With its alpine-style lakes, mountain views and rolling hills, the Lake District is a honeypot for spa hotels. But if you really want to kick back in style, the name to know is Gilpin: a true haven of relaxation set just a few miles from Windermere. Part of the Relais & Chateaux group, the family-owned venture is made up of two parts set around a mile from one another: the main hotel, and the Lake House – each of which have their own unique charm. C&TH’s Ellie Smith experienced the magic of both on a recent trip to Cumbria, escaping the hustle and bustle of London for a wholesome January reset.
The Gilpin story began in 1987, when John and Christine Cunliffe bought John’s grandmother’s Lake District estate, which then stood as a humble B&B. Over the next few years, the pair transformed it into a luxurious hotel – and ever since, it has remained a family-owned and run business. These days it’s headed up by John and Christine’s son, Barney, alongside his wife Zoë – a cheerful couple who instil a laid-back, friendly atmosphere throughout the team, some of whom have been there for over 30 years.
Gilpin Hotel is set amid 21 acres of gardens, moors and woodland, where resident llamas, alpacas and micro pigs roam. There are 30 bedrooms in total, ranging from classic rooms in the main house to detached lodges dotted around the grounds. In the top tier are five incredible spa suites, which are a real USP for the hotel, set back from the main house and offering total privacy.
We were lucky to experience one of these, and were truly wowed. Spanning 100 square metres, these have an indoor-outdoor vibe: each has a bedroom overlooking a private pond, with floor-to-ceiling windows creating the feeling that you’re floating on water. There’s a perfectly cosy, plant-filled indoor lounge area complete with a hanging fire, a huge stone circular bath, and a double rainfall shower, all of which leads out onto a private decking area with an outdoor hot tub. The pièce de résistance? Your very own spa room, complete with a sauna, steam room, massage chair and infrared bed, which is decked out with Pure Lakes products. It’s an Instagrammer’s dream.
The Lake House is even more remote, set across 100 acres of grounds on the banks of Knipe Tarn lake. With just six rooms, it has the feel of a country house – though with the service and amenities of a luxury hotel. You’ll be more than looked after by the lovely Chrissie and team, who go out of their way to make your stay smooth, tailoring it to your needs and whims. All bedrooms are open plan and spacious, some overlooking the lake, others looking out into the countryside.
There are three different restaurants at Gilpin – two in the main hotel, and one in the Lake House. For a fine dining experience, head to the Michelin-starred HRiSHi (soon to be renamed SOURCE), a four AA rosette restaurant headed up by Ollie Bridgwater, who hails from Heston Blumenthal’s The Fat Duck, bringing with him a wealth of culinary wizardry learnt at the iconic restaurant. The Lake District is famous for its abundance of great produce, which is certainly put to good use here, with a refined tasting menu focused around seasonality and locality. We enjoyed innovative, unique dishes like spicy mushroom brioche with Kashmiri chilli paste, charcoal roasted cauliflower served with puffed rice salad and black garlic ketchup, and a melt-in-the-mouth beef fillet, cooked to perfection and drizzled tableside with a red wine truffle sauce.
For Asian food, meanwhile, head to Gilpin Spice, which serves pan-Asian dishes inspired by countries along the spice trail: the Philippines, India, Malaysia, Japan and China. This is a very popular spot which attracts hotel guests, locals and visitors alike, and is buzzing every night of the week, with an open kitchen and vibrant interiors. Head chef Aakash Ohol and his kitchen team cook up punchy dishes which are designed to be shared, and offer a gastronomic tour around Asia. Begin with small plates of stir-fried chilli paneer, bitesize lamb kebabs and crispy duck salad ahead of mains like chicken Hyderbadi curry, and nori seaweed wrapped cod – or go for one of the meat, fish or veggie platters. Find some space at the end for the spiced Jamaican ginger pudding, which comes topped with rum butterscotch, caramelised hazelnuts and banana ice cream.
Over at the Lake House sits Knipe Grill, a restaurant overlooking the lake which focuses on cooking with charcoal and different woods. Welsh-born head chef Tom ‘Westy’ Westerland aims to bring a fun, nostalgic feel to the menu here: starters include tiger bread served with Branston Pickle butter and cheddar (think the grown up cousin of a cheese and pickle sandwich), alongside Kentucky fried pheasant, a rural play on the fast food snack. From the ‘coals’ section you have dishes like ‘A Cheeky Bit of Beef’, best enjoyed with sides of potato rosti and truffle mac ‘n’ cheese. It’s worth visiting all three restaurants if you can – the hotel organises complimentary taxis between the two estates.
Relaxation is the order of the day at Gilpin. Zoë tells us many guests arrive with big plans of hikes and exploring, but end up barely leaving the hotel – and really, why would you? Particularly so if you’re residing in one of the spa suites, which have everything you could ever want and need from a weekend away.
Begin your day with breakfast in bed – room service can be ordered via the Gilpin app – before mooching outside for a dip in the tub, followed by an R&R session. The state-of-the-art Japanese massage chair feels scarily like human hands and really gets into tight knots (we loved the ‘weightless’ setting) – though if you prefer a real person, in-room treatments can be arranged. Then, in the afternoon, snuggle up on the sofa with a good book – or catch up on the latest Netflix shows. For the ultimate hedonistic experience, adjust the TV so you can watch from the bath, drink in hand.
Over at the Lake House, spa facilities are shared between hotel guests – but everything can be booked out privately, and a lot of the time you can expect to roam about without seeing anyone. There are two outdoor hot tubs and a small spa lodge for treatments, plus an indoor pool and sauna – all of which have a more rustic, natural vibe in comparison to the ultra-modern suites at the main hotel. The Lake House grounds are also perfect for outdoorsy activities such as walks, rowing and dips in the lake, and there’s a lounge and bar area where you can curl up by the fireplace. Be sure to spend a lazy afternoon in the lakeside cabin too, the epitome of cosiness decked out with rugs, sofas, fairy lights and magazines.
It is worth dragging yourself away, though, for a walk around the beautiful Lake District landscape – the hotel offers handy route cards which vary from big hikes to shorter one and two hour ambles. If you have a car, there are plenty of attractions nearby, such as Beatrix Potter’s house, and Wordsworth’s Dove Cottage at Grasmere. The pretty towns of Windermere and Bowness are also a short drive away, though be warned they get very busy in the summer months.
THE FINAL WORD
To sum up Gilpin in a word? Bliss. This is a place of utter tranquillity, where you’ll leave feeling revitalised (and seriously well-fed). It’s best-suited to couples or honeymooners looking for a secluded, romantic retreat, and can be visited year-round. The spa suites really feel like the height of luxury – but it’s the warm and welcoming team that will have you planning your next trip before you’ve left the grounds.
Spa suites from £670 per night, classic bedrooms from £220 per night (both in winter). thegilpin.co.uk