Breakaway - Escape to the Country
Following a huge refurbishment programme by its new owners we escape to the country to check out the all-new, old favourite Matfen Hall Hotel, Golf & Spa
Matfen Hall is a hotel I have visited many times in the past, for weddings, family parties and even (a very long time ago) a fitness class! This time feels very different.
The first change I note is the elegant navy branding – clear signposts tell me that the entrance to the hotel has now changed, directing us to the back of the stunning 19th century building to enter via the Great Hall (one of the most impressive parts of the hotel, and formerly only used for weddings). On arrival mid-afternoon, we‘re met by a roaring fire in the vast fireplace, and welcoming staff.
As we sip our welcome drink in our winged red velvet armchairs, I ask the Matfen team why they have opted to give guests a rum-punch on arrival – as opposed to the standard fizz. The response: ‘It just feels more like you’re arriving on a proper holiday doesn’t it?’ Instantly I realise that this isn’t a standard hotel renovation, much care and thought has been given to the whole guest experience at the ‘new’ Matfen – and that is apparent throughout our stay.
In our room we find a note welcoming us, a complimentary bottle of Cranswick Estate Shiraz (I definitely recommend) and chocolates. The room is modern yet grand and elegantly decorated. The bathroom is equally impressive, set in white marble – with a free-standing bath in the window, taking advantage of the same expansive views as the bedroom next door (my partner’s idea of heaven – a deep bath while watching the golfers battle the 18th below). The little things have been thought about, with toiletries from Penhaligon’s, and even a special flannel for removing make up!
It does cross my mind that potentially this could be a bridal suite – it has that wow-factor, and even Dom (my lovely but unsentimental better half) makes the comment that this would be a great wedding venue (although admittedly he’s eyeing up the golf course at the time). It seems that many agree with him, the staff told us that they are hosting several weddings every week at the moment, and indeed as we check out the following day we can see signs of flower arches being built and photographers arriving.
We are fortunate enough to have a couple of hours in the spa booked in. The Welcome Team let us know that it’s fine to change into our white waffle spa gowns and slippers in our rooms. As we wander the grand corridors (lavishly decorated with tapestries and fine art) in our robes I sense again that allowing guests to do this signals the transition from traditional country house towards luxury spa hotel.
The spa, now named The Retreat, is largely as I remember it –although the furniture and fittings have definitely been upgraded. Needless to say, we walked straight past the fitness room and headed to the pool. We choose two loungers in the corner and it does cross my mind how lucky we are to be relaxing by a warm pool listening to the rain overhead on a Tuesday afternoon in November – an experience made even better by the fact the spa was pretty empty apart from us. We explore the sauna and steam room, but aren’t brave enough to stand beneath the ice shower!
Late afternoon, we head for our treatment; a couple’s full body massage. The therapists are brilliant; mine quickly realises that I spend far too much time hunched over a computer, and diligently works on my neck and shoulders. One hour later, feeling incredibly relaxed, we head back upstairs to enjoy a glass of red wine and change for dinner.
The remarkable 1832 bar feels like a grand version of one of the better Soho Houses. It’s a mishmash of bright colours, with a stunning oak bar. If I stayed again, I would spend more time enjoying cocktails and playing bad chess in this room! If anything, the staff were almost too attentive, providing us menus while we have our drinks and moving us quickly through to the adjoining Emerald Restaurant. The first thing we notice as we’re shown to our cosy window booth table is the intricately decorated ceiling, rumoured to be hand painted. This room has a special, memorable, almost historic feel. Lined with old books, the floral wall paper perfectly reflects the deep green velvet upholstery. The menu is full of locally-sourced, seasonal dishes. Many are traditional British classics and some incorporate a Thai twist. The food itself is excellent and feels fitting among the bold, tasteful surroundings.
As we head back upstairs, relaxed and full of incredible food, there is more of the evidence of the thought that has gone into every aspect of a guest’s experience waiting on our Emperor-sized bed – a complimentary bag of goodies from Natura Bisse, including eye cream (win)! We sleep soundly, knowing our wrinkles are being well looked after overnight.
As an early riser, I always look forward to my first coffee of the day. Thankfully, there is a Nespresso machine in our room and I’m able to sit with my steaming cup and watch the sun rise, slowly defrosting the silvered golf course. Maybe in a future life I will be someone who takes up golf, as sitting in my cosy robe I do appreciate how beautiful the 27-hole Championship course looks that morning.
Our stay at Matfen Hall was a perfect mid-week break. One year on from taking ownership, the new owners (Walwick Estate Group) have not just spent millions of pounds on the interiors – making this a visually first class hotel – but more importantly they have invested thoughtfully, clearly dedicated to upgrading the whole guest experience. Further renovations are planned over coming years, and it’s clear from talking to other guests that some parts of the hotel are still yet to be modernised – so to enjoy the best Matfen experience, my advice would be to book one of the new Luxury or Premium rooms, and make the most of that view.
Matfen Hall Hotel, Golf & Spa
Matfen NE20 0RH