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By Katie Wilson

You wouldn’t expect a five-star spa hotel to be owned by a football club, but Rockliffe Hall is no ordinary hotel.

Middlesbrough FC bought this countryside retreat back in 1996 and use part of the grounds to train in. You might even spot a footballer in the state-of-the-art gym.

But even if you don’t this place is pretty special, which is why we’ve named it the best spa hotel outside London.

Set on a 365-acre estate in Darlington, on the County Durham and North Yorkshire border, not only does Rockliffe Hall boast a world class spa, the food in The Orangery restaurant is out of this world.

Here’s what happened when we checked into one of their Old Hall Suites for the night.

FIRST IMPRESSIONS

Rockliffe Hall exterior
The ivy clad exterior Credit: Rockliffe Hall

If you’re not travelling by car, the easiest way to get to Rockliffe Hall is by train to Darlington, where taxis wait in a rank at the station and cost around £10 for a 15-minute journey to the hotel. It’s around a 2 hr 30 min journey from London and you don’t need a car when you’re here, as trust us, you won’t want to leave.

The red brick and ivy clad hotel, which was once a grand family home in the 1800s, is reached by an impressive driveway. Candles and bay trees line the doorway, but what struck us was how beautiful the flower displays were in reception and around the hotel.

As soon as our car pulled up the porter was there to take our bags, which were swiftly shipped off to our room which wasn’t quite ready. This gave us a bit of time to explore the hotel’s extensive grounds, which includes Europe’s longest golf course.

STYLE AND INTERIORS

Cocktail Bar Rockliffe Hall
The Cocktail Bar. Credit: Rockliffe Hall

Rockliffe Hall is traditional in its design with comfy arm chairs, chaise longues by the windows – and the odd grand piano dotted around.

Expect grand features like dangling chandeliers, Grecian-style pillars and stained glass windows. We particularly liked the old paintings of rich women in nonchalant poses which lined the stairs.

While most of the hotel has a quintessentially country house feel, the spa is contemporary in contrast, but works as a mix of old and new.

THE ROOMS

room Rockliffe Hall
An Old Hall Suite. Credit: Rockliffe Hall

There are 61 rooms at Rockliffe Hall ranging from standard Doubles, which are still fairly fancy, to Superior rooms and Suites. There are also a number of dog friendly and accessible rooms available.

Extra accommodation can be found in Tiplady Lodge, a short walk from the main house. Most rooms come with patios or Juliet balconies overlooking the grounds.

Families or larger groups can book self-catering apartments or houses, which are also a short walk away.

We stayed in an Old Hall Suite in the Main House which was bigger than most London flats. There was a sitting area, chaise longue with direct views of the gardens and a huge bed which didn’t take long to fall asleep in.

There was also a huge bathroom with rainfall shower and a bath in the middle of the room you could watch TV in. Extras included Molton Brown toiletries, comfy robes and slippers and Nespresso machines.

FOOD AND DRINK

The Orangery
The Orangery restaurant. Credit: Rockliffe Hall

There are three restaurants at Rockliffe Hall. The flagship Orangery restaurant, where they serve tasting menus from £75pp, was out of this world. Not only does this Victorian glasshouse look seriously impressive, the food – from chef Martin Horsley – was top notch.

Gastronomic delights included a Trompette & Truffle Macaron, Scallop with Pork Belly and Salt Aged Venison. Even if you normally hate it, you’ll be a fan of the Marmite and Peanut Butter Doughnut. While the Chocolate Orangery dessert – their own version of a chocolate orange – went down a treat. Much of the menu has been grown in the onsite Walled Garden or foraged locally.

Staff were extremely knowledgeable and attentive. The service was faultless. We loved Head Sommelier Derek’s stories about the wine during each pairing, which is definitely worth adding for an extra £50pp, or £90pp for a premium wine flight.

For casual all-day dining there is The Clubhouse overlooking the golf course, which is famed for their Sunday roasts and has outdoor seating stretched around it for when the sun comes out.

There is also spa restaurant Nu Sana – a blend of the words Nutritious and Sana (Latin for healthy) – which has a roof terrace and tables which look down onto the outdoor hot tub below. Here you can order smoothies and juices, small bites, salad bowls or larger plates like the Korean Wagyu Burger (£20) or Chicken Katsu (£18).

Afternoon Tea, from a reasonable £29.50pp, is served in The Orangery or Morning Room daily. Enjoy an aperitif or nightcap in The Cocktail Bar. Or book a wine tasting session in the private dining room.

EXTRAS

Rockliffe Hall spa garden view
The Spa Garden. Credit: Rockliffe Hall

Golf lovers will love spending a day at Rockliffe Hall, but most people will be visiting to use the exceptional spa, which is available for guests to use at any time throughout their stay.  

We were really impressed with the amount of facilities on offer. There are two indoor swimming pools, including a Hydrotherapy Pool which lights up and has timed water jets and massage features to create a whole body experience.

There are also a number of steam rooms and saunas, foot baths, a Tepidarium, Tropicarium, Infrared Room and Igloo room. Guests can also use the state-of-the-art gym.

Outdoor hot tub Spa Garden
The outdoor hot tub. Credit: Rockliffe Hall

But the real star of the show is the Spa Garden, which costs extra to go in (£25pp for 90 minutes) but is totally worth it. Work up a sweat in the Glass Fronted Sauna or chill out on the Tepidarium Beds before taking a dip in the Infinity Edge Experience Pool.

Treatments start from £95 for 60 minutes and include head-to-toe massages, facials, reflexology, Himalayan Salt rituals, manicures and pedicures. Neom products feature heavily and we tried a Warm Oil Massage which was heavenly. There is also an onsite shop where you can buy products afterwards.

OVERALL VERDICT

For a five-star spa break, and a world class restaurant which will delight foodies, book a stay at Rockliffe Hall. It will definitely impress.

Room start from £264 a night

Book a stay at Rockliffe Hall here

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