Over the last 30 years, Rudding Park has quietly (well, from a London-centric point of view at least) become one of the best country house hotels in the UK. Most recently it added a £9.5 million spa which was awarded best new spa by The Good Spa Guide in 2017.
Family-owned and with a stable management team including managing director Peter Banks, it has been in the top three hotels in the UK for ten consecutive years and grown its staff numbers from 20 staff to 250 since opening three decades ago. At a time when many hotels struggle to find the right balance between weddings and romantic weekends away, it has not only succeeded in doing just that, but also added an excellent fine dining restaurant to go alongside its existing restaurant and sells everything from golf breaks to spa breaks as well as having a lot of corporate business.
What’s it like?
Despite the picture at the top of this review, when you first pull up at reception it can be difficult to see the original historic building. In fact, unless you go for a walk round the grounds or are holding a wedding in one of the historic rooms, you wouldn’t see much of the old house at all.
Instead, first impressions are of a luxurious and modern hotel, with reception to one side of a large open fire place, with a second and third fireplace elsewhere in the room – presumably even in the coldest weather you get a very warm welcome. There are neatly-folded newspapers on a couple of the tables, modern art on the walls and doors leading off to the bar and restaurant.
Before arriving, we’d been contacted by email to see if there was any special we required including spa treatments, dinner bookings or golf (we did all three) and that attention to detail and willingness to engage with guests to ensure they are happy and contented was something very much in evidence during our stay of three days.
This is a very luxurious property, but it isn’t pretentious, and the gradual expansion of the original house has been done sensitively so from the front, you wouldn’t know there’s quite a decent-sized hotel behind that elegant facade.
Walking through to our rooms we passed firstly along a corridor where pictures showed famous guests being greeted by management at the hotel – and these were very famous guests – and then a lovely looking library area led through to a new, modern wing with white walls, a modern staircase and the feeling of having walked into an art gallery.
Somehow it all works and doesn’t seem like several different buildings glued together – perhaps it is the gardens outside which, through the floor to ceiling windows are always present, providing a kind of consistency. On one side there is a spa courtyard garden newly-built and planted, while on the other side there are mature oak trees that must be hundreds of years old.
Where is it?
A ten-minute drive from Harrogate and is set in 300 acres which includes the golf courses and a camping ground. Leeds Bradford Airport is 30 minutes away, or you can land a helicopter in the grounds.
The 90 rooms are in two wings – the more traditional Ribston Wing (50 rooms) where sizes average 26sqm and the newer Follifoot Wing (40 rooms) where they average 36sqm.
In the Follifoot Wing, you can opt for a ‘Spa’ room, which include a personal Hamman steam room and a roll top bath, as well as French windows and a private terrace with patio table and chairs.
Decor-wise, the pale grey walls are brightened with original art and the superking-sized beds come with large velour padded headboards, and monogrammed cushions.
As well as air-conditioning, and a desk with USB and power points, there is a separate charging station for devices, and free wifi. The extra-large bathrooms are stocked with Molton Brown products., but we were also delighted to find a kettle, teapot, Yorkshire Tea tea bags, and a bottle of fresh milk in the mini-bar that was replaced daily, perfect for enjoying in the room while recovering from golf, or the spa, or just reading a book and relaxing.
Food and drink
There are two restaurants: the main Clocktower restaurant and bar, and the smaller Horto situated in the spa extension. Breakfast is in the Clocktower, an inviting room with rich brown walls, patterned carpet and floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the grounds, and tables in the adjoining orangery with its 400-year-old olive tree.
Breakfast includes continental and hot buffets, with a menu of cooked to order choices including full Yorkshire breakfast and, smoked salmon and scrambled eggs on a muffin, and Eggs Benedict.
In the evening, dinner choices are modern British staples, including minute steak, chicken supreme, lamb rump, gourmet burgers, and fish and chips with pea puree, all prepared and served to a high standard. Highlights included a vegetarian option of bubble and squeak risotto with duck eggs in a crispy coating, and a pea shoot salad; and an Eton mess with hibiscus. Live music from a saxophonist and keyboard player added to the atmosphere.
The smaller Horto is the spa café during the day and the fine dining restaurant in the evening. It has a minimalist feel, with a light wood floor, and white table tops trimmed in brass, but green velvet banquette style seating adds warmth. There is a seven-course tasting menu, and a small selection of a la carte choices based on locally-sourced, seasonal ingredients as well as from the Kitchen Garden, devised by chef Murray Wilson, a past contestant of Masterchef: The Professionals.
Our autumnal choices of pork cheek with celeriac and apple, turbot with and venison with trompette and beetroot, and all dishes, were imaginatively presented, and a delicious balance of flavours. Immaculately dressed staff provide attentive service that avoids stuffiness.
Business and meetings
The hotel’s function rooms are popular with local businesses, with the historic old house containing several rooms that can host everything from a dinner to a wedding reception (you can see photos of some of them in the slideshow at the end of this piece).
What’s good is that these function rooms are away from the hotel rooms , and so you can be staying at the hotel and be completely unaware that a wedding is taking place (unless you’re the bride or groom). Walking back from golf one day I heard a loud cheer and realised a wedding was taking place in the chapel, yet that was the only sign that one was taking place and there was none of that ‘listening to the disco until midnight’ that you get at some other hotels.
There is both an 18-hole and a six-hole short course. Unlike a lot of golf courses attached to hotels, this one is playable for the average golfer, with wide open fairways and yet plenty of challenges. The six-hole course is great fun.
The new purpose-built spa is simply world class.
Built over three-storeys and designed with an ‘indoors-out’ feel, it includes an outdoor spa bath, heated hydrotherapy infinity pool, and a sauna cabin sitting on the roof in a rooftop garden designed by Matthew Wilson which also has an extensive decking area, with outdoor sofas nestled among outsize pots of ornamental grasses and architectural shrubs.
Inside, where light floods in from the floor-to-ceiling windows, there are “experience” showers, a row of foot spas, a large circular steam room with mosaic floors and walls and a ‘starlight’ ceiling; a second herbal steam bath which uses herbs from the Kitchen Garden, a panoramic sauna, and heated relaxation beds.
There are also spacious changing rooms, a lap pool, a Rasul room (for mud treatments), a juniper log sauna, and further indoor and outdoor relaxation areas on the ground floor, along with the spa reception and the spa cafe/ restaurant, Horto, which becomes a fine dining restaurant in the evening.
There are no gym facilities in the spa, although there is a small but well-stocked gym, situated in the main hotel building. You can experience a free Aufguss ceremony, one of 2018’s hottest wellness strands, daily in the Panoramic Sauna, an entertaining group ritual that blends heat, ice, herbs and some gentle thrashing with birch branches.
We were lucky during our stay to have good weather, but I imagine there are stays when the spa becomes the place where non-golfers spend the majority of their time, and they would certainly enjoy prolonged exposure. There are chilled coolers of cucumber water; a hassle-free wristband swipe system for both door entry and locker use, and flip flops and fluffy robes handed to you on arrival. The changing rooms are also equipped with Dyson hairdryers and straighteners (my wife pointed out). The full treatment menu includes three signature treatments, treatments by ila, facials by Carita and natural products and body therapies by Elemental Herbology based on the Five Element Theory from Traditional Chinese Medicine.
There are also specialist treatments for pregnancy, and those living with cancer, and a sports rehab service headed up by Matthew Birch. My sports massage was thorough and painful – in a good way. Finally, there is also a 14 seater cinema which can be hired for private use, with optional popcorn and ice cream.
The quality of service at the hotel is outstanding, with every member of staff we encountered genuinely friendly and motivated to help make our visit as enjoyable as possible. A lasting memory is watching a member of staff scour the hotel for a copy of the Times newspaper we had requested at breakfast (you can ask for your own copy to be placed outside your door in the morning, but we had failed to do so, hence the request). One was found.
The hotel is modern and excellently maintained, and the beautiful grounds full of rhododendrons, azaleas and magnolias are immaculately kept and a pleasure to explore, even if you don’t play golf (you can always go for a stroll or a run).
The original building has been tastefully extended, or transformed, really, and the décor throughout is a fresh and stylish blend of traditional and modern. Not surprisingly, Rudding Park is a popular wedding venue (hence the chapel in the grounds where couples can have their union blessed), but the event facilities are sufficiently separate so as not to impact on regular hotel guests. Highly recommended.
- Rudding Park Hotel, Follifoot, Harrogate, North Yorkshire HG3 1JH; tel +44 (0)1423 871350