Sometimes I feel that to get away from it all requires a lot of effort. Driving for an excessive amount of time along winding roads in the countryside or hopping on a plane to somewhere off the grid and more ‘remote’. It seems like something you need to schedule, plan for in advance, and something that doesn’t happen as often as it should. All of us need to shut off from the noise at times, but this time I chose to do it closer to home.
Matfen Hall is an independently owned, four-star hotel in Northumberland. It’s only a 25-minute drive from the centre of Newcastle (or 15 minutes from the airport), and yet it still gave me that getting-away-from-it-all feeling.
My husband and I arrived at noon on a sunny September day … and we were starving. Before checking into our room, we popped across to the Keeper’s Lodge which overlooks the golf course and serves up gastropub style food in a casual dining environment. Apart from us, it seemed that everyone was there for the golf, and tucking into a bacon bap while slurping a cup of tea before heading off for a round. We ordered from the main menu and feasted on a Keeper’s Lodge bacon and cheese burger and home-made beef lasagne – they were delicious, hearty portions.
With our dinner, bed and breakfast package we also received full use of the Aqua Vitae spa and leisure facilities which includes a 16-metre swimming pool, spa whirlpool, monsoon shower, aromatherapy room, sauna, steam room and fitness suite, with state-of-the-art TechnoGym equipment.
I took along a book and relaxed on a lounger by the side of the pool while an aqua fit class took place in the water. I had not realised that there is an extensive timetable of exercise classes that run in the leisure area. It made the environment a little noisy as the music was pumping, but once it had finished it quickly became serene and peaceful.
We’d booked a joint spa treatment for mid-afternoon and the full body massage was where we truly got to unwind and de-stress – there were definitely moments where I nodded off for a second or two.
Feeling too relaxed to do much else, we ventured to our room to idly pass the time before our dinner reservation for the early evening. We were staying in a luxurious principal room with a fourposter bed, lounge area and sweeping views of the glorious grounds. The décor was a perfect blend of traditional elegance to match the grandeur of the room, with a contemporary bathroom featuring a walk-in rain shower, and full-length wall mirror.
Matfen Hall has a lot of dining options, and not wanting to miss out, we popped to the bright and airy Conservatory Bar for pre-dinner drinks before making our way to the two-AA Rosette Library Restaurant for a fine-dining, three
course dinner. We were greeted by our waiter who took our drink orders while we perused the menu in the atmospheric lounge area next to the restaurant.
The restaurant is an impressive stately room, with a romantic ambience. Books adorned the walls, the lighting was moody with candles softly glowing, and the bay windows were draped with deep red curtains.
An appetiser of hot smoked salmon with a cucumber relish and basket of jalapeño and cheddar, and olive breads teased us with what to expect for the rest of the meal. My twice-baked Northumbrian cheese soufflé came with shards of crispy Parma ham, while my husband chose braised pork cheek with seared scallops, lime, coriander and chilli. It was declared his dish of the night.
My main course of slow-cooked pork belly with caramelised onions, seared pork fillet and pea purée was one to remember, with melt-in-the-mouth pork belly and creamy mashed potato. My husband’s ‘mille feuille’ of pigeon was rich and gamey and accompanied by seared fois gras, rosti potatoes, wild mushrooms and truffle jus.
Not wanting to push ourselves to levels of uncomfortableness, we skipped dessert and instead ordered some hot drinks with petit fours to finish off the meal.
Breakfast the next day was held in the same room, and with the bright morning light shining through the windows, the Library took on a different atmosphere. A continental breakfast table sat in the middle of the room and there was a hustle and bustle as guests helped themselves to pastries, cereals and fresh juice. The hot breakfast menu was extensive and I may have overindulged in crepes with maple syrup while the eggs florentine impressed my other half.
Checking out was seamless, we’d even received a letter pushed under the bedroom door that morning with our final bill, the weather for the day and events to enjoy nearby. These little touches make all the difference.
In less than half an hour, we were back in the city centre of Newcastle. It’s nice to know that you really don’t have to go far to escape it all.
Matfen Hall, Matfen Village, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, NE20 0RH