Lured by the promise of bespoke treatments, country surroundings, Michelin quality food and 23,000 bottles of wine, Spabreaks.com Editor Bonnie Friend went to visit The Vineyard at Stockross …
On mentioning to a friend that I was heading to The Vineyard at Stockross, the first thing that came out of his mouth was: “good food,” which pretty much sets the tone for the venue as a whole – even the name refers to the hotel’s wine producing heritage and that’s before you factor in the culinary presence of Michelin star chef Daniel Galmiche – who’s reputation evidently precedes him.
You can’t talk about The Vineyard without mentioning its history. Part of the Relais & Chateaux collection – known for their epicurean excellence – the five star country hotel owned by Sir Peter Michael is a former 18th century hunting lodge remodelled as an homage to the produce of the family vineyard in California. Throughout the 49 rooms (all named after different wines) interiors are spacious and sumptuous despite the juxtaposing modernity of sixteen contemporary rooms that have been added to the main house. A great art collector, Sir Peter has taken the liberty of using the hotel as an extension of his own home with original paintings and commissions peppered throughout, not least of all a giant mural posing as the partition between the lounge and conference room allowing it to become one enormous event space should you require it.
Unusually the spa is a circular, glass space looking out onto the grounds. There is a menu so you can order teas and coffees throughout the day without having to move, and a dining area on a raised platform where you can enjoy the venue’s signature Bento boxes. The large circular pool complete with water jets, is a surprising 15m wide, so you can still get a proper swim into your day should you so choose, and it has a current machine so don’t be fooled by the serene surroundings, if you want to work out you certainly can – or just go with the flow, whatever floats your boat. Changing rooms are downstairs alongside the steam room, sauna and four treatment rooms as well as one for couples all of which feature candles, mood lighting and heated treatment beds so that the temperature can be adjusted while you relax. The name of the game here is a bespoke experience – temperatures, treatments and quality time tailored to the individual – it is not overflowing with elaborate facilities, but it has everything for a particularly beautiful spa day, and it is all done to perfection. When it comes to treatments equally careful attention has been paid: using predominantly Darphin products and some from ESPA as well, the therapists are all highly trained; they are all also experienced in pregnancy massage adding a specialised dimension to their portfolio, and all the treatments have been carefully selected for maximum effect.
I am reluctant to say that the restaurant is the jewel in The Vineyard’s crown because everything benefits from careful attention to detail, but the character of the place stems from the offerings one can imbibe. Daniel Galmiche who has held a Michelin star for 20 years and more recently has made a name for himself as the author of The French Brasserie Cookbook: The Heart of French Home Cooking and for his appearances on BBC’s Saturday Kitchen, has instilled a tradition of sustainable, vibrant, contemporary French cooking all the way from the Bento boxes you are issued with at lunch time in the spa, to the more formal dining space in the restaurant which overlooks the gardens. Wine is, naturally, key here, with a cellar holding 23,000 bottles (yes, you can take tours) and a shortlist for those a little bemused by the variety come dinner time.
Close to the merchant town of Newbury in Berkshire, The Vineyard is actually situated on a country road not too far from the M4 (it’s about an hour in the car from London). Surprisingly, it’s own grounds are not extensive, but it backs onto an extremely popular nine-hole golf course and is surrounded by farmland as well. The exterior space is immaculate – and I say this despite visiting while the front was undergoing major renovation to install what promises to be a glass entrance hall of breathtaking proportions. The interior rooms and restaurant look out onto an innovative fire and water feature that encompasses what can only be described as burning lily pads floating in a raised pond around which you can dine in the summer time – it is really something quite special to behold.
From start to finish The Vineyard is quite simply somewhere you can’t help but want to spend time. The service and style is exactly what you would hope for in a five star venue, without having the trappings of airs and graces. Staff smile and are impossibly polite – they positively bend over backwards to cater to the individual, but it retains the comfortable ambience of a place that does not take itself too seriously. The artwork and heritage pervades throughout which is a welcome characteristic turning it from a nice place to go to a wonderful place to go. Their slogan might well be ‘wine is what we do’, but to be honest, they kinda have the whole hospitality thing nailed.
– The therapists really know what they are talking about, so if you have any skin concerns take this as an opportunity to ask for some advice.
– Take a good walk around the hotel and look at the artwork, it’s really impressive – and ask someone to tell you the story of the resident ghost – I won’t spoil it for you.
– Stay for dinner – as if this needs explaining.
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