Spa review - Hawkstone Hall and Gardens
PUBLISHED: 00:00 06 September 2019
A new wellness retreat at this grand country estate puts Jessica Salter through her paces
When you're buzzed in through the gates to Hawkstone Hall and Gardens, nestled in a tiny Shrewsbury village on the Shropshire and Cheshire borders, it takes a while until you see the house itself, the estate is so vast. But as you turn a final bend, the glorious 18th century country mansion comes into view. And it is breathtaking.
I arrive with trainers in my bag, ready for a gentle two-day retreat. I've managed to drag along my husband, promising him he can dip in and out of any fitness, but two nights away from our two-year-old was enough to convince him. After checking in and being shown up to our room by a butler in tails (a rather fun, irreverent Carson), we decide to explore part of the 88-acre grounds before afternoon tea. It's raining, but with Hunter wellies and umbrellas lined up next to the back door, we acted like toddlers ourselves, dashing down secret paths from lily ponds to orchards, past dripping rhododendrons that gave off a heavenly scent.
But we have one eye on the clock, because first on our retreat schedule is a healthy, refined-sugar-free afternoon tea: a delicious selection of nut butter balls, spelt scones with chia seed jam, and delicate little gluten-free sandwiches served in a panelled-wall room, overlooking the gardens. We meet our fellow retreaters - my husband is relieved to see other men there too - and have a quick tour of the house, learning about its colourful history, before our first class, a gentle stretch. It's led by personal trainer Alex Addison and he reassures that this is not a boot camp-style retreat. 'You're here to enjoy yourself,' he says. 'Do as much or as little as you want.' That applies to an optional glass of wine at dinner - our group all indulge over a mushroom and polenta pizza, butternut squash and red onion with tahini and za'atar. It even applies, he says later that night, to the 7am HIIT class in the morning: 'If your body is telling you to rest and have a lie in, then do that,' he says.
As it happens, we're awake at our usual 6am anyway, so after a luxurious unbroken night's sleep in a room styled like one of Soho House's cosy rooms with mint subway tiles in the bathroom and Elemis products by the bed, I head over to the custom-built Orangery (now a large, beautiful fitness studio) for the class. Despite Alex's softly-softly messages the night before, it's an intense workout; but there are options for everyone. We leave with beetroot faces and more-than ready for breakfast: a feast of yoghurt and fruit, avocado on sourdough and unlimited coffee.
The retreat has been designed to perfectly complement the luxurious surroundings of the newly restored house and gardens: a walk in the Follies before lunch, a cookery demonstration by the Hall's executive chef, a quick sports massage in the Orangery by Alex, and yoga by the lily pond. Saturday night's dinner - salmon, harissa chickpeas served with wild rice, followed by a poached cinnamon pear pudding - is followed by a candlelit meditation at 9pm before a blissfully early night.
The following day, after a strength class, it's another day of deep relaxation with more yoga, more downtime and, of course, more food: tuna steak nicoise for lunch with herbed new potatoes. It might only be a weekend, but staying here is like stepping back in time: the grandeur of the stately rooms downstairs and the peace from being, as one member of staff puts it, 'in the middle of nowhere'. Yet, soon enough, it's time to repack the holdall, check in our keys and drive out of the estate, back to real life.
The next wellness retreat is taking place from Friday 11th to Sunday 13th October; £395.00 per guest; hawkstonehall.co.uk/retreats.
Car is your easiest option; it's around 1h 25mins from Manchester. The nearest train station is Wem, which is around a 20-min taxi ride away - booking is essential. Or there's always the option of arriving by helicopter.