After a busy week touring in the Rolls Royce Black Badge Dawn we decide to finish with a relaxing day at Stoke Park Spa with a massage and lunch. Stoke Park is one of the finest country clubs in England and the location of many iconic movies including James Bond’s Goldfinger with Sean Connery, Tomorrow Never Dies with Piers Brosnan, Bridget Jones Diary with Hugh Grant and Renée Zellweger, and Layer Cake with Daniel Craig (who now of course plays James Bond).
It is well known for its stunning golf course, lawn tennis, bowls and croquet and for hosting the annual Boodles Tennis Championships as a warm up to Wimbledon, a week before. The Mansion itself was designed by James Wyatt, architect to George III, whilst the parkland was designed by two well known eighteenth century landscape architects, Lancelot "Capability" Brown (one of my favourite historical nick names) and Humphry Repton,
We had popped in on a Tuesday, yet the golf course was busy and the car park was rammed, it’s clearly a pretty popular venue for sports, meetings, relaxing and dining. It’s chocka here every day of the week and more so at weekends, but you’d never know it as the grounds and amenities cover a large area and they cleverly manage to retain a private and exclusive ambience.
The Spa itself is in an impressive pavilion with 28 luxury bedrooms, set back behind the main house on the golf course with an imposing columned entrance. The staff were particularly friendly, charming and helpful and showed us to the changing rooms, they have both members and guests facilities, again maintaining that feeling of exclusive luxury. We started our treatment with a long and energetic swim in the indoor pool, gleaming in the light from the large side glass windows with view of the terrace and manicured garden, complete with comfy wicker sofas and plants, where you could sit out and sip tea or a healthy fruit juice. Despite the number of bookings we had the pool to ourselves and passed a luxurious hour swimming and reading before we were called for our massages.
After careful consideration I had chosen the Lava Men’s Recovery massage, that targets the back and legs combining a deep massage with warm Lava Shells (made of smooth porcelain casts of real giant sea clams) to relax muscles followed by cold glacial shells to reduce inflammation. The shells were absolutely superb, smooth enough to slide gently over the body, but hot and firm enough to really tease out those knots and stretch the muscles back into shape. It was utterly relaxing after many strenuous weeks travelling, playing tennis, cycling and swimming combined with ten hour work days on the laptop. It felt like floating in space, the stress just drifted away, or melting like the witch in the Wizard of Oz. The Aromatherapy Associates oil with Arnica and Lavender smelt divine and made my skin unbelievably smooth (apologies for the girly talk, but it really did) and soft while taking years off my weary body.
My companion had the Aromatherapy Associates massage which lasted 55 minutes. First lifestyle, tension areas, sleep and stress levels were discussed before smelling and choosing the right oils for the experience. The back, shoulders and legs were treated with just the right amount of pressure, followed by a head, neck and scalp massage, continuing on to the front legs and feet.
After relaxing and rehydrating in the Atrium we wandered over to the main house for lunch at The Orangery which is available to guests and members only. It is where Daniel Craig announced his retirement at the end of Layer Cake, just before walking out and ending his days cradled in Sienna Miller’s lap, having been dispatched by Ben Wishaw on the main steps of the Mansion. The atmosphere is quintessentially English with relaxed, comfortable armchairs, cosseted by orange walls and white table linen under a high rococo ceiling. The view looks out on the back golf course, with a picturesque stone bridge in the distance fording a small stream. The other diners look like extras from a Richard Curtis movie, a Russian couple straight out of Russian Vogue to our right, suited Japanese business men over the far side, a party of tweeded golfers at the centre table, with some famous sportsmen to our left and rugby stars playing a celebratory game of golf outside, matching each hole with a tequila shot.
The service is caring and attentive and after a glass of house bubbly we had the Dorset crab, prawns and avocado and the butternut squash and sage ravioli with herb butter, wild rocket and toasted pine nuts, followed by the Stoke Park de-constructed strawberry cheesecake with wild strawberry sorbet and the mango and passion fruit meringue roulade with coconut sorbet and exotic fruit salsa. The house bubbly went down a treat, soft with a hint of peach and not too dry and the food was light, fresh and well proportioned. The desserts were both pretty to the eye and a delicious mix of sharp fruit flavours and soft creamy buttery tastes.
The sunlight angled low though the trees as we left in the Rolls, creating wondrous shadows across the park and golf course. Stoke Park is without doubt the epitome of the English country club, offering stunning grounds and golf course with a wide variety of sports, spa and country pursuits. It is a true home from home that thrives on providing a refined and relaxed service in a superlative environment enrobed in a rich history. One of the very finest houses England has to offer.