The Retreat at Elcot Park
Firstly, it’s worth knowing that The Retreat at Elcot Park was voted ‘Hotel of the Year’ by The Times and Sunday Times and, unsurprisingly, rooms in the best hotel in Britain are booking up fast.
The Retreat at Elcot Park’s a pretty 18th-century country house hotel in the Berkshire countryside, near Newbury and Hungerford. The hotel’s recently had a serious glow-up and reopened with a colourful, modern makeover, a fresh new spa and an outdoor pool that’s heated all year round.
The hotel has a warm laid-back luxury feel, from the second you step into the welcoming entrance hall where you’re greeted with a cheeky check-in drink. First impressions are good.
There was a buzzy vibe when we visited, with people meeting up with friends and family for birthday celebrations and long lunches. The hotel’s child-friendly, there’s a play area for younger ones and they can use the outdoor pool, but guests have to be over 16 to be allowed in the spa.
If you’re looking for a dog-friendly escape, it’s good to know that The Retreat positively welcomes dogs, with their own bed, bowls and treats in the room. And they even offer a special Doggie Retreat package for the ultimate bow-wow factor.
On the activities front, there’s a tennis court, a croquet lawn and there are some good country walks nearby if the 16-acre grounds don’t quite cut it for you.
Other points to note are the farm shop and the electric car charging points in the car park.
The Signet spa at Elcot Park has a large indoor hydro pool with space for about 10 people on its bubbly benches and loungers. There’s also a Himalayan salt sauna and aromatic stream room poolside, plus a large rain shower and an 18m heated outdoor pool.
The spa has 3 treatment rooms, including 2 doubles, plus a salt floatation pod and a Hair and Nail Salon. All areas are bright, with fresh décor touches, and we loved that everywhere feels so new and clean. As the spa’s located on the ground floor, it also has the benefit of being bathed in natural light, which avoids that slightly claustrophobic feel you can get with subterranean spas.
Spa robes are provided in the bedrooms and there’s a plentiful supply of fluffy towels at the spa reception. The changing rooms next to the pool have lockers, showers, Bramley shower products and hairdryers.
The Signet Spa offers a good range of treatments by new brand partner, Gaia. The brand has nature and sustainability at its heart and products are natural and beautifully scented. Spa Treatments include facials, massages, couples’ experiences and pregnancy treatments. The spa also offers manicures and pedis by MII
I was delighted to return to the spa to try one of the new treatments, and booked in for the Gaia Bespoke Massage, a 60-minute treatment that literally goes with the flow, depending on how you’re feeling on the day.
The treatment started with a foot cleanse, and I was given the choice of three oils to ‘blind’ test and see which scent I was drawn to, the theory being that your nose will lead you to the one that will most benefit you at that time. I was drawn to the balancing oil, with ylang ylang. The other two oils that I could have chosen were apparently Awakening, with tangerine and peppermint, and Calming with orange blossom and clary sage.
The therapist then left the room while I arranged myself on the bed, starting face down. I’d highlighted shoulder tension in my pre-treatment consultation, which the therapist began to address straight away with sweeping motions, lingering on any particularly tight areas. She then worked down my back, forearms, and legs, checking that the pressure was delivering on my request for ‘firm’, which it was.
Next, the therapist asked me to turn on to my back and repeated the massage magic on my front, including gently pulling my arms, fingers and legs, and massaging the soles of my feet, which felt great. She then worked her way up the front of my body and spent a good amount of time working on my shoulders from above, using the weight of by body to give a counter pressure to her scooping and sweeping up my shoulders and neck. It really felt like she’d listened to my requests and was getting to the root of the tension. She also included a massage of my décolleté, and head, which I loved, and a few gentle strokes around my face. All too soon the treatment came to an end, and I was sipping lemon-infused water on one of the particularly comfy beds in the relaxation area.
This one-hour personalised treatment is perfect for anyone looking to properly relax, and target any specific areas of muscular tension. We recommend using the hydro pool, sauna and steam room beforehand for even greater relaxation benefit.
If you like the Gaia products used in your treatment you can buy some from the shop area near reception. With a good range of eco friendly products, all attractively and sustainably packaged, they make lovely gifts – including to yourself to keep the spa vibes going at home.
The 55 rooms and suites have a contemporary-meets-traditional aesthetic, with bold colour combinations and welcome touches like a Nespresso machine, fresh milk, and a bottle of ginger liqueur to sample.
There are rooms in both the original building and the more modern 90’s extension. Entry level rooms are perfectly good, but if you like a more spacious option, we recommend going for a Culture Room with a superking bed and, in most cases, a dual aspect.
Or, for those of you with suite dreams, book one of the three suites with one-off antiques, canopy beds, roll-top baths, hand printed wallpaper and rural views to the North Wessex Downs.
Another popular perk of staying at the hotel was the well-stocked pantry on each floor, offering an endless supply of free homemade cookies, popcorn and chocolates – a definite win for the teenagers. They also have fridges full of chilled mineral water, soft drinks and that all-important fresh milk for the even more important coffee-in-bed.
wining & dining
There are two restaurants – the main 1772 brasserie, a lively and stylish palm-decked eatery, through the relaxed travel-themed Atlas Lounge, serving lighter bites/starters like cauliflower popcorn and squid rings, to mains including sirloin steak and classic pies. Service was a little slow when we visited but the staff were friendly and apologetic
The second dining option is Yu, a pan-Asian fine dining restaurant, offering a variety of sushi and larger dishes like teriyaki beef ribeye and spatchcock miso chicken. Yu is currently only open Wednesday to Saturday, for dinner only and no under 12s are permitted.
You can also indulge in afternoon tea in the Orangery. And, food’s served throughout the day in the sofa-centric Atlas Lounge.
Both the main restaurants are popular with hotel guests and local residents alike, so it’s worth booking ahead.
If you’re after Private Dining, there are several stylish options to book your own space, including the ambient Whisky Library.
why so spavellous?
The concept of there being a ‘Best’ Hotel in Britain is a slightly strange one, as everyone has different tastes, priorities and budgets. But we agree the The Retreat at Elcot Park’s a good choice if you’re after an affordable all-rounder spa hotel with a laid-back luxury vibe.
The whole place feels fresh and modern, with a friendly, welcoming atmosphere. And there are plenty of thoughtful touches, from the full-size bottles of shower gel, shampoo and conditioner in the bathrooms, to the aforementioned snack-laden pantries. We felt a spirit of generosity that’s quite rare to find in mid-range hotels these days.
We liked the fun and characterful decor with its nod to the styling of more deco-forward places, like The Pig hotels. Granted, it’s not quite up there with the likes of The Newt, Whatley Manor, Lime Wood or Heckfield Place, but few places are. And the visible TV cabling, slightly plasticky-looking spa loungers and lack of perfectly-positioned power sockets in the bedrooms are made up for by the hundreds of pounds saved on room rates in comparison.
We also appreciated that guests at the hotel have unlimited use of Signet Spa at no additional cost. And, although the spa’s not huge, it’s a relaxing place to spend an hour or two, whether with friends or family, or escaping from them.
We recommend booking soon to enjoy everything being new and fresh and you can get your date of choice. And book any treatments ahead.
The Retreat at Elcot Park’s just started offering a Spa and Afternoon Tea package, so you can get to enjoy the spa even if you’re not staying at the hotel.
Remember to bring a spare cozzy in case you fancy a double dip.
If, like us, you’re staying in winter, and you want to make the most of the outdoor pool, head straight outside after check-in as they close the pool after dark.
Check out the new spa shop area which carries the full range of Gaia products which you can try before you buy and make a daily reminder of the trip.
‘Make sure you make time to visit the spa – you can spend a good couple of hours there if you’re lucky enough to get a lounger by the pool (they could do with a few more..)’
‘We thought the dinner, spa, bed and breakfast rate was really good value’
‘we went for the weekend with our 1 year old and I loved having a break and some me time in the spa’
The Retreat at Elcot Park