The Handbook
The Handbook

A bright, blurry world comes into focus as my alarm clangs, jarring me out of a deep, restorative sleep. Another day facing the ‘new normal’. Except, I happily realise, there’s nothing normal about this hotel stay, it really is the last word in socially distanced self-indulgence.

I’ve woken up in a spanking new Spa Lodge 100 at Gilpin Hotel and Lake House, one of the very first journalists invited to spend two nights exploring the alluringly-titled Spa Trail. Full of Christmas morning-esque breathless excitement, I spring out of bed to make coffee and I’m stopped in my tracks by the pastel pink sunrise lighting up the Cumbrian hills, visible all around me through vast floor-to-ceiling windows (curtains aren’t a thing, since we’ve no close neighbours to speak of. It’s freeing). The lodge itself is exceptional, too – but we’ll get onto that in a minute.

The doorbell rings and it’s my partner, red-faced. “That was the best run of my life!”, he pants, fresh from 20km of fell running (yep, he’s one of those people). The hotel seamlessly blends into one of the UK’s most beautifully pastoral vistas – the Lake District being so dazzling, author William Gilpin coined the word ‘picturesque’ just to describe it. You could spend hours exploring the distant mountain ranges, moorland and wild ponds looking out for cormorants, rabbits, sheep, pigs, hens, cows, alpacas and horses. But there’s a Spa Trail to be tested, so we’re on a (very serene) self-care schedule.

The Lake District: so dazzling, author William Gilpin coined the word ‘picturesque’ just to describe it....

Following a top notch full English breakfast and Buck rarebit, hand-delivered to the lodge’s dining area, it’s onwards to the private TylöHelo steam room and sauna (complete with adjustable mood lighting to aid a cloudy disco or serene snooze, mood-dependent). Swathed in eucalyptus aromas, I start the Spa Trail, applying a lavender and camomile body mask while pondering the sheer luxury of the day ahead. I’m interrupted by my partner handing me a virgin mojito lolly: “It’s just been delivered! To cool us down! Wow!”). 

Next up, a cold blast in the cedar wood walk-in shower, before working a shea and coconut butter hair mask into my split ends, warmed by the Tulipwood sauna. Next minute I’m donning goggles, laying under a warming infrared lamp that promises detoxification and brighter skin. My partner’s back again, this time with a ‘calming cocktail’ of ready-mixed aloe vera, rose water and red wine. “Where did that come from?” Apparently this (and a raft of other treats) was deposited in the fridge while I was busy blasting Phoebe Bridgers on the Sonos speakers, turning the steam room every colour of the rainbow. What glorious heaven is this? 

Next, a go on the state-of-the-art Weyron massage chair, overlooking the leafy surrounds outside the lodge. Heated back rollers pummel sore spots, while foot rollers stimulate reflexology points – but not before I’ve rubbed my feet with a softening skin repair bar and popped on some socks to maximise the benefits. I dreamily note that the chair seems to be kneading my muscles in time to the music – and lo, upon closer inspection of the manual, I can confirm that it is!

Time to fire up the coffee machine, I think. Grabbing milk from the fridge, I discover banana and hazelnut syrup intended for this  very moment, dropped off by my new best friends, the spa fairies. Refreshed, I prepare for my arduous 5 second journey to the outdoor stone-built hot tub, spritzing myself with neroli and geranium flower waters before pouring a freshly-made, ice cold virgin citrus punch (reader, this actually happened).

Heated back rollers pummel sore spots, while foot rollers stimulate reflexology points...

Unsurprisingly, I have an embarrassment of riches to choose from in terms of snacks. Superstar chef Hrishikesh Desai, who heads up the hotel’s Michelin starred restaurant HRiSHi, has hand-prepared us jars of spicy nuts and refreshing bento boxes. 

Expertly stuffed with the likes of Yuzu salmon nori wraps, soft poached chicken, chargrilled roast broccoli and local cheeses with chilli jam and biscuits, they hit the spot. Vanilla panna cotta rounds things off, meticulously crafted into the shape of a sheep.

Hours are spent leafing through the room’s collection of books and generally wafting about the place in happy disbelief about *gesticulates wildly*. We admire the real ferns inlaid under glass in the vanity area, a birdcage-like structure dripping with plant fronds suspended above the bath, and the mixed textures of wood and rolled concrete artfully mixed to create a true feeling of ‘the outdoors brought in’. 

We slip into the icy plunge pond (yikes) then clamber back into the tub, reading aloud from ‘Slightly Perfect’, the candid book newly published by the hotel’s owner John Cunliffe. Heartbreakingly, John passed away earlier this year – just shy of enjoying the book’s widespread praise. Detailing the impeccable work (and brilliant story) of John, his wife Christine and the wider Cunliffe family, it follows their idiosyncratic journey to unreservedly excellent hospitality. What makes it special, much like the hotel itself, is the documentation of the (tiny) imperfections that keep them humble.

We flick on the hanging fireplace when the night starts to draw in, applying a replenishing salt scrub in the circular Lusso stone bath, with the 60 inch Samsung TV trained towards us...

We flick on the hanging fireplace when the night starts to draw in, applying a replenishing salt scrub in the circular Lusso stone bath, with the 60 inch Samsung TV trained towards us. We’ve self-imposed a strict ‘no news’ policy for this trip, declaring our spa lodge a Covid-free zone for two blissful days. The irony isn’t lost on us that this self-enclosed oasis is built for 5* self-isolation. Anyway, enough of that – it’s time for a sumptuous dinner at four AA rosette and Michelin starred HRiSHi, described best by Gilpin staffer Phillip: “French nouvelle cuisine with an Indian twist”. 

Alex Polizzi: Chefs on Trial 2015 winner Desai’s menu is much like the rest of our experience at this hotel – expertly put together, delivered with a smile and chock full of surprises. We feast on hand-dived Scottish scallops and David Woof’s Cumbrian lamb, served with an absurdly cute little shepherd’s pie, lightly spiced. Delicious wine pairings include Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc and Marzemino. The stand out dessert is peanut semifreddo, with coconut milk, glazed bananas and chocolate sorbet. We mention in conversation with the (excellent) waiter that we love chai tea. Naturally, minutes later some appears, expertly made and the best we’ve tasted.

Drifting back to our lodge, we pass a tightly-packed cluster of sunflowers, randomly brightening a nondescript corner of the car park. I’m reminded of the explanation imparted to me by Philip, who earlier drove me one mile to check out the Hotel’s adjoining Lake House and treatment rooms (magnificent, with wood burning fires and endless views of the undisturbed lake):

“One gardener planted a packet of grass seeds, another gardener dropped a packet of sunflower seeds… and well, you can guess the rest of the story. Obviously we just had to keep them!”

I’m enthralled by the perfect imperfections all around – the asymmetry of the natural setting complementing the familial vibes of this supremely high end hotel.

“Let us know if we’ve forgotten anything on the breakfast order!”, our waiter cheerily reminds us. We laugh – if it means enjoying a few more minutes of chat with the fabulous staff tomorrow morning, we actually hope they might. Spritzing my pillow with rose and camomile spray (because, obviously), I drift off, thinking on this (and breakfast – I’ve pre-ordered the rarebit again). 

The Lowdown

Cost: Spa Lodge 100s start from £795 per night based on two people sharing. The first three Spa Lodge 100s launch in September 2020, with a further two to follow in early 2021.

Location: Crook Road, Windermere, LA23 3NE

Distance from London: Approx 270 miles (5 hours drive)

Website: www.thegilpin.co.uk

When it’s time to wave farewell, we are (of course!) packed off with homemade popcorn, lavender shortbread, and orange and lemon lip balm – with which to kiss goodbye our new friends (and our private spa, sob). I sit on the biscuits on the way home, treading the crumbs into the footwell of the hire car, which we return 45 minutes late thanks to traffic. We’re brought back to reality with a bump, but no matter – life is still slightly perfect, indeed.

www.thegilpin.co.uk