A spa and a Michelin star – Rockliffe Hall hotel, Darlington

PUBLISHED: 12:39 19 December 2011 | UPDATED: 20:27 20 February 2013

A spa and a Michelin star – Rockliffe Hall hotel, Darlington

A spa and a Michelin star – Rockliffe Hall hotel, Darlington

If you're a foodie, spa lover or golf fanatic Rockliffe Hall hotel near Darlington could be right up your street. Karen Bowerman went to visit.

If youre a foodie, spa lover or golf fanatic Rockliffe Hall hotel near Darlington could be right up your street. Karen Bowerman went to visit.

I waited, gingerly, for I knew what was coming next; Id been watching, wrapped in my robe, from a lounger nearby.

Now it was my turn. I glanced at the girl opposite; it was her turn too.

We sat, cautiously, in the bubbles. There was a pause. Then whoosh, the water shot out, crashing against my shoulders and smashing into my back with such ferocity that I almost toppled over. The gentle massage was fast becoming an endurance test. And I was doing this for fun?

The onslaught continued for a good three minutes. Then, without warning, the jet ceased and the soft, rippling sounds of the hydrotherapy pool took over.

I breathed in. Then out. Deeply. The girl caught my eye. Better? She asked. I hesitated. Well, Im sure I will be.

I was, later that evening. The tension in my shoulders had completely disappeared; I was wonderfully knot free. I floated into dinner for a different sensory experience.

If youre a spa-lover, golf enthusiast or gourmet, Rockliffe Hall hotel near Darlington in Durham cant fail to disappoint. The spa is one of the largest in the UK, the golf course the longest (and said to be most challenging in Europe) and the restaurant home to Kenny Atkinson, the only Michelin starred chef in the northeast.

But what might disappoint, or at least take you by surprise, is the hotels interior. As I approached (along an impressive driveway) I expected to find a traditionally restored manor house. But while the faade of the hotel has all the trappings of a 19th century country pile - gables, tall chimneys and decorative brickwork inside theres not an oak panel or inglenook fireplace in sight.

Instead the dcors in keeping with the new extension, which sweeps through the grounds to incorporate a curved, glass-fronted spa.

Inside Rockliffe Hall its all chintz, sparkle and bling. Walls are hung with mirrors framed with twirls, chandeliers drip with crystals, oversized armchairs (the height of doors) line corridors and statues of life-size dogs stand guard in the lobby.

Our room (in the new wing) seemed somewhat muted compared with the riot of colour outside. But the various shades of brown and the traditional furnishings made it a welcome place to relax, while glass doors opened onto a private patio with wrought iron furniture, a rose bed and a calming view of the golf course.

The hotel offers several dining options: the Clubhouse (where you mingle among golf enthusiasts), the Waterhouse (described as a bistro, but veering towards scaled-down fine dining) and the Orangery, run by Michelin starred chef Kenny Atkinson.

Atkinson favours local, seasonal food; we sat down to Yorkshire venison with wild mushroom lasagne, butternut squash and chanterelles and perfectly cooked North Sea monkfish, with gnocchi and ceps.

A surprise discovery was Grace, acting up as sommelier. Despite looking barely old enough to drink (she was just 19) her knowledge of wine was comprehensive and her love of it, infectious and genuine.

But it was the cheese waiter who stole the show, wheeling his trolley round the tables and finding takers all night long.

The next morning I headed back to the Spa, though this time solely to luxuriate. With a hydro pool, 20 foot swimming pool, eight thermal bathing suites and an entire floor of treatments rooms (offering, among other things, rose and sweet pea facials and Monticelli mud wraps) it was tricky to know where to begin.

I was asking my husband the difference between the two saunas (pointless) when the spa butler (who seemed to exist solely to serve drinks and offer new towels and slippers) handed me a booklet.

Entitled How to Spa and laminated (how ingenious) - it was just what I needed. I reclined with a glass of complimentary watermelon juice and soon realised there was a whole ritual to spa going.

The booklet suggested I began my Spa Journey with a few minutes in the tepidarium before moving to the hydro pool. It then advised I should heat things up in the caldarium, tropicarium and sauna and finish by cooling things down in the Igloo where I was to rub handfuls of ice into my skin to feel re-energised. I did and I was, but it wasnt my favourite experience.

I followed the regime to the letter, once, before sloping off to do it my way - shuffling in my slippers from one cabin to another (and somehow missing the igloo).

I definitely let my skin shrivel too much and probably shouldnt have abandoned my melon juice for a glass of red. But wandering from sauna to steam room, to relaxation room, dipping my feet into bubbling baths and lazing poolside in a fluffy robe was a perfect way to end my stay.

Rockliffe Hall in County Durham, DL2 2DU, is five minutes from Darlington railway station, ten minutes from Durham Tee Valley Airport, and 50 minutes from Newcastle International Airport, http://www.rockliffehall.com

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