By the end of July, I had time off work and rather than jumping on a plane to one of my favourite beaches in Spain as I do most summers, this year was different. At five and a half months pregnant I decided instead to take it easy and avoid the stress of airports and flying. I wanted to find some peace outside my working life in busy, stressful London and find much needed “Me”time in the countryside.And so, I spent my time off in the elegant yet discreet Sopwell House, a majestic 18th Century Georgian manor house tucked away in lush surroundings. I took a train from King’s Cross station in Central London to St Albans, a 20 minute journey which was shorter than some of my daily commutes on the London underground. In under half an hour, I was already in what felt like an oasis of calm.
As my taxi drove around the scenic landscape surrounding Sopwell House, I couldn’t help but lower the window of the car and breath in the fresh air.
Once in the hotel, I was greeted by efficient, “Nothing is a problem” staff by reception .
I checked in and a member of staff accompanied me to the Mews were I was staying, The Primrose Mews.The Mews at Sopwell House are located right by the main hotel , originally it was an old stable block , but now the 16 Mews Suites available are what I would call “private country retreats”. They are perfect for couples on a romantic break or for people like myself looking for some peace and privacy. Entering the Mews,I noticed how they are only accessible via a private gate which added to the exclusive feel but more important for me, I felt completely safe considering I was staying alone with my baby bump. I walked through the paved passageway in a stunning botanical garden surrounding each Mews suites. The look is natural and you can tell that tender, love and care has gone into designing this by Chelsea Flower Show Gold Medallist, Ann-Marie Powell. The best garden designs are the ones that blend with the surroundings and these communal gardens do blend perfectly with the nature and overall look of the hotel. I liked this stainless steel sphere and how tranquil the space felt.
When the member of staff opened the door to the Primrose Mews, my home for the next two days, I was nicely surprised to discover that the Mews also encompass their own courtyard with a private hot tub and comfy seating areas.A nice touch I wasn’t expecting.
What I loved about the Mews was how cosy and inviting it felt inside. Yes,it is luxury, but it is not “in your face” luxury. This is understated, inviting, warming luxury. There is attention to detail to every aspect of the decoration; tasteful artwork, a tartan fabric sofa, the pretty wall coverings and the super comfy four-poster bed where I slept like a baby except for the moments when the real baby kept waking me up with her movements.
As most women expecting, I do wake up a few times every night to go to the bathroom. At home it feels slightly nightmarish as that means a day feeling tired at work. Staying at the Primrose Mews made the waking up in the middle of the night , pleasant. The bathroom had everything I could wish for; big full body mirror, underfloor heating, luxury toiletries as well as bathrobe and slippers. Above all, it was immaculate looking.Just perfect.Well done house keeping staff!
The Mews suites share the facilities with the Sopwell House Hotel so before dinner, I decided to check out the Spa facilities and go for a swim in the indoor swimming pool.
As I entered the pool I had a yes moment. They have one rule that every hotel pool should have:No mobile phones allowed!. And so there was no people taking selfies, pictures, or staring at their smartphones. Instead, the guests were reading, lounging, swimming, or staring through the glass window into the gardens outside. Very mindful indeed and how wonderful to enjoy a few moments of switching off with everyone else around me doing the same.
The swim opened my appetite and soon it was time for dinner. The Sopwell House Hotel has a lively Brasserie restaurant with an open plan kitchen and a Restaurant, which is a bit more formal and it serves a la carte lunch and dinner. I like it when things are formal and you do follow an etiquette but in order for this to work, the ambience must be warm, inviting and yes, friendly. Back in May when I attended The State Opening of Parliament where etiquette and diplomacy are expected from every guest, there was an air of warmth amongst the people attending.
I was welcomed warmly and shown to my table, this was dinner for one and for once I was truly enjoying the experience. As wine was out of the question, the waiter suggested a Berry Lemonade. It was fresh and refreshing and so nicely prepared -with the raspberries, berries and cucumber pieces- that I could tell they prepared it with care and love. That’s the rule number one for cooking or drinks preparation: Care, attention, love. Even when you cook at home, do you notice how it all tastes better when you put the effort?. In this place they are bothered, they care and it shows.
As I waited for the starter, I was offered some canapés to keep me going. The first was a small piece of pork belly with caramelised apple and pancetta popcorn. I’m not keen on mixing too many ingredients but somehow this worked as it tasted lovely. This was followed by a refreshing gazpacho soup. Very seasonal and adequate for this time of the year.
And soon my starter was ready, I ordered the Hand Dived scallops, artichoke, Pancetta and Sherry vinegar. I’m always curious how in UK restaurants as opposed to European ones, they like to mix flavours and do combinations that manage to magically work. Scallops have to be one of my favourite things to order in any menu, I prefer them on the shell with the coral but even though this was served on a plate and without the coral, it worked wonders in my palate.
And onto the main course: A majestic fillet of Angus beef, fondant potato, asparagus and spring onion. Simple, yet it looked so pretty and tasted so right. I had a wow moment when eating the potato. I grew up eating vegetables from a garden and in London I find it hard to find fruits and vegetables that taste as such , but on this occasion in this charming restaurant, the potato tasted like a potato and the vegetables like vegetables – even if they looked straight from a vegetable boutique- As for the fillet, it was Angus Beef at its tastiest. I ordered it well done and they knew how to cook it to perfection as it was soft and just as easy to eat as medium /rare.
Afterwards, it was time for dessert. The pastry chef himself was around talking to some lively table of 3 and when he saw me eating this gorgeous looking ricotta cheese cake with lemon ice and honey caviar, he came over to say hi. The presentation was so arty and delicate with the little splashes of colour in red and green that it reminded me of beautiful flower fabrics. The lemon ice was similar to a lemon sorbet and it was great after my main meal to clean palate and savour the flavours of the ricotta cheese cake.A memorable dinner indeed and a very pleasant experience made special by the attentive staff.
After dinner I had a look around the conservatory bar and headed back to my Mews soon after.
I loved seeing two ladies were enjoying a glass of champagne while relaxing in the hydrotherapy pool in the Mews gardens. Life felt pretty good and I felt ready to take on the world again.
This was the perfect place to travel alone; extremely safe,elegant, attentive, friendly.The peaceful setting and nature surroundings of the Hotel was just what I needed before heading back to work . A great time to bond and connect not only with myself but with my unborn baby. Will be back once she is born.
Sopwell House,Cottonmill Lane, St Albans, Hertfordshire, AL1 2HQ