Both kids were still asleep in the back of the car as we pulled up to the elegantly understated front entrance of Rockliffe Hall Hotel. The concierge came straight over and took our bags from the boot, while I stepped inside to the lobby to see a crackling fire and the lush green golf course expanding towards the horizon beyond. The receptionist pulled up our details and before I knew it, I was being accompanied through a sun-soaked corridor decorated in warm, muted tones, lush carpets and stylish armchairs.
Even though I’ve stayed in countless hotels all over the world, the expectation of what lies beyond the hotel room door never ceases to thrill. And with a touch of a key card, I was led into our room for the next two nights. It didn’t disappoint. It also made me smile when I discovered our luggage had mysteriously appeared in our dressing area – another sign of things to come…
Before I could even contemplate jumping into the big tub for a relaxing bath, the silence was broken by the sound of the children screaming as they ran into the room and onto their beds… And after their excitement had abated, I was able to tell them we had lots to do…
Rockliffe Hall Hotel
Original plans for Rockliffe Hall date back as far as 1774, with various renovations and owners, it was eventually turned into a hospital in the 1950s before standing empty for several years until 1996 when it was purchased by Steve Gibson, Middlesborough Football Club’s chairman. Rockliffe Hall is also the site of the club’s training grounds and according to my husband, I even shared pleasantries with the team’s manager, Tony Pulis, in the kids’ playground. Not that I even realised…
Having won several awards including Large Hotel of the Year, Rockliffe Hall prides itself on its five-star service and luxury offerings. It has an award-winning spa, one of the most challenging golf courses in Europe, is a destination location for fine dining and afternoon tea, and best of all – it’s really family-friendly.
The 18th-century estate is set on the banks of the River Tees in Darlington, County Durham. Close to the countryside and the Yorkshire Dales, and to cities Durham and Middlesborough, Rockliffe Hall is an ideal location to explore the surrounding area if you feel the inclination to actually leave the confines of the hotel.
Split into two sections, we had a Junior Double in the New Hall, which houses more contemporary rooms compared to their Old Hall counterparts, which feature more traditional furnishings. What struck me as soon as the room door swung open was the space – the room was huge even with the extra cot and bed made up for the kids.
It didn’t feel like a hotel room, more a luxurious hideaway set up for occupants to truly put their feet up and unwind. A king-sized bed with the softest pillows, plump sofas, a huge satellite TV, minibar, a dressing area and a large bathroom which even had a TV above the Villeroy & Boch bathtub. Extras provided for us included fluffy white robes and slippers, and the same for the kids – as well as their own toiletries containing all natural ingredients.
It was bright, tastefully decorated in hues of mauve and taupe with flashes of gold – and also had the most epic views of the grounds and the golf course. All we had to do was open the double doors onto our private patio and enjoy.
I had the opportunity while Peanut was having an afternoon siesta, to peruse the glossy magazines left on the coffee table, lie back on the sofa, drink a hot cup of tea and enjoy the peace. I may have even nodded off for a few minutes…
Rockliffe Hall also has their own self-catering apartments and rooms for those looking for an extended stay.
For kids – MischMasch and beyond
Luxury five-star hotels don’t often have the outdoor space to facilitate bored children – this isn’t the case at Rockliffe Hall. And top of the outstanding provisions for youngsters is Rockliffe Hall’s new wonderland, MischMasch, inspired by author Lewis Carrol, who grew up nearby.
There are mystical curiosities to be discovered in the Curious Cabins. We had access to The Jabberwocky, full of soft-play and sensory equipment which Peanut adored. We also tried to teach Monkey some pool hustling in The Comet and even got to watch some TV in the movie room, The Star. There are six cabins offering a different experience for families – and the best thing, they’re free for guests to use and only need to be booked in advance. Perfect for little ones, particularly on rainy days.
Moving on from the Curious Cabins is the extensive play area – and I think the kids’ favourite section. We spent over an hour just watching them run about climbing in the playground and throwing themselves down the slides. I was astonished to see other children braving the adjacent splash park and running through the jets of water in just their underwear. It was pretty chilly! While Rockliffe Hall offered waterproof suits for the kids to have a go, they were content in the playground. However, I can only imagine how popular the watery fun will be in warmer weather.
During our stay it was Halloween, and Rockliffe Hall really went to town on all the gruesome decorations and spooky fun – even putting on a Halloween Trail, which Monkey couldn’t wait to participate in on the promise of a prize. Even the cackling witch and giant spider didn’t put him off!
Meanwhile, the Rockliffe Hall estate offers up a nature trail and bird hide – and we enjoyed wandering the grounds, pretty much by ourselves most of the time, even though I was told the hotel was at full capacity.
Aside from all the activities to keep kids occupied, including the use of the indoor swimming pool at Rockliffe Hall Spa (only in the early morning and mid-afternoon), there are treats at afternoon tea, as well as a good selection on the children’s menu at all meal times including breakfast such as dippy eggs and pancakes. Babysitting is also offered. In short, families are truly welcome and it really made a difference to our experience overall.
Food and drink
There are several dining and drink options at Rockliffe Hall with three restaurants and two bars as well as 24-hour room service. On our first night, we were booked into the hotel’s Brassiere restaurant and, even though it’s considered to be a less formal eaterie than The Orangery, which offers up four AA Rosette fine dining, we felt the quality of the food was outstanding.
Even with the kids, who happily scoffed their two courses from the children’s menu, we managed to polish off three. The scallop starter was divine, as was my light, and moreish lemon sole. Meanwhile, my husband loved having an assortment of different spices and rubs for his steak – his favourite being a Thai chilli concoction which gave his sirloin a kick. We both couldn’t resist the cheese to end our meal – all of us fit to burst.
Breakfast each morning was served in The Orangery, which is a delightful setting – bright and airy with views over the grounds – it’s a pleasant start to the day. WIth a European breakfast mix of yoghurts, cereals, fruit and pastries, there is also a menu for cooked breakfasts and my eggs benedict was just right, with perfectly cooked poached eggs. Monkey particularly liked his pancakes and maple syrup.
A club sandwich at lunch in the Clubhouse accompanied by the fattest chips was our choice at lunchtime, and so relaxed were we all from our exploits at Rockliffe Hall, we decided to order room service. It was a good move – eating in PJs and watching TV really is the best and the kids loved the novelty of it, too.
We even managed to enjoy a couple of cocktails and a few glasses of decent wine – and suffice to say, we had no complaints. My expresso martini did just the trick… Our only regret was that we didn’t have the stomach to also try Rockliffe Hall’s afternoon tea – which we are told is pretty special.
Rockliffe Hall Spa
Some spas are often lacklustre, small and overcrowded, Rockliffe Hall spa is at the other end of the scale in terms of size and grandeur. The main pool is gargantuan and even has a small children’s one next to it, which was perfect for Peanut to splash around in. Guests can go up to the pool bar and order smoothies, and even a glass of wine. Fresh fruit and lemon infused iced water are on tap, and so are plenty of padded recliners to lie on.
The spa also has a multitude of thermal suites ending ‘arium – the tepidarium which was where I spent most of my time snoozing on the heated body-shaped beds, the caladarium, the tropicarium, the sauna, the foot spa, the igloo… the list goes on. Rockliffe Hall Spa’s hydro pool is so large, it is accommodated in its own section – and it took a good hour to make my way around testing each water jet and letting the warm water envelop my tired muscles. I also couldn’t resist taking a dip in the outdoor hot tub, which at 9.00pm, was empty…
While I didn’t make it for a swim in the outdoor spa garden infinity pool or go for a workout in the gym, I did get to experience one of Rockhill Spa’s signature treatments – a NEOM well-being ritual. After choosing the scent of one NEOM candle, the therapist without hesitation told me that my senses were yearning for sleep. I did chuckle to myself at that not so unsurprising revelation. It was a soothing treatment that made me feel extremely blissed out. I may have even drifted off for a time. I felt less tense afterwards, and so did my husband, who also booked himself in for a massage, too!
Rockliffe Hall Golf
One of the longest golf courses in the UK, flanked by over 20,000 trees, as well as three glistening lakes, it has uninterrupted views of the Durham countryside and my husband, who is a golf fanatic, so wanted to play. But there just wasn’t enough time to for a round of golf, so he opted to take Monkey to the driving range instead to hit a few balls. Rockliffe Hall Golf not only offers up tuition and a golf academy but also has a pro-golf shop on site. The closest I got to any golfing action was to have lunch at The Clubhouse…
There are many hotels who offer themselves to the market for the whole family – but fall short. A few high chairs and a children’s menu doesn’t mean a hotel is great for kids. It’s about getting the right balance between entertaining children and being able to relax as parents and Rockliffe Hall is one place that really does consider every member of the family. There is no point in having a luxury break if the children aren’t happy because the parents will also be having a bad time.
Hotels for us often mean somewhere to base ourselves before we go off exploring. Sometimes they’re a means to an end – somewhere to freshen up and get a decent night’s sleep… Staying at Rockliffe Hall is an experience in itself. You don’t need to leave if you don’t want to – and for once, we didn’t. So exhausted were we after our week’s adventure across Durham, we were desperate to just stay put and enjoy all the hotel had to offer.
Rockliffe Hall’s prices are on the high side, but you get what you pay for – staying in a luxurious five-star hotel with impeccable service and facilities to match. After having lunch at the Clubhouse, Monkey had left his water bottle behind and we had already wandered up to the MischMasch. Next thing we knew, a golf cart pulled up alongside us and member of staff handed it over. He admitted he’d been driving around the estate for 10 minutes looking for us – and was glad he could help. We hadn’t even noticed it had gone. Now that is going above and beyond the call of duty.
The only sad thing is that Rockliffe Hall is so far away from home – or maybe that’s a good thing, otherwise, I’d be there all the time!
*Disclaimer: We were hosted for a one-night stay at Rockliffe Hall which included bed and breakfast, a complimentary family dinner for one night and one massage treatment. We paid for the second night on a media rate, while all drinks, my husband’s massage treatment and other meals were also paid for by us. As always my opinions are my own.