Stay the night: Rockliffe Hall, County Durham

A historic mansion is the setting for the north-east's newest golf and spa resort. Jo Fernandez reports
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The Independent Travel

One of the big hotel stories of 2010, recently opened Rockliffe Hall is a Victorian Gothic redbrick pile turned sumptuous five-star golf and spa resort in County Durham.

It was built in 1863 by Arthur Backhouse, a member of a renowned northern Quaker family whose influence ranged from banking to botany. Backhouse commissioned its design from fellow Quaker Alfred Waterhouse, the architect behind the Natural History Museum, and he graced its grounds with rare species of plants.

These days, Rockliffe is privately owned by another well-known local, Middlesbrough Football Club's owner Steve Gibson. (The team's training headquarters is here, too.) He has expanded out of the original hall into new buildings – that have been sympathetically designed but will blend in better once they age a little – and given the landscape a modern dimension with a championship golf course.

The rooms

There are 10 rooms and suites in the Grade II-listed Old Hall, 33 rooms in the New Hall, and, set away from the main hotel, the 12-room Tiplady Lodge, and Armstrong House, with six apartments featuring kitchenettes. The decor is luxurious bordering on opulent. Feature walls and a rich palette of greens, browns, mauves and reds are complemented by textures such as soft chenille, silk, and velvet and thick spongy carpets. Marble bathrooms by Villeroy & Boch have the added touch of flat-screen tile televisions. It's glam up north; considerable money has been lavished on the crystal chandeliers that hang above the beds and appear in public spaces – one looks like bubbles suspended above a staircase. Wood panelling, damask-style wallpaper, red-and-gold-striped armchairs and patterned rugs in the communal areas recall the hall's Victorian heritage.

The food and drink

The hotel fully opened in late February, with the launch of its fine-dining restaurant Kenny Atkinson at The Orangery – a beautifully restored, high-ceilinged conservatory set with miniature orange trees. Atkinson received a Michelin star while working at nearby Seaham Hall, and was one of the winning chefs in the BBC TV series Great British Menu last year. Here, he has created flavours not just British in essence but also largely locally sourced, featuring dishes such as loin of red deer with roasted butternut squash, artichokes, bitter chocolate and liquorice, and a cheeseboard drawn from artisanal producers in Yorkshire and County Durham. Three courses cost from £45 per head. An eight-course tasting menu is also available from £60 per head. The hotel has two other restaurants. The Waterhouse Bistro is more informal and, with a nod to the nearby spa, serves lighter meals and healthy drinks. Three courses cost from £29.50 per head. The Clubhouse, an appealing glass-fronted timber building with a state-of-the-art green roof that harmonises with the surrounding open spaces, serves traditional fare such as fish and chips. Three courses here cost from £20.95 per head. The hotel also has two bars.

The extras

This is a place to stay in, not venture out from. The championship 18-hole golf course is the longest in the UK. The huge spa is just as ambitious, containing the country's largest hydrotherapy pool. It also has spa butlers – a fancy term for friendly staff who show you to your locker – a 20m pool with floor-to-ceiling windows recycled from an old chapel, the latest eucalyptus-scented steam rooms and igloo with ice flakes, 13 treatment rooms, including a couples' suite, and a rasul mud room.

The access

There are six rooms with access for people with disabilities. All the restaurants and public areas are designed to be accessible. Children and guide dogs welcome.

The bill

Double rooms cost from £270 per night, including breakfast. Available until 31 May, Gourmet Dining Breaks cost from £190 per person at weekends, based on two sharing, or £160 Tuesday to Thursday, including bed, breakfast and eight-course tasting menu, bottle of champagne and chocolates in room on arrival.

The address

Rockliffe Hall, Hurworth Place, Hurworth on Tees, Darlington (01325 729999; rockliffehall.com).

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