As we sped up the M1 toward Melton Mowbray both my friend Dani and I knew that it would take some pretty tranquil surrounds to undo the stresses of our daily London lives. But as the motorway and A roads melted into country roads, we could feel our shoulders drop and breathing slow as we anticipated the ultimate relaxation that awaited us at Ragdale Hall.
As we pulled up to the stately hall, the staff were quick to relieve us of our baggage and usher us into the juice bar to get us checked-in and ready to start our relaxation programme. The staff here are fabulous – the perfect mix of attentive, interested and discreet without being in your face or intrusive.
With guests only dressing for dinner, the costume de rigueur is the Ragdale Hall dressing gown and slippers. We are quick to slip on our swimsuits, gown and slippers and join the profusion of ladies lounging, swimming, sweating and relaxing around the hotel and grounds. As we walk through the lounges, the sea of 50 Shades Of... novels was testament to the popularity of the tome amongst women of all ages at the moment.
We start at the main pool, one of five at the spa, to ease ourselves into our weekend of total relaxation. But it is not long before we are drawn to thermal spa and the profusion of heat and water experiences aimed at soothing our bodies and our minds. The spiral of rooms and showers lead to the indoor / outdoor pool with its massage jets in the nooks and waterfall massages available at the touch of a button. We spend the next couple of hours going backward and forward between the rose sauna, scented room, volcanic salt bath, colour flow cave and thought zone room stopping to get mint infused shower mists and tropical rain showers with passion-flower fragrance in between. My personal favourite however was the underground candle pool.
As you descend into the warm waters with the flickering candle light and twinkling fairy lights in the ceiling, you feel a calm lap over you. Silence is golden down here and all you hear is the tinkling of water and the soothing sounds of relaxation music undoing the stresses of your everyday life.
It was hard to tear ourselves away from this oasis of calm however we had massages booked in the treatment rooms so we felt it was worth making the effort.
To be brutally honest, I don’t remember much about the massage – which is a good thing. My muscles were pummeled, my stresses eased away as I drifted in and out of sleep. When it was over, my therapist helped me to The Retreat, a relaxation room of beds, swings, bean bags and chaise lounges, where spa zombies can come to read, meditate or just fall asleep.
It seems that the only time other than arrival and departure that people get out of the ubiquitous dressing gowns is for dinner (though not all observe this formality). For those who are staying at the spa, all meals are included, a three course dinner, an in room breakfast and a buffet lunch. The restaurant though cavernous, is sectioned off to give a more intimate feel with large windows that overlook the gardens. As we pondered the meal choices, some decadent though most quite healthy, we watched hares hop across the lawn and herons eye up the fish in the ornamental pond.
For starters the carrot soup was fresh and delicious despite being bereft of any cream or butter. The mains, I had duck while my friend chose the Moroccan lamb, would have been at home at any five-star hotel. The desserts on offer were mainly light and fresh though if you were intent on being wicked then the chocolate brownie really hits the spot. While there was wine on the menu, given our healthy pursuits, we stuck to water.
After the meal we headed to our room for the ultimate girlie night in – a chick flick and face masks. But don’t worry, you don’t have to pre-plan and bring them with you. The hotel has a long list of great movies available to guests and their beauty shop has a great range of cosmetics and the therapists can help you to choose the right one for your skin.
Waking up the next morning I felt refreshed and the healthy and wholesome breakfast of smoked salmon on rye, fruit salad and plain yoghurt with muesli, really set me up for the day. I wasn’t all good though, I did reject the green tea or smoothie in favour of my normal, fully-caffeinated coffee.
The options for the day were numerous from pilates, yoga and tai chi sword class to the more energetic dance fitness and aerobic fat burner in the studio or, in sunny weather, there is croquet on the lawn or a game of tennis. But for both of us, after experiencing the therapeutic benefits of the thermal spa yesterday, it was just too hard to turn down so we spent our final hours moving between the different saunas, steam rooms and pools.
If there is one criticism then it is that Ragdale Hall is a victim of its own success. On the saturday with the combination of weekend guests and day spa visitors, the facilities did become a little over-crowded – not most conducive with relaxation.
Regardless, we reluctantly leave Ragdale Hall with lower shoulders, unwound, wishing that we were staying so much longer.