As I held my cup of warm Earl Grey curled up on an arm-chair looking towards River Thames from my room, the serenity of Runnymede in Surrey wrapped me like a warm blanket. I thought to myself that very moment, “how would we define luxury today?”. Would it be the brands I consume or the stamps on my passport or a beautiful home or is it this moment to have this scenic beauty completely to myself with no hurry in the world. Luxury today is truly the quality of our time and the better the quality in the shortest time the more luxurious the experience. The time I spent at The Runnymede-On-Thames Hotel & Spa has unexpectedly grown into a moment of overall fulfillment that each one of us seek in a getaway. Be it a romantic or a getaway with the gals or even a ‘ME Time’ getaway this particular spot in Surrey where the hotel stands has a lot to offer for every kind of a holiday. I hope my experience takes you on a journey to Runnymede and the beauty that surrounds it.
Location: Do I thank the 25 barons or King John I or the unsung hero who came up with the idea to sign the Magna Carta at this spot? If not for Magna Carta, I wonder if this village would have gained such relevance and what a shame that would have been. So apart from our freedom, Magna Carta has given us all a beautiful destination to travel. The drive from Heathrow Terminal 5 and 4 to the hotel is 5 to 10 minutes but more important is its distance from the Magna Carta / JFK Memorial which is barely a 7 minute lovely walk. There is a lot more history surrounding this hotel than I had expected, Windsor Castle is a 10 minute drive from the hotel and if you are keen to go visit Eton College it takes another 10 minutes from the castle. Since I am into architecture what I found interesting are the tea rooms, homes and offices near the memorial designed by Sir Edwin Lutyen. Whether you are travelling from Europe, North America or Asia this would be an ideal first stop for a quiet getaway to wear off the jet lag and soak in the English country life before you head off to London in less than an hour. As they say in real estate world location is a gold mine.
Arrival Experience: The reason I prefer a boutique or small hotel is for the intimate and personalised experience they offer. When a small hotel welcomes you it is a pleasant departure from the ‘cookie-cutter’ format of hotels. The front desk team of Runnymede-On-Thames was more informal about the welcome and didn’t overdo it for a change. A simple smile that reaches the eyes, go hand in glove with luggage assistance and quick check-in. Welcoming jet lagged guests is the norm of most hotels hence a short conversation that fills the void between check-in time and going upstairs to your room helps. It really is that simple and they nailed it.
Rooms: A kind gentleman ushered me to the room and the room orientation was perfect with all questions answered. My rooms was a river facing one with probably a bed I would have liked to sink in all day if I had no plans. The soft furnishing was maintained in bristol fashion and every amenity was placed suitably to reach the eye and not hidden. Not just a guest but even as a hotelier I find it very annoying to find room collateral all over the room and amenities hidden so far inside furniture that it feels you’re tasked with a scavenger hunt of some sort. This hotel kept collaterals to the necessary ones relevant to a guest. The rooms had a very business hotel feel and I wondered why only to discover later that the clientele is indeed predominantly a business and conferences guests. “Astonishing ! There are corporates flying down here to do business”, I asked the marketing head who was so kind to offer a tour of the village. As it turns out the hotel is a magnet for IT companies in the vicinity for their meetings, transit stays and conferences. The only picture I could paint going by the location is a perfect spot for a holiday and now they double up as business hotel too! The bath amenities in the room are the same as the Spa – ESPA and the obviously being a spa amenity aficionado I was delighted. ESPA products are very gentle on the skin and aren’t overwhelming on the olfactory senses either. The understated feel of luxury is quite evident with ESPA. The rooms have a value as far as space is concerned and do not crowd it even in the closet area. However if you do have a river facing room as I did, you’d probably be consumed by the postcard worthy view, be it autumn, spring or summer. High on the priority list of a discerning traveller is the quality of sleep the hotel provides because hygeine points are a given and now the focus is purely on the quality of the luxury. I was jet lagged and the quality of my sleep would be the same as being cradled and woken up to a cosy autumn morning. The first thing I noticed is the bed help me sink in and then the duvet cuddles up. With that said the early mornings begin with the swans and ducks swimming over Thames, could this day get better?
Restaurants: The hotel has two restaurants, Left Bank for buffet service from breakfast to dinner and Lock Bar and Kitchen for quaint home styled lunch and dinner. After a lovely afternoon visiting the Magna Carta meadow and the Pleasure Grounds by the Thames, it was time to unwind with some British food. So I walked into the Lock Kitchen and Bar to a buzzing vibe. The feel is very intimate and rightly so, the design isn’t over the top but it feels right for a laid back evening. The hostess was well informed about my reservation and had me seated near a well lit corner by the window. The stewardess offered me the menu and as I was craving for some comfort food, I had an onion soup with some fried shrimps tempura. I was in mood for a quintessential British pie and ordered the Lock Kitchen Pie which is their version of Fisherman’s Pie. The onion soup was creamy and flavoured perfectly to soothe the nerves from a tiresome day. The fried shrimp tempura as well as the pie were generous in their portions. Shrimps were well fried retaining the flavour. The pie was the king of this dinner and quite the definition of ‘comfort food’. It was after a really long time that I was having a fisherman’s pie and welcoming reminder of this creamy wholesome meal. British pies have this innate way of reaching out to your laziness from within, they capture your taste buds and then comfort you into a lull. Not only was the pie suitable for an athlete but it wasn’t overbearing with cream and cheese to lose the taste of the ingredients. The restaurant stocks good selection of wines and if you are looking for informal setting with all elements of a great dining experience, this is the restaurant for you.
My itinerary was packed with places to visit and I needed all the energy and the leisure time I could get during my breakfast. Left Bank is the perfect spot to begin your day by the Thames, with the ducks and swans intermittently visible from the bay windows. The breakfast selection has everything a leisure and business traveller would desire to kick start their day. Overlooking the Thames is probably the best way to have breakfast made for the champions and I couldn’t have asked for a better way to start my day. Owing to a tight schedule we hardly had time to enjoy a lovely English Afternoon Tea at Left Bank but then there is a reason to come back for more.
Spa: There aren’t any second guesses to why this hotel is a hot spot for a spa getaway. It has all the ingredients for the ideal Spa retreat – picturesque views of the riverside, stone throw distance from London and Heathrow airport, serene environment and good service. The SPA has an outdoor and indoor temperature controlled swimming pool, a whirlpool, steam and sauna as well as tennis courts besides the spa treatments suites. On a girlfriend getaway I cannot imagine giving a half day at the Spa a miss. The products are all by ESPA and they have an exclusive to members spa dining room that serves as a pre or post treatment space to relax. I found the indoor swimming pool quite a sprawling space and though the spa is quite spread you don’t lose your way back.
Guest Relations: This department is usually restricted to the concierge in most hotels, however at The Runnymede-On-Thames everybody has something to heighten your experience at the hotel. I had a few logistics that required sorting and the team was quick to resolve it by reducing any waste of time or energy. They have an excellent taxi hiring service and can get you one as soon as 10 minutes if you need to be driven to Heathrow or Hatton Cross station or Windsor. The lady at guest relations was good to have conversation about the local life and the neighbouring town of Windsor. If you have no itinerary but have a day at your disposal leave it to her and she will have you visit the best and most important sites and venues. There is a mural on a wall behind the guest relations that helps you to plan your visit.
More than Magna Carta: Once I stayed at the hotel, I realised there was so much more to the spot than just Magna Carta. They have a range of boat rides you could take on the river, one of my favourite would easily be the hot tug ride and the the picture makes it self explanatory. The Olympic Class is ideal for an exclusive hire and is sheltered well from the drizzle. The tea rooms and Pleasure Grounds surely add to the time spent at Magna Carta but I would recommend you take long walks along Thames or enjoy the Saville Gardens a short distance from the hotel and let the surroundings seep into you slowly but surely. I can assure you this is not a location that can be forgotten easily and is worth a visit over the weekend not just a day trip stopover.