For city-working parents like me, escaping to the countryside for a spa break might seem like a distant dream.
But after discovering such a haven of peace just a stone’s throw from south-west London, me and an equally weary friend waste no time arranging an overnight stay. Located on the edge of Richmond Park in the leafy neighborhood of the same name, the Richmond Harbor Hotel & Spa is billed as a luxurious rural retreat within the city.
Eager to begin our pampering getaway, I arrive two hours before official check-in time, in clear violation of hotel etiquette. But the understanding staff just grabs my bag and takes me to the spa for a glass of Prosecco – a very welcome taste of the laid-back hospitality that defines Port Richmond.
High life hotel
Sitting atop Richmond Hill, with wild deer on the doorstep (or just across the road in the park, at least), the Richmond Harbor Hotel & Spa is a white-fronted Georgian mansion with plenty of character.
The hotel reopened with a new look last spring after a fire destroyed the third floor in 2019, two years after the former country house was acquired by the Harbor Hotel Group. The expert renovation team retained the original spiral staircases and other period features, while adding luxury amenities and vibrant decor to suit modern tastes.
This balance of traditional and contemporary is evident the moment we step into the marble-floored lobby, where a Hunter rubber boot rack hangs in front of kaleidoscopic modern artwork. And while the centerpiece’s wooden table is covered in leafy ferns found in Richmond Park, a bronze tree branch that seems to grow from the ceiling above upends our expectations again.
The nods to park life continue in the adjoining lounges dotted with armchairs and in the hotel’s 90 rooms, where bright prints of deer, foxes and the like adorn the walls.
My friend and I have many opportunities to check out the decor while struggling to find our own luxury suite. The spa-side Prosecco may have been a factor, but hard-to-spot signage makes it difficult to navigate the hotel’s sprawling main building and newly rebuilt annex.
This little problem is quickly forgotten when we finally find our room. Port of Richmond doesn’t do unnecessary frills and frills, just what guests might need to feel at home. The furniture is simple and uncluttered but comfortable. And the color palette is neutral with pops of patriotic red, white, and blue, plus textured Mulberry Home wallpaper behind the bed.
Along with the expected coffee machine and pre-tuned radio, other nice touches include free carafes of gin and sherry (“Reminds me of visiting my grandma,” my eyed friend says fogged).
White Company toiletries in our en-suite shower room are also a welcome treat. And the monogrammed bathrobes and matching slippers in the wardrobe are just perfect for heading back down to the spa.
The 2019 fire also engulfed the health club that once stood on the site of what is now the Richmond HarSpa & Club. Used by clients and local residents, the rebuilt version has 13 treatment rooms, a relaxation area, a spa garden with cedar hot tubs and a hydrotherapy pool, as well as a a juice bar.
For fitness kicks, there’s a 20-meter indoor pool with a sauna and steam room, workout studios, and a large, well-equipped gym. In an effort to balance research and relaxation, my friend and I choose to do pool laps before our pre-booked treatments.
Or at least they were supposed to be pre-booked…a technical glitch meant that my friend’s massage was not registered in the central system. Yet, despite being understaffed due to illness, the spa receptionist quickly manages to reschedule my friend’s appointment.
This ‘can’t do enough’ approach more than makes up for a few other hiccups during our stay, with the ever-friendly staff giving their all, even when clearly pushed to the limit. After mentioning that I was a little tired, a buzzy-looking member of staff recommends a vitamin-enhancing drink from the spa cafe before confiding, “I’ve already had four this morning.”
The whole team deserves to be treated to HarSpa’s signature Marine, Mind and Body treatment, a 160-minute head-to-toe experience that includes a foot bath, body scrub and massage, plus a treatment custom face. Coming out of this marathon of indulgence with loose muscles, I feel invigorated and suitably prepared for an evening of wine and dinner.
food for the soul
Judging by the chatter from nearby tables during our Saturday night visit, The Gate restaurant at the hotel seems to be popular with Richmond residents as well as guests.
Named after the nearby gates of Richmond Park, the restaurant is a sky-lit, glass-walled, multi-level dining and bar space that spans the entire rear of the hotel and is extends over a large green terrace. The main dining room is bordered on one side by a marble serving counter, while the bar has a 1970s Moroccan vibe with embroidered cushions, velvet banquettes, giant fringed lampshades and plants in hanging pots.
The traditional but not stuffy menu is less eclectic, with an emphasis on comfort food such as fish and chips (presumably classy), as well as plenty of grilled meats and a “plants” section with decent vegetarian options.
Although this port hotel is far from the coast, my monkfish tail with wilted spinach, candied tomatoes and balsamic glaze is the star of my meal. And my friend is also impressed with her starter of corned beef carpaccio with parmesan shavings.
The portions are also large, and combined with the generous servings of house red that we enjoy, neither of us can handle the dessert.
But when we return for breakfast the next morning after a refreshing swim and steam, we manage to do justice to The Gate’s excellent breakfast selection. A buffet of cereals, fruits, yogurts and other fresh dishes ticks the healthy boxes, while our poached eggs on sourdough toast and chorizo and hash browns leave us with a pleasant feeling of pleasure.
In fact, health-boosting indulgence pretty much sums up our well-deserved stay at the hotel.
Rates at the Richmond Harbor Hotel & Spa start from £140 per night on a B&B basis. Spa and gym memberships start from £110 per month; harbourhotels.co.uk