access into The Spa.