Last month, on a dark and rainy Saturday, I took shelter at the Cottonmill Sopwell House Spa Hotel in St Albans, Hertfordshire.
A little later than your usual spa day, I booked into the ‘Evening Retreat’, making my way up from London after a lazy morning at home for a spa session, treatment of my choice and a three-course dinner.
Directions to Sopwell House St Albans
You can arrive by car, coming from either the M1 or the M25 in either direction: Junction 21a from the M25 clockwise; junction 22 from the M25 anti-clockwise, junction 7 from the M1 southbound, and junction 6 for the M1 northbound.
You can come on a fast train from London from St Pancras International or West Hampstead, taking roughly 15 minutes. Or the slightly slower, local train that stops at Kentish Town, West Hampstead, Cricklewood, Hendon, Mill Hill Broadway, Elstree & Borehamwood, and Radlett. At St Albans Station you will need to get a taxi — Uber operates in the area, but there is also a taxi rank by the station. The drive to Sopwell House should be five to 10 minutes.
Sopwell House spa: Cottonmill
The Sopwell House spa is very, very large if you have access to all areas and so I was given a map on arrival. Basic packages include access to Cottonmill facilities, including an indoor pool, two vitality pools, a state-of-the-art gym, sauna, steam room, poolside terrace and sitting room. All-inclusive access meant I could also use The Club at Cottonmill, where the features were out of this world.
There are showers everywhere but not your plain rain shower, oh no, Sopwell House’s spa has sensory showers with different light, temperature and strength settings to create a relaxing experiencer in its own right! The cooler settings were perfect for in-between sweating out in the sauna or steam rooms, talking of which…
One side of the sauna is made up of floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the garden, while the salt steam room gives way to enhanced detoxification. A small pool leads through to the outdoor pool with built in bubble beds and massage jets (this was particularly fun being there at night!). These can be found in the Club, there are more in the main area.
There is an abundance of different areas to relax in but by far the most impressive was the Deep Relaxation Room: A dark room with glowing, pod-like beds that reminded me of the movie Alien, without being the least bit scary of course – simply a futuristic, celestial setting. The loungers vibrate so softly you can hardly tell and are designed for ultimate comfort.
The only downside to my visit was the horrendous weather, which meant I couldn’t enjoy the outdoor areas. The gardens were designed by gold medal-winning RHS designer Ann-Marie Powell with sunbeds and water features.
Can you use the Cottonmill spa if you’re staying at the Sopwell House Hotel?
Yes — but only those staying in the Mews Suites receive complimentary access to The Club at Cottonmill facilities. If you only have access to the main spa, you can pay an additional charge for club access (which I think is definitely worth it!).
ELEMIS treatment and Vichy shower review
I chose the ELEMIS exotic frangipani body scrub with wrap and Vichy shower. I have had many a massage and facial in my time (this one was my fave), so I wanted to try something different and it was definitely that! A salt scrub is used on the whole body and then you are oiled up. At this point, the description promised massage but that didn’t happen. I felt both the scrub and oil process could definitely have been far more relaxing, but it was done swiftly and simply.
Things got interesting with the Vichy shower, which took place after the scrub and at the end. Shower jets are lined up above you, raining down horizontally across different sections of your body. The temperature and strength change throughout the process and it is quite invigorating on the skin, encouraging lymphatic drainage. It was very unusual but surprisingly enjoyable.
Sopwell House restaurant review: Brasserie
There are a few different eateries at the hotel. I spent my evening in The Brasserie, where I was welcomed with Champagne, which the waiter generously kept coming. The menu is extensive so it was a little tricky to choose.
To start I had the tomato and mozzarella arancini (deep-fried risotto balls). Nothing about this dish is fancy, but it is damn tasty and if you haven’t had arancini before you need to get on board.
The main was very difficult to choose. The menu has salads, burgers, steaks, fish and various mains that looked a little more decadent, like confit leg of Creedy carver duck and pan-fried calves liver. I don’t usually eat red meat, but I decided to spoil myself and ordered the sirloin steak with fries and béarnaise sauce. It was wonderful, well worth breaking my red meat rule.
Finally, I had something you will probably be surprised to hear I had never had before: sticky toffee pudding. Actually, I have had it out of a plastic pot warmed up in a microwave and I can promise you this was much nicer than that!
I had planned on getting the train home again, but after a few Champagnes and a large glass of red (I had to, because of the steak), I treated myself to a taxi back to north London for £24.
You can get combo deals that give you access to the spa with afternoon tea if you’d rather not be there late into the evening. This includes a tiered cake stand of delicious delicacies, homemade scones and traditional finger sandwiches. Can be enjoyed with a touch of sparkle with our Champagne Afternoon Tea.