Vicky Andrews test drives this five-star boutique hotel in County Durham
The thought of spending time in one’s own company is a terrifying prospect for some people. “I think it’s very healthy to spend time alone,” said Oscar Wilde. Existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre took that one step further, declaring that “Hell is other people” and then wondering why he never got invited to any parties.
Like the poet Byron, eccentric charm is one of Seaham Hall's most endearing features.
With my partner out of the country, I decided to utilise that “me time” to its full potential and book in for a spa break at Seaham Hall in County Durham.
Seaham is at the heart of a string of former coal-mining villages which line the North East coast between Teesside and Tyneside, a Victorian port reinvented as a tourist town with a marina, cafes, fish and chip shops and ice cream parlours. It’s two and half hours from Liverpool; even less from Manchester and Leeds.
The Byron connection
As I drove into the town from the main A road, the vast curve of the North Sea stretched out before me. I’m not sure I’d be brave enough to swim in those wild waves, but the views are breathtaking, no doubt. There’s also plenty of enjoyment to be had from combing the pebbled shores for sea glass, a pastime which the locals call the “sea glass stoop”.
Perched on the cliff tops of Durham Heritage Coast, Seaham Hall is a luxurious Georgian mansion built in the 1790s by Sir Ralph Milbanke, 6th Baronet. In 1815 the poet Lord Byron married Anne Isabella Milbanke here. The hotel’s glamorous Ada Lovelace Suite, honouring Byron’s daughter (the world’s first computer programmer), is the piece de resistance, a split-level suite with two slipper baths overlooking landscaped gardens.
After checking into the hotel reception, with swimwear packed into hand luggage as instructed, my suitcase was whisked away by canny Kevin the porter. First stop: the award-winning 44,000 sq ft Serenity Spa.
Picture a candlelit boardwalk that crosses a watery brook, lined with buddha statues. The sound of wind chimes tinkles from overhead. You follow the light to the end of the tunnel and emerge into a bright, circular area with daybeds and an elephant statue. A rebirth? A reincarnation? Disneyland? Definitely very zen and a little bit bonkers.
A 20-metre pool
Like the poet Byron, eccentric charm is one of Seaham Hall's most endearing features. There’s serious feng shui going on here but it’s fun and not intimidating like some spas can be. Swim in the 20-metre pool with massage stations, dip into the outdoor hot tubs or turn up the heat in the salt sauna or eucalyptus steam room.
There are plunge pools, ice fountains, and a “zen garden” with relaxation beds and an infinity hydrotherapy pool with jets. There is a Taittinger Champagne nail bar, a fitness suite and an aerobic studio, if getting pumped up with some cardio is your idea of chilling out.
The Serenity Spa offers the full kit and caboodle of pampering treatments, from a 60 minute TempleSpa massage to a regenerating ishga facial with Scottish seaweed. I don’t really like being touched by strangers at the best of the times (one of the few benefits of a pandemic and enforced social distancing) but I actually found the TempleSpa “power breakfast facial” to be surprisingly enjoyable, especially the scalp massage at the end.
After the 45 minute facial, which also included a bit of a toe tickle, I was taken to enjoy some quiet time in the “Zen Lounge” with a glass of water and a scoop of what looked like mango sorbet. The name of the breakfast facial had confused me; there was no food involved. Should I rub the sorbet into my skin or eat it? I went for the latter and lived to tell the tale.
Attention to detail is spot on and there are personal touches everywhere. As well as all the luxuries you’d expect from a junior suite - enormous king-size bed, lounge area with sofas, a large flat-screen TV, bathtub and power rain shower - you get fluffy robes and slippers, complimentary soft drinks, a bath side candle, and a rubber ducky to join you while you’re having a splash.
Next to the bed, a scented mist spray called “Chill out and sleep well”. I was convinced that a tray of three bright red apples on the desk were fake, they shined so hard. Just furiously polished, I discovered as I accidentally broke the skin on one. Sorry, Kevin.
There are two restaurants, The Dining Room and pan-Asian Ozone, but for dinner, I was treated to a very exclusive room with a view, courtesy of a “dining pod” in the gardens.
A quirky twist on alfresco dining that defies any attempt by British summertime to rain on your parade, these two giant bubbles can seat up to eight guests in luxury whatever the weather. Look into the eyes of your loved one (or up at the stars, in my case) while tucking into the a la carte menu and a biblical 22-page selection of wines from around the world.
If there was a point during my trip when I actually did miss a companion, this was it. What do you look at when you’re sitting inside a glass dome? The object of my affection flitted between my phone and a roasted canon of Eden Valley lamb with wild garlic pesto, young turnips, cucumber and mint.
There’s a keen eye for seasonal and local produce behind this menu. Seaham cured smoked chalk stream trout; Whitby crab and cured mackerel; North Sea halibut fillet. The Dining Room has two rosettes from the AA for culinary excellence and while spa hotels can often fall short on the food, Seaham seems to have cracked this too.
Explore the Durham Heritage Coast
Refuting Oscar Wilde’s lament that only dull people are brilliant at breakfast, the next morning I bounced into The Dining Room feeling relaxed, rejuvenated, and resplendent. A revelation from feeling “rough as a dog” after a night on the razz.
Brekkie was an informal affair with a continental and cooked selection that set me up nicely for further exploration of the Durham Heritage Coast, including Seaham beach and Nose’s Point. You can also prolong the royal treatment with breakfast in bed for no extra charge.
On the drive in, I had a little chuckle at the road signs: “10mph, the calmness starts here.” There aren’t many hotel breaks that can get it right with the spa facilities, accommodation and restaurant, all in such a unique location.
The North isn’t short of spa hotels but if you’re looking for serious “wow” factor then Seaham Hall has it in bucketloads. Me time or we time; everyone needs a break from life in the fast lane.
Seaham Hall, Lord Byrons Walk, Seaham SR7 7AG
Follow Vicky Andrews on Twitter: @planetvicster
Confidentials was hosted by Seaham Hall. The five-star boutique hotel and spa boasts two restaurants, 44,000 sq ft Serenity Spa and 21 individually-designed suites (plus two new Bungalow Suites). The new Springtime Celebrations break costs from £395 (two sharing), including one night’s stay in a junior suite, breakfast, three-course dinner with a glass of champagne and full use of the spa, from 12 noon on day of arrival until 12 noon on day of departure. Available Mon-Thurs. Dining Dome experiences cost from £75 pp (minimum of four).