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Haven of luxury
Natalya Wilson takes the pace down a notch at one of Newcastle's plushest hotels.
THINK of Newcastle and gaggles of girlies or stag dos partying in the Bigg Market and on the Quayside spring to mind.
Yet when it comes to getting away from it all, Jesmond Dene House, situated a short distance from the city centre, is a haven of luxury, peace and quiet.
Designed as a Georgian townhouse by John Dobson the architect responsible for many of Newcastle's handsome streets, including Grey Street and Grainger Street and later owned and extended by Captain (later Sir) Andrew Noble, the house has been a college, seminary, civil defence establishment and residential school, before undergoing an 18 month, £7 million conversion, opening as a hotel last year.
The latest venture of Michelin-starred chef Terence Laybourne, who co-owns the hotel, it was described to me by one of the mangers as "a restaurant with rooms", which is re-iterated in the literature, although this doesn't do it justice.
Overlooking the leafy wooded Jesmond Dene, the house is in two acres of gardens, where herbs are grown for use in the kitchen. There are 40 bedrooms, of which The Apartment and suites (some of which have their own private garden) are particularly stunning. All rooms are individually designed in keeping with the arts and crafts-style architecture.
On arrival, we were in awe of the grandness of the place, but the staff working on reception were friendly and helpful in that typical warm Geordie manner, which put us at ease immediately.
The house retains many original features including plaster ceilings, wooden panelling and impressive tiled fireplaces, yet the modern touches sit elegantly within the original house, with fabulous contemporary furniture, artwork, wallpaper and hangings, creating a sense of harmony.
Our room, at the rear of the house, had a huge bed made up with Egyptian cotton linen and a bay window which overlooked the Dene and Ousebarn river, and we found it peaceful to sit and read the paper, watch a DVD or listen to the digital radio in the recess.
Decorated in shades of charcoal and deep red, like every room it had a feature wall with Japanese-style wallpaper, which reflected the trees that rustled outside the window. Tucked away in the wardrobes was the obligatory, yet reasonably priced, mini-bar, plus ironing board and iron, and whiter-than-white robes neatly folded into individual laundry bags.
The large tiled bathroom contained a walk-in shower and sunken roll-top bath, with handmade products from the Isle of Arran again, a touch of luxury.
The duty manager who took me on a tour mentioned that rooms can be chosen based on a client's booking details. So if a woman is staying (and let's face it, us ladies all like to relax in a bath of bubbles), they will try to make sure they have a room with a bath, as not all rooms have one a personal touch that was reflected throughout the hotel.
The hotel also features a magnificent panelled banqueting hall, complete with minstrel's gallery perfect for a wedding or other celebration dinner private dining room and bar, a billiards room (with no billiard table, but ideal for relaxing with a drink and paper or magazine) and a bar with comfy sofas.
The restaurant is one of the main features of the hotel. It is not enormous, which adds to the intimate ambience, and the garden room extension is a lovely place to sit and enjoy breakfast or dinner, overlooking the terrace (a sun-trap on a sunny afternoon) and the Dene.
The dcor is sumptuous and the touches of luxury are notable (white cotton table clothes are replaced after each meal is finished), but the food really is out of this world.
Breakfast was impressive. As well as the usual cooked or continental options, alternatives included a Northumberland cheese and spinach souffl and kippers.
As a vegetarian, the souffl impressed me. It's a confident chef who includes souffl on any menu, never mind a breakfast one, and I was not disappointed. My other half was equally impressed with the full English breakfast and kippers.
We dined at the hotel on the Saturday night (having taken the short Metro journey into Newcastle the previous evening to check out what the city had to offer), and were impressed by the outstanding food which took on a seasonal, regional slant as well as with the staff.
Jesmond itself has much to offer there's a Sunday morning art market in Jesmond Dene and a variety of boutique-style shops. If brighter lights are calling, the city centre is only a five-minute drive away. And what better way to enjoy the madcap mayhem of Newcastle than having a luxurious and peaceful place from which to base yourself.
- Jesmond Dene House, Jesmond Dene Road, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, NE2 2EY. Phone 0191 212 3000 or visit www.jesmonddenehouse.co.uk