Monday, February 13, 2017

The Perfect Escape From London: Down Hall

If you live in London and suddenly have that urge to run away - to escape the frenetic pace of the city, to trade the stark, grey buildings for green countryside instead - Down Hall is the perfect escape.

I'm often asked for recommendations of country house hotels that are situated within an hour's drive of London, but I have a hard time coming up with suggestions. But Down Hall is ideal: just 45 minutes by train (from Liverpool Street station) and a short cab ride after that to Hatfield Heath on the Essex/Hertfordshire border, this stunning hotel is set in 110 acres of parkland, woodland and gardens. And, if like us, you happen to live in East London, it makes the "great escape" all that easier.

We arrived at Down Hall on a Saturday afternoon, just as the sun was beginning to set, giving the hotel's beautiful facade a warm, lovely glow.

We'd barely checked into our room when I ran outside to explore the grounds, since we had a terrific view of the main drive and gardens just outside our window. It looked incredibly enticing when bathed in sunlight, and I spotted another hotel guest leisurely reading a paper and enjoying an espresso outside. Bliss.

We stayed in a beautifully furnished deluxe room, with pale grey and dusky pink cushions and a gorgeous marble bathroom (which I made note of for our current bathroom renovations at home!).

I promptly sank onto the bed for a nap and a flip-through of my newest issue of Conde Nast Traveller, while watching the sun go down outside our window. After a particularly crazy week at work, it felt amazing to relax and have a change of scenery.

Just outside our room was this gorgeous "gallery" sitting room - perfect for reading or enjoying a cup of tea. Down Hall is a popular venue for weddings and, during our stay, a bridal party was based in the rooms around ours, making me think that it would also make a terrific place for a girls' holiday or a reunion weekend with friends.

When I woke from my nap, we headed to Down Hall's Eden Spa, known for its luxurious ESPA treatments, which feel amazing after time spent in the steam room and sauna.

John relaxed into a 55-minute deep tissue massage (which he definitely needed after a 5-cities-in-5-days business trip to the US the week before) while I enjoyed a heavenly ESPA "Skin Solutions" facial, targeting my dull, dry and dehydrated winter skin.

I emerged from Eden Spa with a glowing complexion and feeling somehow lighter on my feet, after being treated to some much-needed facial massage.

But before we could tumble into bed, we headed to The Grill Room at Down Hall for a three-course dinner. The restaurant was still full when we sat down at 8:30 (I'd recommend booking ahead!) and everyone looked like they were having a great time. I remember thinking it was so nice to be in such a fun, laid-back atmosphere!

And, oh my goodness, the food did not disappoint. I chose the pigeon to start, followed by the roast chicken, while John had the pork belly for his main course with a side of mash that I couldn't stop picking at - it was so indulgently buttery and creamy.

Each course was beautifully plated and served in generous portions. Although we'd arrived to The Grill Room ravenous, I found myself admitting defeat about two-thirds of the way through my main course, especially as I'd wanted to leave room for dessert, which was caramelized apples with crumble and sherry ice cream.

With more depth and flavor than the typical apple crumble, this dessert was one that I'll remember for a long while.

Although we were just a short distance out of London, we felt miles away at Down Hall, in both mind and spirit. It's so rare to find a place that has it all: great food, beautiful grounds and rooms, terrific service (staff were friendly and helpful at every turn), and a well-equipped spa. But Down Hall does have it all, which made me very, very reluctant to leave.

But after a deliciously filling buffet breakfast, I had to say goodbye to this unbelievably comfortable bed (and to bid farewell to our amazing view too - sob!).

In fact, by the time we got home (45 minutes in a cab, since the earlier trains were delayed due to planned engineering work), I was feeling so relaxed, I fell asleep on our couch within minutes of coming in the door! Sometimes, I find it so hard to properly unwind on the weekends - my mind won't stop racing, I'll wake up at 6 to do laundry or to write - that enforced relaxation is often a good thing.

With its proximity to London and its lovely surrounds, Down Hall is where I'll be going for my next "enforced relaxation" retreat.

Special thanks to Down Hall and Eden Spa for our complimentary stay and treatments! All opinions are my own. Book here. Down Hall, Matching Road, Hatfield Heath, Bishop's Stortford, CM22 7AS. 

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