Early on a Sunday morning, I board the train from Liverpool Street station only to 47 minutes later arrive at Hatfield Heath. After getting off the train and being hit by the fresh country air, I enjoy a 10-min taxi ride through the rolling countryside before finally arriving at my final destination – Down Hall, one of UK’s most established country house hotels & spas.
Located right on the Hertfordshire and Essex border, Down Hall is set on 110 acres surrounded by woodland, parkland, postcard cottages and landscaped gardens – a movie-worthy backdrop which is on full display when driving up towards the historic mansion.
Following a transformative £8 million refurbishment of its mansion house, the interior is equally dramatic featuring grand interiors, ornate ceilings and antique furniture.
Dating back to 1322 the estate was a family owned country house for centuries and during its heydays, in the 19th century, the hunt balls at Down Hall were regarded as one of the social events of the year. After becoming a convalescent home for wounded soldiers during WW1 Down Hall become a girl’s school before being sold in 1986 to Veladail Group, the current owners and finally turned into today’s country house hotel.
When arriving at the reception the staff is welcoming, chatty and friendly and informs me that there is a deluxe Scottish wedding just about to take place. With guests walking around in their best outfits, the atmosphere is equally as exciting as the Christmas episode of Downton Abbey and gives you the same warm fuzzy feeling.
Later when walking around the estate in the autumn sun I can hear the Scottish bagpipes, which are a nice Sunday afternoon soundtrack.
Entering the ‘Feature Room’ located in the historic Mansion House I’m almost expecting Mrs Hughes to bring a set of starched linen towels and a tea tray.
The beautiful and bright bedroom has two large windows offering breathtaking views of the gardens and the grand drive up to the hotel. The room has high ceilings with beautiful ornaments, two elegant armchairs and a desk and flatscreen TV. The large comfortable king-size bed has a stunning headboard with elegant window pelmets which adds to the Edwardian-feel. The elevated marble bathroom features a large bathtub which can, probably, fit two.
The room also offers 24hr room service, mini fridge, a safe and a large wardrobe. A bonus is the extensive selection of loose-leaf tea which seems impossible to run out of.
Before dinner, I’m booked in for a treatment at Eden Spa located in a separate building right next to the main house. With brand new treatment rooms, guests can enjoy massages, facials and manicures. The spa treatment products used are all natural and from British brand ESPA. I’m informed that the Swedish massage, a traditional full body massage, is the most popular treatment followed by a good soak in the wet spa. However, I decide to give my face some love and opt for the 55 minute ESPA Skin Solution Facial. Beauty therapist Lauren lets me smell four different products and pick two. According to the holistic idea behind the products, the products I end up picking are the ones my body is craving at that particular moment in time. Before we start Lauren brings out the big lamp to examine my skin to determine which products to use. When she finally concludes that my skin looks perfect just a bit dry around the eyes I have a sigh of relief, similar to when the dentist is giving you the all OK.
The treatment room is dark and soothing and I have to warn Lauren that there is a slight risk I might fall asleep and embarrassingly, also snore.
After a cleanse, tone, exfoliation, massage and mask I must have drifted off to sleep and I wake up when the final booster serum and lip balm is being applied.
The facial leaves me with amazingly glowing skin and when I walk out of Eden Spa I also have a handbook of the personalised products Lauren used, in my hand.
The Grill Room
Located on the ground floor next to the cocktail bar I find The Grill Room which offers a welcoming, relaxed and informal dining experience.
The restaurant focuses on a contemporary British cuisine and the kitchen is using ingredients sourced from Down Hall’s own vegetable garden.
The restaurant manager suggests I try the poached plaice fillet with chantarelle mushroom and spinach for starter followed by the pan roasted cod served with borlotti beans and courgette. Both dishes are fresh and light leaving me with some well-needed space for the popular chocolate fondant cake which is served with salted caramel ice-cream.
The morning after, before checking out, I decide to have breakfast in my room, in the bathrobe and yes, in bed! At 7 am I receive a large tray containing a traditional continental breakfast including orange juice, tea, toast, a selection of jam, yoghurt and fruit salad. Multiple pots of tea later and I’m ready to conquer the world. Now, this isn’t entirely true since I gladly could have stayed between the Egyptian cotton sheets until midday.
Needless to say, I’m leaving Down Hall relaxed and refreshed. The close proximity to London Stansted Airport, which is only a 25 min drive turns out to be a pleasant and convenient surprise for this occasion and so is the free wi-fi and overnight car parking.
Whether it’s for someone’s wedding, a romantic get-away, a girlfriend weekend deluxe or just for some quality solitude ‘me-time’, I’d be delighted to return to this beautiful quintessential British country house hotel any day.
Down Hall Hotel & Spa
Matching Road, Hatfield Heath, Essex, CM22 7AS
For more information and bookings:
Telephone: +44 (0)1279 731 441