Heritage hotel, luxury location, gorgeous gardens, delicious dining, spectacular spa… Jez Lazell experienced it ALL, following the lavish launch of the county’s recently restored and already multi-award-winning, stunning Grantley Hall.
I have slept at 9,000 ft above-sea-level before, but never – until now – in Yorkshire. Welcome to Grantley Hall, a remarkable new country house hotel near Ripon, where ‘altitude-adjustable’ bedrooms are merely the hors d’oeuvre in an eye-poppingly impressive buffet of sports and wellness facilities that make your average LA Fitness look like a nursery playground. Throw in a tranquil spa, 60ft pool and cryotherapy chamber and it’s little wonder the hotel has triumphed as Best Newcomer in the Conde Nast Johansens Awards for Excellence. In October, it also scooped Best Wellness Retreat title in The Sunday Times 100 Best Hotels.
It is an astonishing story, made all the more astonishing because four years ago the Palladian mansion was almost in ruins. Built by Thomas Norton in the 17th century, Grantley Hall had been a family residence, WWII convalescent home and adult education centre in its time, finally languishing as a largely vacant holiday home in desperate need of repair. All that changed when Barnsley-born Valeria Sykes, stumbled across it on a drive around the eastern Dales in 2015.
“Many years ago I’d enjoyed a decoupage course at Grantley Hall, and fell in love with the building. I thought it would be the perfect place to have afternoon tea,” Valeria reminisces. “Continuing on my Dales drive, my mind and heart began to race. I had a vivid vision of an incredible first-class hotel and at that very point, before even returning home, I decided to buy it.” More than three years of meticulous refurbishment later, the grade II*-listed mansion reopened last year after a £70 million facelift that doesn’t so much beggar belief, as make you rethink what a country house hotel can be. Now in her 70s, the notoriously high-energy new owner has been heavily involved in the redesign, and her pride in all things Yorkshire is writ large: the beds are made in Leeds, Raisthorpe Manor damson gin fills decanters in every room, and portraits by Ruth Fitton, an artist from Harrogate, hang in the drawing room.
A self-confessed perfectionist, the proud new proprietor has created a stunning luxury get away showcasing decadent decor which strikes a just right balance between cosy and contemporary. Crushed velvet russet sofas beckon from the oak-panelled bar and electric-blue banquettes add a fun urban-chic touch to the art deco pan-Asian EightyEight restaurant, one of three dinner options at the hotel. The others are the low-lit, dark-wood-panelled Fletchers and Shaun Rankin’s 38-cover, 10-course fine dining restaurant. Lunch in the spa cafe is a health nut’s fantasy of mindfully delicious dishes such as kale pesto linguine and poached salmon; afternoon tea by the fire in the lounge is perfect after a two-mile stroll along the river to the 12th-century Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal Water Garden, a magnificent UNESCO World Heritage Site.
There are 21 elegant rooms in the main house at Grantley Hall, each with a bath. The decor is resolutely classical, with beige carpets, earthy throws, velvet armchairs and (slightly) more modern versions of those little lampshades spotted in cosy alcoves on trips to relatives as a child. Room 21 is a favourite, with window seats overlooking the river and gardens.
As a nod to its new owner, Valeria’s is a chic champagne and cocktail bar, oozing art deco glitz, grace and Roaring Twenties glamour, with an atmosphere reminiscent of the gregarious Great Gatsby days. Valeria’s and Restaurant EightyEight are set apart from the hotel for an intimate and exclusive experience, the bar spills out onto the beautifully restored Japanese gardens, allowing revellers to party long into the night without having to worry about disturbing guests in the main house.
So far, so impressive country house hotel. But to take it to yet another level, it’s the new wing that really sets Grantley Hall apart. Topped by a vast atrium, it has 26 much more contemporary, muted-grey bedrooms, the spa, a sauna, a steam room, a snow room (yes, that is what you think) and a 60ft indoor pool with an outdoor heated vitality pool looking across the manicured gardens.
Then there’s the state of the art gym. Opened by Lord Coe, it wouldn’t look out of place at a Premier League football club. In fact there are two gyms: the first is packed with the latest Life Fitness cross trainers and IC7 exercise bikes (the Ferrari of the exercise bike world), the other rocks an industrial Strength & Conditioning studio that will appeal to hardcore circuit lovers and free-weight fans.
More unusually, there is also a 3D body scanner and an underwater treadmill, already booked by Leeds Rhinos for rehabbing injured players. On top of that guests can have sessions with a nutritionist, a life coach, a hydration expert or a gait analyst, and supercharge your production of red blood cells in the altitude training studio, where you can do spin classes up to a simulated 18,500ft above-sea-level, that’s higher than Everest base camp. Most eye-catching of all, however, is the cryotherapy chamber. Looking essentially like a small sauna with a glass door, it is set to a marrow-chilling but utterly invigorating -85C, said to reduce inflammation, accelerate recovery – and burn up to 800 calories in a single three-minute session. As if that’s not space age enough, guests can also try out EMS (Electric Muscle Stimulation), which is like a TENS machine on steroids, and Cristiano Ronaldo’s ab-crunch cheat-tool of choice.
So what to do when not being pampered in the spa or being pummelled in the gym? Well, if that leafy two-mile walk along the river to Fountains Abbey sounds like more exercise than you’re after, the 38 acres of elegantly landscaped parkland surrounding the hotel are criss-crossed by footpaths; you can also go punting on the small stretch of river by the main house. Then there is yoga with the infectiously friendly Helen Gilbertson, who when not performing horse acrobatics at shows across Yorkshire teaches Hatha Vinyasa to yogis of all experience and ability at Grantley Hall. There is even talk of future pre-breakfast yoga classes at Fountains Abbey itself – think Downward Dog and Sun Salutations below the 12th century walls of the best preserved Cistercian monastery in Britain, long before any other visitors are let in.
Of course, most people checking in to Grantley Hall are here for R&R, not ab crunches and Downward Dogs. They will not be disappointed. Just want to kick back by the fire with a winter-warming tipple? Head to the dark-panelled lounge, and order yourself a house gin cocktail. The hotel is full of snug nooks and firewarmed crannies, with huge armchairs and squishy sofas that cry out for afternoon tea with the Sunday papers. First and foremost this is an elegant, big-hearted, relaxing country house hotel, it just happens to have industry-leading wellness facilities out back should you wish to use them.
None of this would mean a thing were it not for the hotel’s excellent staff. Superefficient, but still wonderfully engaging, the mostly Yorkshire-born team is led by general manager, Andrew McPherson, who brings infectious down-to-earth energy and a wealth of experience having managed some of Britain’s top hotels. The hotel even has its own staff training academy in the East Lodge. That tells a tale. “I love opening the doors and greeting people from all over the world” Valeria Sykes says. “I love Yorkshire. It deserves the very best.” Mission accomplished.
THIS ARTICLE WAS TAKEN FROM THIS IS Y 2020 - YOU CAN VIEW THE FULL MAGAZINE HERE.