IT is always with the best of intentions that I pack for a spa break.
Trainers and gym gear, for all those exercise classes waiting to be signed up for. Sun cream and joggers, for when we borrow a bike and cycle in the 50-acre grounds. Sturdy sandals for a stroll around the six lakes.
But it is with the highest level of relaxation, an extensive gin menu, and a relatively low level of guilt, that they all remained in my suitcase untouched when I packed to come home from my trip to Hoar Cross Hall.
My visit was just what I needed after a busy few weeks and I was desperately looking forward to switching off the phone, ditching the alerts from emails and social media, and ignoring the day-to-day stresses of life for 24 hours.
The drive to Staffordshire from my home in South Yorkshire was quick and without incident, and pulling up to the Grade II-listed stately home down a leafy driveway I could already feel my worries being left behind.
The Elizabethan-style hall, completed in 1871, was bigger than I imagined, with 96 rooms designed to complement their stately surroundings.
We were booked in for a package which included a three-course dinner, breakfast, lunch, a spa treatment and access to the spa area for the full length of our stay, so after a quick trip to our suite to dump the bags, we donned our swimwear and robes and went to check it out.
With just a couple of hours until we were booked in for dinner, we had a quick caffeine fix in the spa reception’s comfy atrium area, before heading for the pool area.
Hoar Cross boasts two pools, a larger saltwater pool and a smaller hydrotherapy pool. Despite the packed car park when we arrived, the large spa area, with its countless different areas for relaxing and pampering, never seemed busy.
We started at the hydrotherapy pool, with its dimmed lighting, Mediterranean-style archways, and lion heads’ bursting jets of water across the heated pool. A couple of lengths to show willing was followed by a long dip in the jacuzzi.
Next door was the new Nordic heat and ice suit. Inspired by Scandinavian spa rituals, alongside your typical sauna sits an aroma room, where wonderful fragrances fill the air, and steam relieves aching muscles. For those a little more daring than I, the ice temple has showers of differing temperatures and a bucket full of ice chips which will well and truly bring you back to your senses.
And with that, we headed back to our suite to prepare for dinner.
Not content with a simple number, each room is regally named. The Lady Constance suite, where we stayed, was large, with a separate sitting area. The rooms and suites are individually designed and feature antique furnishings.
While it is noted that there is currently a refurbishment programme in place, it seems it hadn’t quite reached our room. It was pleasant and plush in places - the bed was very comfortable and seemed brand new, and the bathroom was lovely - but it was in need of sprucing up, with a large hole in the wall next to the television and a rip in one of the chairs. However, that, and the lack of any artwork on the walls, aside, it was a great size and very clean, and served us well.
Downstairs for dinner, and the elegance of Hall really hit us.
The oak-panelled Long Gallery, spanning more than 100-feet in length, was busy but relaxed, as we passed through on our way to the Ballroom for dinner.
Scanning the menu, which had a larger offer than I had expected, and included a signature dish created by the Executive Head Chef, I began to realise the exercise gear would definitely remain in my case the next day. All that food would require full r&r the next day.
It seemed rude not to go for the signature dishes, and so I started with sesame seed crusted tuna loin carpaccio, which was served with a creme fraiche and poached salmon mousse.
I had been warned by a lady in the jacuzzi not to expect a large portion, so I was surprised to see a lot more on my plate that I’d envisaged. The salmon mousse was light yet creamy, and the tuna carpaccio seasoned beautifully. And there was certainly more than enough.
While awaiting our main course we made the most of the wonderful view across the formal gardens, spotting rabbits paying on the manicured lawns.
The main event for me was Gressingham duck, served with fondant potato, rainbow carrots, green beans and kale. It was wonderful. Opposite me, my other half tucked into trio of pork, served with a very tasty black pudding mashed potato.
There was barely room for dessert, but it was too tempting to miss out on. My ‘rhubarb and custard’ - a buttermilk and vanilla pannacotta served with slivers of rhubarb, hit the spot.
That gin menu I mentioned helped everything go down nicely.
It was back to the Ballroom in the morning for a buffet breakfast, although a la carte options were available. Healthier choices such as fresh fruit and tasty yoghurts were served alongside an extensive English breakfast and an egg chef was on hand to make sure you were able to have whatever you liked.
Suitably set up for the day, we packed up and left our cases in the changing rooms before heading back to the spa for our inclusive treatments.
I had chosen the 55-minute Couture Touch - a treatment comprising of either a deep tissue or hot stones back massage, followed by an anti-ageing booster facial.
The hot stones were to die for, and so relaxing that I almost forgot what was still to come when she finished. The facial too was excellent, and I left a heady combination of cloud-like zen and fresh-as-a-daisy.
There was time to explore the second of Hoar Cross Hall’s pools, the saltwater vitality pool, along with its aqua massage and detox areas, before lunch at Hugo’s Restaurant.
Despite being busy with day guests, the service was quick and attentive. The buffet-style starter was light and varied, and my choice of salmon for the main course was tasty, though without the fine dining edge of last night’s dinner.
There was no rush to leave after lunch, and we returned to the pool before making the most of one of the cosy relaxation zones before getting ready to leave.
Hoar Cross prides itself on “balancing the body and mind, restoring a sense of calm and promoting a general feeling of wellbeing”, and we took that sense of calm right back with us.
A spa break with a sense of grandeur, I would return in a heartbeat. Though perhaps without packing the ‘kidding-myself’ exercise gear next time.
Hoar Cross Hall Spa Resort is located in the village of Hoar Cross, near Yoxall, Staffordshire, in the National Forest, just over an hours’ drive from South Yorkshire.
It offers a range of spa days and overnight stays, with spa breaks starting at £149 pppn.
For more information and offers, visit www.hoarcross.co.uk or call 01283 575671.