I didn't know what I was expecting when we set off to Ragdale - but the weekend started well with my husband and I talking to each other - with no children in the car and no Mister Tumble Sings CD blaring at us. This in itself seemed luxurious - so we were already feeling pretty special when we arrived.
Coming around the corner and seeing the building I thought it was just a truly beautiful place, and wondered if it was going to be a bit pretentious; I thought it might be full of very well to do people being very well to do, and that we wouldn't fit in at all. I was worried we'd feel out of place. I was about to say as much to my husband when the valet popped up to carry out bag inside and offer to park our car - before I knew it we were bustled inside, greeted by name by the wonderfully friendly welcoming team and seated on a soft, comfortable chair being handed fresh coffee and the most delicious fresh orange juice I've ever tasted.
We were on the break as media reviewers - so when they were so welcoming and came to sit with us and talk us through everything the spa had to offer, to tell us to call down any time if we needed anything, and to offer a full tour I thought they were going all out to treat us well because we were writing a review piece; then I looked around and saw the same thing happening at every table, and over the rest of the weekend every time someone arrived - the staff are just superb. They're friendly, welcoming, chatty, happy - they make you feel like you're someone special and they're excited that you came. It's glorious.
We had arrived in time for lunch and our bag was taken to our room as we sat down to a very, very tasty meal - all fresh and organic and delicious. The meals are inclusive when you stay at Ragdale - and so are drinks. Not the alcoholic ones - but juice, tea, coffee, mineral water are inclusive - which is a trick most places seem to miss and you leave paying more than you'd anticipated because you dared to request a beverage with your meal!
After lunch we were shown to our room (my husband said we could find our own way but I said I'd like to be shown - I think it's a good job I did because Ragdale Hall is huge - we'd have been wandering for hours before we found our way the first time!) and found a sumptuous, fresh, comfortable room with stunning views. Massive fluffy dressing gowns and soft slippers waited for us - and we quickly got ourselves into those and headed downstairs to explore the spa.
Paul, the lovely gent who had welcomed us, gave us a tour of the spa and entertained us; I'm not sure whether he gets paid extra to crack jokes but I think he should. The atmosphere of the spa was blissed out and relaxed - the visitors were all smiling and snoozing on the many comfortable chairs, the staff all seemed happy and friendly, everyone seemed pleased to see Paul and happy to have more visitors to the spa.
Once we'd had a good look around we were itching to get going and try everything - so we trotted back through to the thermal spa.
There are so many different things to try to describe that I just don't think I can do it justice. The thermal spa contains (deep breath);
>the Thought Zone (a warm room with a calming light projector pointed to the ceiling - very soothing)
>the Colour Flow Cave (a glass tiled room filled with steam and fresh, relaxing scents with dim lighting)
>the Candle Pool (my favourite - an underground lagoon lit by candles with twinkling stars in the cave like roof)
>the Volcanic Salt Bath - another steamy room that smelt very 'minerally' with granite walls
>the Cave Shower - this is AMAZING - there are three experiences here; 1; the tropical rain storm - thunder and lightning inside the cave, with a deluge of warm water like the most exciting storm you've ever known. 2; cold mist - this is COLD, and has a strong minty scent so feels very fresh - lovely after a sauna or steam, proof that I'm hard as nails. 3; the waterfall - this is EVEN COLDER and a bit of a shock to the system after all the relaxing warmth everywhere!
>The Ice Fountain - literally a fountain of ice, collected in a large glass dish, for rubbing yourself down after the sauna (read; dropping into your wife's cleavage when she's falling asleep)
>The Scented Room - warm, slightly steamy, dried herbs with water steaming through them to scent the air.
>the Rose Sauna - glorious; images of rose blooms around the walls and the scent of roses in the air. There's a window looking out over the grounds which is lovely.
Once you've experienced all that there's another highlight - the outdoor pool. The pool is warm - like getting into a bath warm - and you descend the steps, via the foot spa as you enter, submerge then swim through a cave doorway to the outside area of the pool; there's a (warm) waterfall and a number of secluded bays to sit in, with massage jets to ease aches, soothe pains and surprise husbands.
We worked our way around everything then headed back inside to the original pool - huge, beautiful, with a rock pool area that hides a jacuzzi, another waterfall and more massage jets - magnificent things - then showered and headed for our inclusive treatments.
We'd opted for the full body massage. This was my first and I thought it was going to be very odd - but my massage therapist was an absolute joy. She was friendly, happy, loved her job (I did TRY to get some dirt out of her, she didn't know I was there for a review - but she just raved with happiness because she loved her job so much and was so happy to work there - you can really tell that the whole staff are happy) and aside from one moment where I thought "I'm only wearing knickers and a total stranger is rubbing warm oil into me" the whole experience was heavenly.
I reluctantly left the massage with the suggestion that I ought to have them more often (yahaa!) and feeling totally, totally blissed.
We went for dinner - another huge success - and then most of the visitors seemed to drift to the lounge rooms with huge glasses of wine and laughter, or to their rooms to take advantage of the chance to lounge on huge comfortable beds and watch some of the selection of DVDs you can borrow (for no extra charge) - we thought about it, but then decided we could go to bed or watch a film any time at home, but we were never going to have an outside pool...
The pool, outside, at night, with the stars out overhead and the warm waterfall washing over you - well it's something magical. We were the only people in there and it was one of the happiest moments of my entire life. I felt totally relaxed, totally connected to my husband and myself for the first time in months, calm, clean, happy - it was magical. If you go to Ragdale - no, not if, when - when you go to Ragdale - I absolutely insist you take advantage of the outdoor pool at night. You will love it - did I mention it was magical?
The next morning - after the best sleep of my life in the most comfortable bed ever made - we were brought our breakfast in bed (oh my lushness that breakfast) and then hurried downstairs to enjoy some more time in the spa and try out the water gym (which is an odd experience) then sat in the lovely soft basket chairs reading our books until lunch. We saw the same people as we prepared to leave and they chatted to us about our stay - the entire staff of Ragdale hall do their work brilliantly. They genuinely seem to be happy, they make it a happy place to visit, they are professional and efficient but friendly and relaxed, they're superb.
Overall I have to say just one thing; go. Go to Ragdale Hall. Never mind all those other spas - this is something truly special. Truly special. They've hit the nail right on the head.
Prices for Ragdale range from £69 - £165 for a day break to £345 for a weekend break; the package we had was the Overnight Reviver - prices range from £196 to £259 per person with meals included, full access to the thermal spa and activities/classes/gym etc. and an inclusive treatment. Worth every single penny.
When you're there there are a lot of chances to 'top up' with extra treatments and the prices are very reasonable - and very luxurious. There are also little boutiques and shops dotted around to treat yourself to some lovely products or jewellery and gifts that, rather than being expensive and a bit of a con - which they could be considering they've a captive audience - are beautifully stocked and very reasonably priced indeed.
The one, tiny, complaint I had was that the showers - though generously kept supplied with glorious shampoo and conditioner - had both in pump top bottles. I have A LOT of hair, and you only get a tiny amount out with each pump. I had to pump over 300 times (yes, I counted, I like to count) to condition my hair, which was very time consuming. Worth it though because the conditioner was lush.
I'm planning another trip to Ragdale at Easter - you'd better book now or I'll totally have your spot.
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I received the weekend break with no charge from Ragdale Hall to review; they didn't force me to say nice things about it - I just love it there.