Cottonmill Spa is fast becoming the place for stressed-out Londoners to decompress. Not just because it’s 20 minutes from St Pancras but because it’s undergone one of the most ambitious revamps in recent spa history (cough, £14m).
A word of warning about the welcome. The spa lobby is busy and bright and if you’re unlucky like me, you’ll be bamboozled by someone with a map explaining the facilities, right down to the sensory shower next to the maple tree in the east garden… You get my drift. It’s silly because everyone knows anyone going to a spa just wants to lie down.
Once inside, it’s impossible not to be impressed though. It’s high spec, high tech and highly sumptuous. Spread over three levels, it’s a vertical rabbit warren but there are plenty of flopping-out spaces: a whisper room, a garden room, a deep relaxation room and a rose-tinted room (my favourite). There’s also a tufty garden dotted with daybeds and firepits for seekers of fresh air. Treatment rooms are well soundproofed, well insulated, and well, pretty much as you’d want them.
The tea stations dotted around the spa are great – lots of different teas. A hot-water tap and a cold-water tap. Perfect. The towel stations are great – lot of warm fluffy towels. Heaven. The locker rooms are great – Tom Dixon wall lights and swathes of green marble. Actually, pause. I need to say more about the lockers themselves because they are a thing of real beauty. No difficult numbers to remember. No fiddly key. Just a rubbery bracelet that has the intelligence not only tounlock your locker but to get you in and out of all the snazzy ‘Club’ areas of the spa. Oh yes, the spa is also a private members club.
Confused? You will be. I still can’t be sure which bits were ‘Club’ and which bits weren’t and I spent two days in the place – but, like I said, it’s a vertical rabbit warren. I probably should’ve paid more attention to the woman with the map in the lobby. Oh, well. Back to the Club areas. It’s worth upgrading your daypass to include these. They are, as the name suggests, smarter and quieter than the public areas: couples drinking champagne, bookworms reading Sally Rooney, contemporary pebbled fireplaces, hanging basket chairs, shiny tree trunks doubling as tables, and waiters coming in and out with Americanos. At one point, a friendly ginger cat wandered in from the patio too – apparently he’s a regular.
Treatments, like everything else, are excellent. I chose a 60-minute Aromatherapy Associates massage, which was deftly issued by Danielle from Potters Bar. So deft in fact, I had to be led child-like to the rose room for a further 60 minutes of lying down afterwards. Elemis is also on the menu – a solid British brand you can’t go wrong with.
Upon my return the next day, I took to the waters: swimming, bubbling and steaming in various indoor and outdoor hydrotherapy pools. I dozed off, I mean dried off, in a deep relaxation pod that vibrated with all sorts of wonderful throaty jungle sounds. Then I made my way to lunch.
Lunch was less successful. At the time of my visit, diners were being asked to walk through a busy brasserie to get to the spa restaurant (The Pantry) instead of ducking directly into it from the spa – something to do with staff shortages, alas (blame Brexit). But no spa-goer wants to walk through a restaurant full of suits in her robe, do they? I certainly didn’t. The food is average but you’ll love it if you like a burger with your detox…
The hotel itself, Sopwell House, a Georgian manor house once owned by Lord Mountbatten is large and sprawling and popular for meetings and conferences. Much of the original character has been stripped out, which is a great shame.
But, hey, the spa’s the place to be anyway.
Cottonmill Spa, Sopwell House, Cottonmill Lane, St Albans, AL1 2HQ. Spa day packages are available for both Cottonmill and The Club at Cottonmill. For more information, please visit www.sopwellhouse.co.uk.