By Chiara Spagnoli Gabardi
I was really excited to be able to go to the United Kingdom this summer, and I got pretty lucky: the weather was amazing for a change! But the thing is, a visit to London and its surroundings can be exhausting.
London itself is so full of distinctive neighbourhoods, it’s really like several cities in one. Where to stay? I settled in the lovely region of Primrose Hill, near Regent’s Park. It’s packed with old growth trees, Victorian houses, and casual chic charm. It was the perfect base to explore the busier areas of Soho, Bloomsbury and Shoreditch.
But after several weeks of visiting art galleries, museums and plenty of thrift shops, I felt I needed a break. And then I was faced with another dilemma: where?
The Cotswolds are meant to be lovely, as is the Lake District. Eventually, I was swayed to go to the sprawling Berkshire countryside, namely because I found it breathtaking when I saw it on the telly when Harry married Meghan. Indeed, Windsor Castle, the site of their nuptials, is here, as are some of the oldest and largest residences in the world. And given its wealthy residents, it’s no surprise that this region is also packed with stunning hotels, shops and spas, including the Donnington Valley Hotel & Spa.
I had the chance to experience their royalty-worthy services in the relaxing atmosphere of the verdant parklands of this family owned spa hotel, and was deeply impressed by not only how easily the stresses of London melted away here, but also how dedicated they are to sustainability.
Socially Responsible Hotel
It is very convenient for travellers to visit this eco-resort, which is just one hour from London and forty-five minutes from Heathrow.
Although it’s surrounded by ancient architecture, the Donnington Valley Hotel is a fairly new build, and one that was constructed with environmental and social responsibility in mind. The Hotel’s management strongly believe that they have an active role to play in protecting the environment around us, as well as being socially responsible to their local community, so they’ve partnered with ClimateCare, a service that reduces greenhouse gases on behalf of individuals and organisations, to compensate for their impact on the climate. ClimateCare uses funds to reduce emissions through worldwide projects in sustainable energy.
Relaxing and Detoxing
After settling in a bit, I had the most remarkable time exploring the enchanting landscapes before deciding to treat myself to a few hours at the spa, disconnecting from the pressures of metropolitan life.
This uplifting and rejuvenating sanctuary was a haven for detoxing and revitalising my body. After a busy working year, I deeply relished in the eighteen-metre indoor swimming pool, then purified myself in the sauna, steam room and aromatherapy room, before enjoying the Jacuzzi.
After all this, expert therapist Kelsi was prodigious in melting away any remaining tensions with a relaxing botanical massage. This indulgent aromatherapy treatment is specifically targeted for each individual’s needs – in fact, following our consultation, Kelsi blended a bespoke fusion of essential oils just for me, which were designed to relax, unwind, energise and harmonise my well-being.
After a day in the spa, I headed to my tastefully decorated room to change for dinner, which brought the most serendipitous episode of my journey to the Donnington Valley Hotel: namely, the lovely surprise by Chef Darren Booker-Wilson — winner of an Eluxe Award in previous years — who sent up a delightful box of Cartwright & Butler treats to my room!
Before being the head chef at the Donnington Valley Hotel, Darren Booker-Wilson appeared on BBC’s Great British Menu, and had several accolades under his belt. He came to greet me personally at my table, and the menu he created for me that evening truly reflected the summer season. It was comprised of only local ingredients.
Since I try to stay away from meat, I ate as a starter the Chase Rhubarb & Bramley Apple Gin Cured Loch Duart Salmon, followed by a main dish of fish again, Salmon topped with mussel emulsion, summer greens, and watercress. I accompanied my dinner with a glass of Pinot Grigio. Having a sweet tooth, I couldn’t skip dessert and I devoured the Banoffee Mille Feuille, that was absolutely divine.
No wonder the Donnington Valley restaurant is a 2 AA Rosette Award winner! Plus, the intimate and informal atmosphere of the dining room truly brings the fine food and wine together beautifully.
The Surrounding Area
Whilst the hotel is a wonderful place to spend your holiday at, it’s also worth exploring beyond its parameters, as the surrounding Valley offers a variety of enchanting spots to explore. One such spot is the nearby Donnington Castle, which can be easily reached from the hotel on foot, via an enjoyable walk through the woods.
This ruined medieval castle was taken under royal control during the Tudor period, and today — after several historical vicissitudes — it’s an English Heritage site that delights many with its fierce towers and Game-of-Thrones vibe.
If you’re in the mood for some ethical shopping, head to the charming town of Newbury, since it is full of second-hand shops. This quintessential market town has a dainty historical centre around its large market square, which retains a rare medieval Cloth Hall, an adjoining half timbered granary, and the 15th century St Nicolas Church. Shut your eyes for a few moments as you stroll along its quaint streets, and you could well imagine yourself to be in a scene from Medieval England!
At the Donnington Valley Hotel & Spa I truly could experience the royal treatment, with its lavish spa, relaxing atmosphere in the parkland and golf club; as well as discover the naturalistic history of the beguiling valleys that embrace the region. The dedication and attention to detail made me feel pampered and at ease. I noticed how corporate stays are also organised here, since the hotel is equipped with conference rooms and provides delegate packages, and I fully understand how beneficial it can be to have meetings in this stupendous setting, that nourishes the body, mind and soul in utmost style.
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