Muddy stays: Congham Hall, Grimston
After a day sitting at my desk watching the rain soak everything in sight, the timing of my visit to Congham Hall Hotel is like a breath of spring air.
Leaving work on a Wednesday, I curse myself for choosing to come in the evening, fearing dense traffic and yet more rain as the sky turns dark. But as soon as I’m through Norwich, the countryside looms into view with its massive trees and bright yellow fields filled with rape seed almost welcoming me to north Norfolk with a smile.
A low evening sun, empty country roads and the radio make it anything but the arduous drive I’d imagined and we are there in no time (we won’t mention the drive down the scary narrow dirt track thanks to my stupid sat nav – really must upgrade).
A sweeping gravel driveway eventually leads to a grand white Georgian manor surrounded by impressive grounds – each speck of grass so perfectly lawned The Tennis Association would definitely give it the thumbs up.
Inside, the impressive property has several comfortable lounges and libraries with open fires, magazines and a rows of walking boots for anyone fancying a wander around the grounds. Style and comfort at its best.
There are lovely pieces to admire are all over, including a vintage Singer sewing table on the landing of the first floor, original artwork on the ground floor and a brass statue somewhere between floors one and two.
26 bedrooms, including 11 modern garden rooms situated in a separate converted barn (each with a terrace overlooking the gardens) make up the hotel. My room is curiously called Jacob’s Ladder and is located on the second – and top – floor.
The décor is a good example of how you can use grey to portray warmth. A gorgeous window seat with crushed velvet fabric and squashy cushions boasts large windows with perfect views of the grounds, while the walls are adorned with wallpaper sporting grey hopping rabbits – and why not?
Nice touches are everywhere, from the proper coffee mugs to the quaint ‘do not disturb’ sign, and from the hefty room key to the fresh bottle of milk in the fridge (no booze though, I note).
The sizeable bathroom is equally stylish with olive green wood clading and a deep tub which I test out after dinner, complete with lovely Elemental Herbology products.
As you would expect of a hotel of this grandeur, Congham Hall has a fully-stocked bar and restaurant with seating outside for the warmer months and windows strategically placed to show off those beautiful views – the sun beginning to turn a beautiful pink on my visit down.
I start the evening off with a glass of Prosecco while I make my way through the leather and wooden fold-out dinner menu which is a complete juxtaposition from the wine list which comes on an iPad – classic and contemporary seamlessly woven.
I start my meal with a goats’ cheese, roasted artichoke and pesto risotto and pair it with a Chilean Sauvignon Blanc which is light and crispy.
I follow this with a rare roasted rump of lamb with fondant potato, cavolo nero, wild mushrooms, hazelnut crumb, pea puree and salsa verde (Masterchef’s John Torode would be proud!). I complement this with a deep Tempranillo red which is so large I manage to make it last through my cheese board too, consisting of Binham Blue, cheddar and Brie and served with wholemeal crackers and a sweet homemade chutney.
Sated, I drag myself upstairs wondering if a bath is a good idea – will I now be so heavy the water will spill out or, worse still, will I fall asleep and drown? I calculate that the risk is worth it, parents rarely get the chance to languish in a bubbly tub.
The deep memory foam of the bed hugs me to sleep, while black out blinds ensure I’m out for the count for a good (and rare) eight hours (see rationale above). The next morning it’s like the Elves have been in and switched the scenery – wall to wall blue skies and sunshine almost wink at me as I pull up the heavy blinds.
I usually devour a full cooked breakfast when I’m reviewing a hotel – it’s all in the name of research, right? – but after a week of rain I’m eager to get outside and hop around the perfect grass like those grey rabbits from my wallpaper. I bypass the lovely buffet with fresh juices and pastries and opt for a perfectly-cooked boiled egg, coffee and wholemeal toast.
The setting really is impressive, with a little stream, a herb garden which the restaurant and the spa both use on a daily basis and pretty Tulips everywhere. Then there is that grass, freshly cut and filling my nostrils with the scent of spring while wood pigeons coo away. As ways to pass an hour go, it’s up there.
As if I’ve not been treated enough, it’s off to the spa for a Herb Garden Treatment (£75, 75 mins). Purple is the colour of choice for The Secret Garden Spa; not in a horrible 1970’s way but in a subtle nod to the copious amounts of lavender growing in the garden and used in several treatments, including mine.
This is where guests will also find a lovely indoor pool with hydro jets, a steam room, a sauna and – the star of the show – an outdoor hot tub which they can enjoy with a glass of bubbly. Go on then…
My lovely therapist Monica leads me into a cosy room and asks me some questions about my lifestyle (er, hectic), my sleeping patterns (er, broken) and my skin condition (er, dry) and suggests we use a water oil containing chamomile, geranium and lavender to help relax me (little does she know that I will be compiling lists in my head while I’m lying on the table).
We start proceedings with a shot of blackberry, strawberry and mint juice and a sniff of some lavender which Monica plucked from the garden just an hour ago. This, she tells me, is to prepare my body and mind for the ultimate state of relaxation (aka lists, lists, lists).
This is a combined back massage and facial which strikes me as an unusual combination but also means I don’t have to go through the indignity of having my boobs massaged or the awkward ticklishness of my feet being touched.
Having worked as a spa journalist for years, I’ve had a lot of massages but have never managed a back and shoulder massage without a therapist trying to work out 40-odd years of knots (quite a feat in an hour). Today is different: I tell Monica to keep it light and, except for one moment when she forgets herself and digs in (spurring a yelp from the table), she’s light and rhythmic the whole time.
It’s hard to see what’s going on when you’re face is squished downwards in a hole, but I can identify hot oils, hot stones and hot towels during my luxurious back massage, which is honestly up there with some of the best I’ve had (and if there’s any cellulite left on the area just above my bum, it will be an absolute miracle).
Next up, my face, which is generally dry as a bone due to a lack of water (boring stuff) and too much wine (lovely stuff). A range of Elemental Herbology products are now used with foaming Purify + Soothe cleanser applied first followed by Cell Nourish and Cell Pumping – I have no idea what these things do but they sound good.
It is at this point that I am pleasantly surprised for a second time during the hour as Monica proceeds to massage my face thoroughly, including eyebrows and ears before moving on to give me a deliciously scalp massage.
Srubbed, bufffed and polished, I’m sent on my way smelling – and feeling – just like a fragrant English garden. Spring has finally sprung.
Congham Hall Hotel, Grimston, King’s Lynn, Norfolk, PE32 1AH. Tel: 01485 600250. http://conghamhallhotel.co.uk
PS. if you haven’t already entered our FAB competition to win an experience JUST like this one, what are you waiting for? Click here immediately…
PPS. If you love to walk around a gloriously-manicured garden and want to see more, Congham Hall is running a Magnificent Seven campaign showcasing the best seven gardens in Norfolk.