IT was back in 1972 that Ragdale Hall first opened as a "health hydro" for women to lose weight and get in shape. Guests were allowed just 500 calories for the first three days, rising to a 1,000 calorie blow-out on the last day.
This one-time country retreat (modified and castellated in the 1800s) was going through its transformation from country club, nightclub and restaurant, to a health hydro - and it's not looked back since.
Those '70s super-slimmers would not recognise the sumptuous feasts on offer now (you could blow all 500 calories on one course should you wish), nor the vast array of pools, spa rooms, gyms and beauty treatments that exist, the highlight of which has to be the rooftop infinity pool added less than a year ago.
Relaxation and well-being are the order of the day in this elegant and supremely comfortable spa hotel, where the 500 staff make you feel warmly welcome wherever you go. But would my Overnight Reviver Break really be enough to relax and wind-down from 21st century life - I had just over 24 hours to find out.
Standing proud in the Leicestershire countryside Ragdale Hall is south of Nottingham and close to Melton Mowbray between the A1 and M1. When the mist cleared on our second morning we had a superb view across the well-kept grounds and on across the fields. From the north head down the M1 to junction 24 and it's just over three miles away, or about seven miles from J21a of the M1 if you're coming from the south. By rail Leicester, Loughborough and Melton Mowbray are your nearest stations and the spa can arrange taxis with prior notice.
You'd expect relaxed and comfortable but, other than the chatter in the dining room, Ragdale is also supremely tranquil. All the staff (over 500 of them ) are knowledgeable and friendly. On arrival you're taken to the light and airy garden room for a drink and to be given all the information you need for your stay. Whilst the service, food and facilities are top notch it's very much a come-as-you-like attitude. It's fine to dress for dinner or shuffle in to dine in your robe and flip flops and either way nobody will bat an eye. Rest rooms, silent rooms and retreats mean you can tuck yourself away for total silence anytime you like.With staggered starts for different packages everything is organised to ensure no point in the day gets too busy.
Fabulous wallpapers, plush comfy seats, wickerwork chairs and carpets that swallow every sound sum up the look but despite the comfort it never feels stuffy. Fixtures and fittings are all top quality with some modern and quirky touches - there really is a mix of styles and moods. Rooms range from economy to suites. Our superior room was spacious and luxurious. Conservatories, the Verandah bar, dining room and quiet lounges all have a different feel and in the summer there are plenty of places to sit out and admire the views. There's also a lodge for larger parties to share.
Food and drink
I could write a book! It's definitely a highlight. Seasonal and locally-sourced ingredients mean it's fresh as can be. There's a superb choice (three courses for lunch and dinner) which is part table service and part buffet. You can fill up on sumptuous salads and healthy fish or poached meats, or go for broke it with the likes of Lincolnshire sausage, Yorkshire pud and onion gravy. All menus are helpfully given a health/calorie rating so you can choose wisely or indulge yourself. Lovely wine list too. There are two other cafe/bars which serve refreshments, including alcohol.
What to do
Relax! Head up to the rooftop pool to soak away and admire the view but definitely don't miss the Thermal spa experiences - six fabulous heat/water/infusion zones. Soaking in a strictly silent, bath-warm pool in a cave-like room lit by candles is a must. Swim off lunch with a few lengths in the main pool or tone up in the exercise pool with aqua gym equipment. The waterfall pool takes you outside where you can get a breath of fresh air and get an underwater massage at several jet spots. There are lots of places to grab a comfy chair, recliner or hanging basket to curl up and read or snooze and with 130 therapists and over 40 treatment rooms you can indulge your mind and body. Outside there's an outdoor pool (summer only) lovely grounds and bikes to take for a spin. There's gyms and classes too - bums and tums to Hiit and yoga, all part of the package.
Worth writing home about
You'll definitely feel pampered by the quality of everything but above all it's the people. From the endless patience of those pool-side endlessly replenishing the fresh dry towels whilst answering the myriad questions of first-time guests (including me) to the young staff serving dinner. Nothing is too much trouble and everyone we met was knowledgeable and found the time to help and explain. The current owner, I'm told (who made his money from Our Price Records for those old enough to know a 33 from a 45) knows all the staff by name and clearly sets the tone for such a friendly welcome.
Visit www.ragdalehall.co.uk or phone 01664 433000. For general enquiries it's 01664 434831. For reservations for spa breaks or spa days call 01664 433000. There's lots of offers and different packages - many of which would make the perfect celebratory treat or Christmas/birthday gift. Voucher sales call 01664 433030. An Overnight Reviver Break in a Superior Double like ours would include dinner on the first day (check in was at 2pm), breakfast and lunch. Use of all the facilities and a blissful 50 minute face and back massage with Clarins products. Robes, towels, flip-flops, and a safe locker included. Check out is at 11am but you can stay till 6pm. This would cost £262 but prices start at £222. I added a pedicure for £39. Any drinks are on top.
Head to the rooftop pool just before 9pm or before 9am and you should be able to have the place to yourself. (a tip from one of the poolside staff but shhhhh, don't tell anyone!)