My stay at Ye Olde Bell in Retford couldn’t have come at a more perfect time. I was shattered from my busiest blogging month ever and my little sister, Kirstie, was overdue a bit of TLC.
We jumped in the car and just over an hour’s drive from Harrogate we arrived at Ye Olde Bell. Ideally situated close to National Trust Clumber Park and Sherwood Forest and the market towns of Retford, Bawtry and Newark as well as the Cathedral City of Lincoln. This 17th Century hotel started life as a farm. Opening the over-sized door into the hotel, it was intriguing to think of its history.
Located on the original Great North Road midway between London and Edinburgh, the hotel rose to fame and fortune in the days of stagecoaches and highwaymen and the creation of the postal service in 1635.
The hotel is used to famous (I wish) Victoria’s staying! During her reign, young Queen Victoria stayed with her mother, the Duchess of Kent, in what is now named the ‘Victoria Suite’ on her journey along the Great North Road from London to York in 1835.
Staying at the Ye Olde Bell Hotel
Kirstie and I were greeted by a smiley receptionist, who checked us in and sent us on our way to room 19. There are 59 rooms including two self-contained lodges at Ye Olde Bell; our twin room (average room rate £99) had an en suite which included a deep roll top bath, separate shower and floor to ceiling sumptuous drapes. The current owners, Paul and Hillary have designed each room individually. Ours had ornate gold brushed French side tables and lamps.
Once in our room we opened the window as it was very muggy outside before going downstairs for a well-earned gin before exploring the wonderful grounds of Ye Olde Bell. The grounds have been perfectly landscaped to include a quaint seating area on the lawn, gazebo for outside weddings, and the cutest tree swing – weeeeeeeeee!
Award winning 1650 restaurant at the Ye Olde Bell
Heading back inside we were seated at our table in the 1650 restaurant, which has achieved A with AA Rosette and is under the management of Executive Head Chef, Keith Firth. The period features of this room, such as the beautiful wood panelling are slightly overlooked due to the large bar and elaborate silk curtains. The fresh flowers were a lovely touch. We couldn’t wait to choose from the carefully designed menu. To accompany the meal, we ordered a Malbec – one of my favourite wines!
Our lovely waitress, Vicki, not long after taking our orders, presented us with a surprise amuse-bouche of scallop in a truffle sauce, peppers and onion snaps. The scallops were cooked impeccably – a perfect balance between translucent and white. However, I would have liked the sauce to be warm.
Good Food in Retford
My starter was a glorious piece of beef shin (£9); braised so it fell off my fork and melted in my mouth. The sauce was a rich juniper reduction and added a fruity kick to the beef. Sat on top was a crispy pomme galette with tarragon foam. The dish was beautiful presented, and almost like a miniature Sunday roast.
Kirstie chose the terrine of ham (£8) adorned with a viola flower and served with a beautiful truffle jelly (truffle is fast becoming one of my favourite foods at the moment), a fois gras boudin, and a delightful smoked cheese bonbon.
The main course for me was a celebration of fish. The panache of salmon, monkfish and king scallops (£18) was a delight to see let alone eat. Swimming amongst samphire seaweed and a stunning saffron sauce, the fish was moist and delicious. I would choose this dish again and again.
Good old-fashioned beer battered fish and chips (£12.50) was our Kirst’s choice. That’s what I liked about this menu, there is something for everyone. The fish was fluffy and the batter crispy, and was accompanied by a gorgeous homemade tartare sauce, delicious!
We couldn’t pass up on dessert after such good mains. I went for something a bit different, the banana can can (£7), and wish that I hadn’t as it wasn’t to my taste. The bananamousse with caramel had some sort of biscuit in it and slightly resembled baby food rather than a lightly whipped mousse. The pate tuille was lovely and crisp though and the flowers were a nice touch.
Ever the chocolate fiend, Kirst went for the Grand Marnier parfait (£7.50) with a to-die-for chocolate praline truffle in a sugar basket with white chocolate ganache to top it all off. This dessert was heavenly!
Throughout the meal our service was spot on and we started talking to our waitress, Vicki. She has been working at Ye Olde Bell for many years and said ‘most of the team have too, we are like a family’. You could tell as their knowledge was fantastic and they couldn’t do enough to help.
A disappointing smell
Heading back to our room we noticed the room had filled with a dense curry smell. It was quite strong and in hind sight I should have asked to switch rooms when we realised room 19 was directly above the kitchen which had the extractor fan directly outside our window. After a very comfortable nights sleep we awoke feeling fresh but that was about it. Unfortunately, all of our clothes and our hair smelled of last night’s cooking. This was disappointing but as we had a day in the spa booked we weren’t so bothered.
Our breakfast options were like many hotels, a breakfast bar in one corner of the room with cereal, fruit and pastries plus you could order additional items such as a full-English breakfast, bacon butty and scrambled eggs and salmon muffin.
I would stay here again, especially if I was to visit the spa, but I would make sure I’m not above the kitchens in room 19.
Now it was time for the show stopper… are you ready?
An incredible spa experience at the Ye Olde Bell Hotel & Spa
Opened just last year, the spa is just across the car park from the hotel and is truly incredible. I can honestly say it’s the spa which has thought of everything and rivals all the spas that I have been to.
Again, we received such a warm welcome by the team at Ye Olde Bell Spa. Settling down in the bar we filled in our consultation forms whilst enjoying one of the three Teapig teas, these are free throughout your visit.
Once ready, Irina (a spa butler), inducted us to the spa. In essence, it features ten spa experiences, indoor-outdoor, vitality pool, an extensive range of treatments and bespoke therapies, Herb Garden Brasserie, outdoor relaxation areas with alpine lodges plus a hair and beauty salon.
Opening our lockers, I was impressed at how thoroughly they had thought through the customer journey. There was a little bag to keep your jewellery in, and a plastic bag for your bikini, as well as a sumptuous bath robe, and keepsake flip-flops. The best part was the locker had a code so there was no need to carry around a key or wear a fob bangle. They even had make-up remover available to remove make-up before entering the spa.
A spa day in Retford
Ready to go we entered the spa; it had a vibrant, luxury feel without being too over the top. What I liked most were the little areas that had been created, so if you wanted some quiet time as a couple or with a gaggle of girls, there’s an area to chill for everyone. The spa even has spa butlers who are on hand to cater for your every need. Lois, one of the butlers, showed us round the various experiences on offer. Lois recommended we start off with 30 minutes in The Herbal Laconium. The timber-clad room infuses herbs with steam and is supposed to clear the mind and relax the muscles.
Next was the snow experience, yes, snow! And was I daring enough to try it? YES! I’ll try most things once. This brilliant experience is the first of its kind in the world and offers either a gentle snowstorm or a more powerful snowstorm with gusts of wind and lightning effects! OK, so we opted for the gentle snowstorm and having just been in a room where there was 50% humidity, the cold snow was a delight. The snowflakes act as a natural exfoliant and stimulate blood flow.
We then went into the second of the three rooms which I can only describe as heading into an old Yorkshire mine. The Stonebath, one of only three in the UK, featured a heated oven and cold-water cauldron, creating a theatrical steam cloud when the mineral stones are lifted from the oven and dunked into the cold water. It was such a spectacle to see and very cleansing.
The hot and cold shower walk was our next temptation. It includes a sequence of five showers featuring different ambient lighting and sound. I asked Kirst to film me going through each sequence and it almost resembled the moonwalk until I tipped the coldest bucket of water over myself at the end! That film shall never be seen!
Our final room of the heat experiences was the traditional Alpine Sauna which is clad in Swiss Stone Pine with a distinct aroma and great healing powers as well as being an aid to sleep. This was the perfect way to end the first half of the day and we headed for some lunch at the The Herb Garden Brasserie, headed up by AA Rosette winning chef, Richard Allen.
Eating at The Herb Garden Brasserie
The lunch was just fantastic. I chose a Beetroot and butternut squash risotto with mini goat’s cheese balls and Kirstie had the seabass with split peas and roasted cherry tomatoes. Naturally, we washed it all down with a delightful glass of champagne, as recommended by our waitress, Michelle.
For dessert I was wowed by the presentation of my Crème caramel, it was the prettiest, daintiest dessert presented with beautiful flowers, basil and strawberries. Kirst had, you guessed it, chocolate. A beautiful chocolate and hazelnut praline cake topped with a caramel crown.
The food was superb, and the waiting staff, Michelle and Jerry, were wonderful hosts!
With our bellies full, we went to experience some of the other things on offer. These included the Steambath and Salt Inhalation Room, which will continue to evolve and grow as the salt crystals form. This room had a hugely calming effect on me and I could have fallen asleep in the over-sized bean bags if it hadn’t been for the outdoor vitality pool with bubble loungers and jet stations which was called to me from outside.
Vitamin D therapy
After a swim in the heated pool we went to the beach. Yes, it was like being on the French Riviera. We had deckchairs and a bucket and spade as we were treated to the Sabbia Med (sunlight therapy). The treatment recreates the benefits of the sun without the harmful rays and helps to release vitamin D which can help alleviate SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder). The room started off with a sunrise and as Kirstie and I lay on the beach, feeling the sand between our toes, the sun went from sunrise to sunset in 20 minutes.
Treatments at the Ye Olde Bell Spa
Feeling like I’d been for a week in Marbella, it was time to enjoy our treatments. Kirst went for a Germaine de Cappucini facial and I opted for a Sperience Elements Aroma Massage. The treatment started with choosing oils based on my zodiac sign, a traditional Chinese philosophy which combines five elements of wood, fire, earth, metal and water. I’d never done this before but the oil for an ox seemed to suit my senses. My therapist, Jess, was firm enough but helped me to quickly relax, she also concentrated on my shoulders and tried to wriggle out every knot I had.
After our treatments Kirstie and I met up in the relaxation room where we had our final tea and the opportunity to enter the sleep room. However, the beds there were so comfy I wouldn’t have left so we skipped it and decided to call it a day as by this time it was after 5pm and we had to travel back home.
Overall spa experience
I can’t recommend this spa enough and as it is only an hour away I’d say it is my top choice for a relaxed, informal and friendly experience. I can’t wait to revisit the spa with my mum and cousins for a full-on girl’s day.
P.S. Thank you to the Ye Olde Bell Hotel & Spa for inviting my sister and I for a nights stay and spa. This was an honest review.
Read what I said in a recent post by Champney Spa regarding what to take on a girly spa break: