Dormy House, The Cotswolds
The spa is the focus at Dormy House, a smart Cotswolds retreat. Its raison d’être is to make your shoulders ease as soon as you arrive, but the hotel’s contemporary design and hearty, seasonal, local food should have equal billing. The main entrance leads you through the kind of lounge you want to luxuriate in, with its open fireplace, leather sofas and huge, knitted footstools. The Scandi-style spa is sublime, with exclusive Temple Spa treatments, vast sundeck and a sense of fun – that’s absent in many beauty salons – its Veuve Clicquot nailbar sets the tone: a glass of fizz is just as acceptable here as herbal tea.
In the Potting Shed restaurant, the menu nods to chef Jon Ingrams’s time in international hotels; tom yum soup and tempura prawns sit alongside British comfort food classics like cottage pie with cheesy Marmite mash, fish finger butties and ‘cheeky trifle’. It’s casual, well priced and packed with locals. Across the hall, the Garden Room restaurant is the smarter option, but only a notch – if you’re expecting starched linen you’ll be disappointed. Staff enjoy engaging with guests and confidently talk through the menu, recommending the signature Rioja risotto and recalling every variety on an impressive cheeseboard. The menu varies from adventurous ras el hanout-seared tiger prawn, burnt avocado, harissa, and bill-to-tail duck terrine, grapefruit and chicory, to crowd-pleasing steaks cooked in the kitchen’s Berta charcoal oven. Local game is always offered in season, and at breakfast the milk (in vintage-style bottles) is from nearby Holmleigh Dairy.
It’s all about detail. Throughout the hotel are fun touches such as ‘beware of the chef’ signs on the kitchen door, and a prevailing atmosphere that says your next G&T is only a few minutes away.
Les Sources de Caudalie, France
Around 20 minutes’ drive from Bordeaux, in Martillac, Les Sources de Caudalie is the epitome of carefully put-together rustic chic. There’s a stone manor house at its heart, a small lake and a hard-working kitchen garden behind it and, off to one side a hamlet-like extension of new suites.
The three restaurants at this gastronomic getaway have most tastes covered. Celebrate a special occasion with dinner in La Grand’ Vigne and enjoy a meal where even the table salts stick in the memory (one of ours, blended with Bordeaux pimento, was the colour of roast peppers) and the cheeseboard comes with such unexpected pleasures as a fresh cottage cheese from a local dairy served with a dot of cherry jam.
For more earthy cooking, try dishes such as sea bream with crab ‘soup’ and homegrown herbs fresh from the kitchen garden in the La Table du Lavoir restaurant, set in a barn-like room that’s dappled by sunlight on late summer evenings, and by the warmth of a vast open fire in winter.
Or, choose from small plates and fabulous local wines at Le Rouge, a Basque-influenced wine bar and grocery store in the hotel’s gardens that serves bellota ham and ‘coffee gourmand’ – a board of dainty madeleines, tiny choux buns, mini cherry cakes and traditional Bordelaise cannelés served with coffee.
Spend time between meals working off your indulgence with a walk or a bike ride along the 5km of woodland trails that surround the property. Alternatively take part in a wine tasting class, or book a treatment in the hotel’s Caudalie Vinotherapie Spa, a sybaritic space where treatments are based around the polyphenols in grape seeds (said to have anti-aging properties).
Caudalie brand products are also liberally stocked in the hotel’s bathrooms; if you haven’t bought them before now it’s unlikely you’ll leave without buying some to take home (we loved the Vinosource moisture recovery cream – just the thing after a long journey, and cheaper bought here than back in the UK). The outdoor swimming pool here was being renovated when we visited; instead we made the most of a stylish, second (indoor) pool near the new suites.
Vigilius Mountain Resort, Italy
If mention of the Tyrol conjures up images of feathered hats, lederhosen and hearty dumpling-topped dinners, Vigilius Mountain Resort will put you right. Designed by Matteo Thun in 2003, this luxury eco hotel, high in the Dolomites, puts a modern spin on local traditions.
The surprises start on arrival. You can forget turning up in something as old hat as a taxi. Instead, guests are whizzed up from the road below in a sleek cable car. Then there’s the design. Inside the main building, reminiscent of a giant felled tree, sunlight washes over minimalist surfaces of larch, glass and quartz. Warmth is added by open fires, plump duvets and cosseting timber-clad bathtubs. None of that can distract from the wraparound Alpine views, though. Even in the spa you can wallow in a spring water infinity pool while looking out over a floor-to-ceiling panorama of toothy peaks and scented pines (though you won’t see much if you book in for one of its signature – but slightly scratchy – hay baths; we preferred our more soothing Watsu treatment).
It’s the food and drink that really impress at Vigilius, though. Start your evening with a glass of wine by the lounge’s huge open fire before dinner at Restaurant 1500. The light, modern cooking borrows from Tyrolean recipes and ingredients but adds contemporary creativity. Our steamed sole with organic vegetables and a ginger and Gewürztraminer sauce, and roast venison with salsify purée, endive salad and blackcurrant horseradish marmalade were just what we wanted after a day of lounging in the spa – and made more convivial by a bottle of local Blauburgunder we chose from the hotel’s extensive (largely Italian) cellar.
Amid all the modern pizzazz, there is one corner of the hotel that’s reserved for traditionalists. After a morning spent hiking in the mountains, we ate at Stube Ida, the hotel’s more rustic, below-stairs restaurant. Here an antique-tiled stove, lampshades that hint at doilies and carved wooden chairs are as cosy as the dishes on its menu; beef goulash with speck dumplings, plates of Alpine cheeses, and smoked trout terrine with an apple and celery salad. After all that yang excess, it feels right to join the spa’s free ‘Five Tibetans’ yin-restoring exercise classes.
Royal Mansour, Marrakech
The Moroccan King’s sublime Royal Mansour hotel in central Marrakech treats guests as visitors of HRH; the VIP treatment starts at the airport where you’re whisked past the queue for passport control into a private lounge for a cold drink, while your papers are processed. Opened in 2010, the hotel is a result of King Mohammed VI having commissioned 1,000 artisans to make a showcase of Moroccan craftsmanship: every centimeter is testament to the artistry of the mosaicists, wood sculptors and plasterers. There are 53 two-storey guest riads among twisting tree-lined paths. Staff top up personalised, gold-inscribed stationery and pots of dried fruit, moving between riads via underground passages.
Royal Mansour’s three restaurants are overseen by twinkly-eyed 3 Michelin-star French chef Yannick Alléno. Loud live music, waitresses dressed in traditional silks, and candlelight drew us to La Grand Table Marocaine where spinach and orange blossom foam salad enthralled us, but royal pigeon pastilla was thehighlight (matched with excellent Moroccanwines). There’s also La Table restaurant,where you can eat indoors or in a peacefulgarden, and the Grand Table Francais,Alleno’s French-style fine-dining room.
The hotel also boasts an amazing spa. Start in the hammam, where you’ll be scrubbed from head to foot, before reclining in the blissful relaxation area.
Six Senses Douro Valley, Portugal
A re-vamp of what was previously the Aquapura hotel, Six Senses Douro Valley is a contemporary converted manor house with 57 bedrooms, a vast spa, and an extensive wine program that ties in with the restaurant’s ethos of championing local produce. A must-visit for fans of Portuguese wines, the 19th-century estate on the banks of the Douro River has been designed with sustainability at its heart. Chef Paulo Matos uses organic vegetables from the hotel’s kitchen garden to make his wood-fired specialities, while a wine library serves locally inspired tapas alongside a wide range of wines. Guests can also sign up for tours of nearby wineries, or one of the resort’s nightly wine tastings.Don’t miss the Six Senses Spa, though. It makes the most of its setting with 10 treatment rooms, a heated indoor pool with water jets and an outdoor pool and yoga deck, all with stunning views overlooking the vine-covered hills of the Douro Valley. The locally inspired therapies here include grape and citrus fruit based treatments – grape rejuvenation facials, green coffee body sculpting and citrus energizer facials. And, after a work out in the gym, you can even reward yourself with an in-spa wine and cheese tasting.sixsenses.com
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