Hotel Review: Seaham Hall Hotel, England


Hotel Review: Seaham Hall Hotel, England

By Carolyn Pearson

Global Living – Issue 10 | January/February 2014

Located in 37 acres on the rugged cliff tops of the wild and romantic English North Sea coast, Seaham Hall (www.seaham-hall.co.uk) is just 20 minutes away from the beautiful city of Durham and can be reached within 40 minutes from Newcastle International Airport. This intimate residence is home to 20 individual suites and penthouses, many with sea views and each with the largest of sumptuous bathrooms and the hugest of two-person baths we have ever seen. I arrive with my husband on this sunny winter’s day, dazzled by the pristine white Georgian building standing against a backdrop of the Durham coast line.

The Hall that stands here now was built on the site of the original manor house in 1792 by Sir Ralph Milbanke, 6th Baronet of Halnaby, for himself and his wife, the Hon. Judith Noel, daughter of the 1st Viscount of Wentworth. That year their daughter Anna Isabella (affectionately known as Annabella) was born. In 1815, Annabella went on to marry Lord Byron, English poet and leading figure in the Romantic movement. Although the marriage that took place at Seaham Hall was both short and largely an unhappy one, much is still made of Byron’s association with Seaham Hall today.

In 1821, Seaham Hall was sold to soldier, politician and Irish-born nobleman Charles William Vane, Baron Stewart, who later became the 3rd Marquess of Londonderry, and in 1823 he was designated Earl Vane and Viscount Seaham. During that time, prominent figures such as the Duke of Wellington and future Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli (1861) were entertained here.

During a derelict period in the 1820s, the Hall was utilized by Scotch whisky descendent Alec Harvey as a base from which to bottle, and also to smuggle Spey whisky through a series of underground tunnels down to Seaham Harbor. The whisky was loaded onto ships bound for the Bahamas, from where it was redirected to New York and Chicago during the height of US Prohibition. Allegedly, Harvey’s customers included renowned bootlegger George Remus and gangster Al Capone.


Image courtesy of Seaham Hall Hotel

Distilled under license of the Historic Royal Palaces at Aviemore in the Scottish Highlands, this exclusive whisky, only otherwise available at the Tower of London, Hampton Court Palace, Banqueting House, Kensington Palace and Kew Palace, was then sold at Seaham Hall.

Since then, Seaham Hall has changed hands a number of times and even had a spell as a military hospital during World War I; in 1928, the Hall became a sanatorium for those suffering from tuberculosis. Today, having undergone significant investment and refurbishment, stands a beautiful five-star hotel and award-winning spa.

Before entering the Hall, one is not entirely sure what to expect and cannot fail to be intrigued or captivated by the contrast of the modern ‘Charybdis vortex’ fountain. The spectacular installation is a huge acrylic cylinder filled with water flowing in a circular motion to create a vortex. The grandeur of the stunning building is in fact best observed from the coastal side of the grounds where its full expanse can be appreciated.


Image courtesy of Seaham Hall Hotel

Locally, Seaham Hall is as famed for its Serenity Spa as it is a hotel, and could easily be referred to as a spa with rooms. With 17 treatment rooms, the spa caters to guests that are a mixture of hotel residents and day spa clientele. Indulgent treatments on offer include a full range of face and body experiences by Elemis and Darphin. The sensory journey to the spa from the hotel sets the scene perfectly. Guests take a dedicated entrance through a specially-built underground tunnel. There’s a strong Thai influence, with a winding wooden walkway, tranquil lighting, huge gold Buddha, soft music and the trickle of water over pebbles. You are instantly transported from one world to another.

With plenty of time to enjoy the spa facilities, I took the opportunity to lounge by the heated indoor pool, saunter in and out one of the many saunas and steam rooms, soothe my aching muscles in the hydrotherapy pool, and take a dip in one of the two outdoor hot tubs. I headed to the pre-treatment relaxation area to meet my therapist, Toni. I chose the Elemis Pro-collagen Quartz lift facial, an advanced treatment designed to smooth out the signs of ageing and perfect for the harsh English winter climate. The stylish and spacious treatment rooms were warm and inviting, all dark wood, with mood lighting. Within minutes of sinking into my cozy, heated bed, Toni had me in a trance-like state in which I remained for one long hour. She expertly applied product after product; gorgeous scents drifted in the air while she administered a divine and prolonged facial massage. Afterwards my skin looked and felt amazing and I have to admit to being totally disoriented, taking me at least two attempts to find my way back to the hotel to prepare for dinner. I hadn’t been that relaxed in ages.


Image courtesy of Seaham Hall Hotel

We had pre-dinner cocktails in the Byron Bar, an opulent space with rich velvets in purples and gold, and glittering gold-plated chandeliers; here a large portrait of Byron commands attention. For a touch of light-hearted quirkiness, screenings of old black-and-white classics such as Citizen Kane and Casablanca played on the huge TV, contrasting perfectly with the surroundings.

Dinner was a playful affair taken in the lavish Blunos Sea Grill, decked in rich tones, with lots of mirrors, and teeming with interesting artifacts; this is a warm, cozy and sociable space. One can immediately tell that Culinary Director Martin Blunos (previously having two Michelin stars) doesn’t take himself too seriously – all the more evident when our starters arrived. My tender scallops, accompanied with a delicious shaved truffle, vegetable and butter sauce, were paired with the smokiest of Australian Rieslings, the d’Arenberg Stump Jump 2009. My husband, who opted for the Vodka-marinated Mackerel with a Russian potato salad, was consoled at not being eligible for a wine pairing before being presented with a generous tumbler of Stolichnaya Elit Vodka. For entrees, I couldn’t resist the delicate and sweet Spey Byron Whisky Butter Poached Lobster filled with Pease Pudding, Tomato, Ebene Caviar, and Shellfish Oil, served with a dressed salad and delicious Fat Chips. Continuing the Spey theme, my husband opted for the Spey Whiskey and Bilton-crusted venison served with Neeps (the Scottish term for swede), Brussels Sprouts, Juniper Sauce. Both came cleverly paired with a medium-bodied Fleurie Bouteille a la propriete 2010. While service was attentive, it was unrushed and made the evening feel more like an event rather than simply dinner. For dessert, I selected a wholesome British staple of plum tart and a smidgen of Chantilly cream, while my husband indulged in a selection of ginger treats and a refreshing ginger sorbet.


Image courtesy of Seaham Hall Hotel

The beauty of Seaham Hall is the warm, friendly and attentive service; the hotel is small enough for staff to know each individual guest and the staff-to-guest ratio is high. Very much the air of a private country residence, the Hall boasts a team that genuinely cares enough for you to want to come back. One couldn’t wish for a better venue for a romantic winter stay and, with Valentine’s Day just around the corner, who could resist a decadent tryst under the gaze of Byron himself?

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