If winter is really getting you down, fret not for Haute Time has a suggestion for a weekend break. Head to handsome Sopwell House – a Georgian country house retreat deep in the Hertfordshire countryside – where you can swap the happy madness of the capital for some R&R.
Once the private residence of Lord Mountbatten, these days the listed building is famous for hosting more footballers than probably anywhere else on the planet. Arsenal, Liverpool, Barcelona, the England squad and, erm, Watford FC: name your team and chances are they have stayed at Sopwell House.
And understandably so: the ambience is instantly soothing making the building, with its gorgeous Georgian architecture and 12 acres of picturesque gardens, the perfect place for consolation or celebration (as appropriate).
Rooms – there are 129 in total – are truly fab. Elegant without being intimidating and colourful without being garish, they boast all the comforts of home – complimentary tea and coffee (who wants to constantly be putting their hands in theirs pocket for a cuppa?), free WiFi and soft beds you could spend all day in – and then some.
We had planned to hike around the gardens and grounds but any half baked notion of exploring evaporated approximately 30 seconds after entering our deluxe, second floor room. January, we decided while lapping up the luxury that lay in front of us, is still a time when the indoors matters more than the outdoors. We were content to spend Saturday afternoon snuggled up in bathrobes on the divine bed reading books that had been lying on our bedside tables since Christmas before wandering to the swimming pool (surely the prettiest pool in Hertfordshire) without feeling the least self conscious (it’s de rigeur to pad around in robes) and stretching out on sun lounger.
After a few hours relaxing by the pool doing nothing, we found ourselves feeling peckish and booked a table for dinner at The Restaurant. First though it was time to dress up and enjoy a cheeky cocktail in the Cocktail lounge whose marble topped counter, polished parquet floor and expertly mixed cocktails would make Carrie and the girls feel at home. The lounge isn’t just for cocktail connoisseurs though: patrons who prefer beer, wine or spirits won’t be disappointed. Whatever your tipple of choice, expect to sip against the soundtrack of a pianist tickling the ivories until the early hours. It all makes for a lively scene straight out of the society pages of Hello or Tatler magazine.
It would have been easy to have settled in for the night but we had a reservation to uphold in The Restaurant where we fast found ourselves slipping into a food coma. For while the AA Rosette fine dining restaurant – with its high ceilings and classic, sleek decor – looks the part, what the kitchen is plating up is also as sophisticated as any central London spot.
Head chef Mark Rutherford’s modern British plates (locally sourced wherever possible) are more than food – they’re artistry. Every dish we tried – from the delicious breads (so good we could have munched our way through the basket) to starters of Seared king scallops and Goats cheese roulade and mains of Line caught sea bass and a wonderful, veggie friendly White asparagus risotto – tasted both sublime and sublimely healthy. It’s the kind of restaurant where you somehow become good friends with the waiter at the same time as barely realising that your wine glass has been refilled with. Even if you don’t stay at Sopwell House, you should come for dinner here.
The Restaurant’s more casual cousin is the bright and open Brasserie. This is where we chose to read the Sunday papers while enjoying a breakfast spread fit for an emperor – seriously Hertfordshire has never been better fed – the following morning.
Yet while the cuisine is a major draw (and reason enough to place Sopwell House on top of your wish list), indulgences aren’t only of a culinary kind. Fitness fanatics will love the enormous TechnoGym Wellness System that’s dedicated to helping guests become fitter, healthier and slimmer. And if – like Haute Time – you aren’t a fan of exercising alone, there’s a roster of classes on offer daily in the the state-of-the-art aerobics studio. Elsewhere Pringle wears can take to the fairways of Verulam Golf Club – home of the Ryder Cup – that’s situated only a stone’s throw away from Sopwell House,
Too energetic? You can find kindred spirits seeking nirvana in the Conservatory, sweat it out in the steam room or sauna or simply pile on a fluffy robe and enjoy the hotel’s exceptional spa treatments. The range of therapies – using either Espa or Clarins products – is mind boggling but Haute Time can vouch for the Clarins Tri Active Facial aka 70 minutes of bliss that our skin feeling baby soft and begging to be booked in for a course of Clarins treatments. It’s not the last time that the attitude free, always smiling therapist, Paisley, will be seeing us. We walked in but floated out feeling rejuvenated and ready to return to the city.
Before you do, you may like to explore the nearby ancient Roman city of St Albans – a pretty town full of character that’s only five minutes away from the ground – but, in all honesty, nothing outside of Sopwell House beats what you’ll find inside.
However Sopwell House’s real selling point is its staff who stand leagues above the competition (here’s looking at The Grove). Guest relations manager, Grazia, Rooms manager Vince, Food and beverage manager Tony and their teams are attentive yet unobtrusive and will bend over backwards to help you.
The sky might have been dull and grey this morning, but I came away energised and happy convinced that Sopwell House is the perfect antithesis to the soggy grey streets of London and a balm for the overstimulated 21st century soul. This is where you go to recharge your batteries – one night here is akin to a week on holiday – and banish the January blues. Just don’t forget to book a return: Sopwell House really is that soothing.