“It’s coming up 11am. I’m woken by the beckoning aromas of a sizzling breakfast and the sounds of birds chirping. It’s peacefully quiet , and I slip off my eye mask and draw back the curtains to let the beautiful sunshine filter into the room.
Sound like a wonderfully calm Saturday, doesn’t it? Well, I wish I could say it was mine. Instead, It’s 7am and I’m hurtling through the steely grey countryside of the home counties. I’m disgruntled, naturally. It’s too early after a long week. There’s no perking me up as I look out of the bleary window and wonder why on earth I’ve chosen to go on a ‘relaxing’ weekend to a spa when it entails waking up at the crack of dawn.
Fast forward seven hours and I’m more zen than I have been since, well, I can’t even remember. I’m being fed strawberries, pineapples and raspberry sorbet in a deck chair where the music is calming and the ambience says, ‘don’t you worry your massaged head about anything at all’. Let’s rewind.
Seaham station is a mere few minutes drive from Seaham Hall itself and in no time, I’m at the five star destination. It’s a handsome hotel, a winding drive leading up to the domed building, formerly the marital home of Lord Byron and Annabella Milbanke. We’re greeted with smiles, friendly chit-chat and given some time to wander before the suite is free.
The hotel doesn’t seem to capitalize on its literary heritage so much as show it can create its own modernity, but there are elements which capture its history – the stained glass ceiling bears Lord Byron’s poetry lines and there’s an Ada Lovelace suite. We take the opportunity to explore the other rooms, starting with the sports lounge. Now, I have gone to many a sports lounge to watch my north London team triumph or, more often than not these days, lose. They’re usually loud, every inch of the walls are filled with screens and the place is occupied predominantly by beer-drinking men.
Not this sports lounge. It is regally decorated, deep purples, reds and golds wallpapered on each surface, a huge pool table stretching across the room and a football table. Incredibly handsome. We easily spend a few hours here, ordering two excellent gin cocktails from the bar and a soup for lunch until we get our keys. I’m astonished by the lack of stuffines, it’s without a doubt a beautiful hotel and yet the staff make you feel comfortable, are genuinely warm and explain how everything works, a huge relief for a spa weekend newcomer like me.
We took our keys and headed upstairs, taking a moment to admire the suite, which is remarkable, a room straight out of a country magazine, all sultry greys and bold accessories. One of the hotel’s huge perks for me was that you can change into your room for the spa and walk through a magnificent underground tunnel to the spa centre – although the suite was breezier than we’d hoped and so we changed in haste, wrapped ourselves in the dressing gowns and made our way through the purple-lit tunnel. Who knew a tunnel could have such a wow factor but it does; it physically takes you from the hotel formalities and into the casual calm that is the Serenity Spa, complete with Buddha and elephant statues to prepare you for peacefulness.
It’s the largest spa I’ve ever been to. There’s the open plan glass room which is the centre piece, with a 20 metre pool and several massage stations. There’s outdoor hot tubs, a hydrotherapy pool, an ice fountain and even the Ozone restaurant, which you can eat in whilst still wearing your robes – I’d recommend towel drying yourself rather than plonking your sopping self onto the seat to eat noodles and shlurp on restoring tea dripping wet. It’s easy to see why this is a renowned spa – a few hours pass like minutes as you rotate from sauna to the ice pool (for the courageous). The staff bring round pineapple on sticks and raspberry sorbet and by this point, the stresses of wondering if your spa etiquette is right are fading and you just get comfortable.
It offers a whole host of treatments, but for me the Ishga facial stole the show, using Scottish seaweed. I am ashamed of my initial ignorance, which was wondering what on earth people do to your face for a whole 60 minutes – how wrong was I? Revitalising and repairing takes time and I had rich seaweed, spring water, nut oil and cucumber extracts massaged and left onto my face. By the end of it, I felt nourished and as if my skin had been pulled into tautness.
That evening, we dined in Byron’s restaurant. The restaurant deserves far more attention as a stand-alone spot: we nibble on deliciously spicy little appetisers to start and opt for a butternut squash main. They arrive in exquisite, deep bowls, homely tasting but with a luxury quality which can only be achieved by a remarkably talented chef. The broth tied in the main altogether and it is creamy without crossing into the sickly.
The dessert is a divinity in itself. I selected the single plantation madirofolo chocolate, with blood orange and sweet woodruff, whatever that was. Sweet, bitter, tangy, fresh, indulgently rich and sharp all at once. A true explosion of flavours that manages to stay harmonious but lightens up your palette. The sweet, crumbly texture along with the soft ice cream is stunning, the most sophisticated upgrade of chocolate orange I’ve ever had.
By this point we have had plenty of wine, spa-ing and it all puts you into a mellow haze of sheer contentment. We strolled back up into our suite and fall soundly asleep. It’s very rare for us to stay in a hotel for a whole day like this, but this ‘destination hotel’ really is the end goal. If you need a breath of fresh air and the stunning gardens don’t quite cut it, you’re a short walk from the Durham Heritage coastline and the Seaham Promenade. Equally breathtaking, if you want a dose of history, head down to the cellars where whisky was illegally passed through a tunnel going from the once abandoned property to the beach.
It may not have started as calmly as planned, but by the end of this spa weekend, I vowed I’ll make the early train to Seaham Hall in a few weeks, when the London slump kicks in again and I can once again soothe my senses and lose myself in its serenity”.