Crossing the bridge and driving towards the imposing 18th Century Walton Hall manor house is a breathtaking experience. A lake rippled by the landings of Canadian geese lies to your right, a mottled brick chapel to your left, and in front the most beautiful stately home you could imagine. As you crawl towards the estate along the winding gravel drive, you immediately begin to relax. The house itself in set in 65 acres of typical Warwickshire countryside, and it is now part of the Mercure Walton Hall Hotel and Spa.
Having spent an exhausting summer juggling two young kids and increasing workloads, it was with a sense of relief that I booked a birthday treat for my mum earlier this month. A night away together to spend time talking about more than just toddlers is a treat in itself, but I felt a spa was in order for both of us. To give her a chance to be Mum and not just babysitter, and for me to have the opportunity to have a shower on my own without a toddler walking in demanding I wipe their bottom for the umpteenth time that day.
My Mum went to uni in Warwick and it’s only an hour and a half drive from London, so I decided a trip down memory lane, and into an oasis of calm, would be just the ticket.
The actual hotel itself is in a new building to the left of the impressive Grade II listing building of Walton Hall itself. Although if you’re really splashing out apparently there are some luxury suites there. And in between buildings old and new is the all important spa.
Having checked in and left our bags with reception, we headed straight for the spa where we both had massages booked. Greeted with a friendly smile, we were given our gowns, showed around, and left to lay back and enjoy the afternoon. After a leisurely swim in the pool, and a quick sweat in the steam room, I headed up for my treatment. Vera was my therapist and after a few brief pleasantries she got down to work. Now I’m no stranger to massages, but this was something else. Experience and intuition seemed to guide my masseuse to the most troublesome parts of my aching body. After 55 minutes I not only felt relaxed, and revived, but also my knee strain which has troubled me for months was no longer painful. Yes, it returned, though slightly fainter, the following day, but Vera gave me a relief from a constant ache I have felt since the birth of my second child (don’t ask me how childbirth induced my chronic knee injury – that’s a whole other story). That, dear reader, is the sign of an utterly brilliant masseuse.
The spa at Walton Hall is split into two parts – the downstairs where you find the pool, sauna, steam room ad gym, and the upstairs which houses the treatment rooms and relaxation area. It’s very clean, and as long as you avoid family swimming time, it’s pretty tranquil. We stayed there most of the afternoon before taking a slow stroll around the grounds to explore the old buildings which give the estate its character, then headed back to our room to dress for dinner.
Residents at Walton Hall can choose from eating in the bar area, or dining in the more formal restaurant, The Orangery. As it was Mum’s birthday I booked us into the restaurant, at a table by the window overlooking the stony courtyard. Rabbits ran across the Victorian gardens as we took in the last light of the day, and turned to our menus for inspiration on the night’s eating.
Having researched our destination beforehand I was really looking forward to eating at the AA Rosette brasserie, so I was slightly surprised when our menu was handed to us on a tatty piece of worn A4 paper. Then the wine list, in the same format, stapled together at the corner. The a la carte menu offers a good variety of traditional fayre from fish and chips to sharing plates and burgers, and classics such as macaroni cheese and lasagne. The set menu is more innovative and inviting, and Mum’s prawn and avocado salad was presented beautifully, as was my pan-fried gnocchi with spinach and cherry tomatoes. Other options included a chicken and bacon terrine, and slow roasted pork belly with calvados jus.
The meals were tasty and filling, so much so that we decided to order just one dessert between us. However, after half an hour of waiting, our eagerly anticipated sticky toffee crème brûlée still hadn’t appeared. We were offered an extra one on the house as an apology, but as the sixth or seventh server of the night then appeared unaware as he brought us our bill, we decided not to cause a fuss and just call it a night. It’s a shame that such a promising prospect for dinner ended with an underlying sense of disappointment.
Breakfast back in The orangery the next morning was a much more enjoyable affair, however, with a buffet style service that exceeded your basic hotel brekkie. Nice touches such as Hollandaise sauce to the side of the sautéed spinach, and the most colourful array of fresh fruit you’ve seen this side of a farmer’s market, went a good way towards dispelling the disappointment of the previous evening.
If you’re looking for a leisurely break with friends or as a couple then the Mercure Walton Hall is a great destination. Less than two hours from London, you could easily stay several nights without wanting to leave the grounds in the summer months. The spa offers all you need, and the therapists come highly recommended. Staff are polite and friendly, and there’s a relaxed appeal about the whole estate. Belle’s only advice would be to dine in the bar of an evening, or even take a trip out to the nearby village of Wellesbourne which homes several traditional country inns.
- For more information on the Mercure Walton Hotel, part of the Accor group, or to book a stay, click here.