Sunsets, spas and summits – MAXINE GORDON enjoys a weekend break in the Lakes

GOING away for the weekend with girlfriends is a real treat.

We had a 48-hour pass from our work and domestic duties – yet, over dinner, we ended up plotting how to get family members to do more household chores.

That's sisterhood for you!

But it was also a result of being so fabulously spoilt and relaxed during our short break in Cumbria – we wanted to hold on to that feeling on our return and get family members to lighten the load.

We left York on a sunny morning in November and two hours later were checking into the North Lakes Hotel & Spa at Penrith.

Eager to make the most of the unseasonally bright weather, we headed straight out in search of some summits.

The nearest, according to the helpful receptionist, was Beacon Hill, reached after a short walk through town. Within half an hour, we were scaling a steep residential road lined with smart red-brick Victorian houses, on our way to the tree-covered mount.

Autumn days did not come more perfect. The blue sky was cloudless and beams from the low sun fractured like giant shards of glass through the tall trees in the woodland. The mulch of fallen leaves was soft underfoot. Within the hour, we had reached the top of the hill, evident by the local landmark, Penrith Beacon, a brick tower with a distinctive pointed top. It was built in 1719 at a place where beacons had been lit in times of war and emergency since the time of Henry VIII.

On a clear day, the view is said to be stunning – overlooking the Eden Valley and the Lakeland hills. Unfortunately for us, the sun was so dazzling it cast the vista in a milky haze that spoilt the outlook.

Back at the hotel, we headed straight for the spa to enjoy a swim in the pool, a dip in the hot tub, and visit to the steam room. We felt refreshed and relaxed, we headed back to our room for a fix of Strictly while we dressed for dinner.

The hotel is a prime example of why not to judge a book by its cover. Its grey pebbledash exterior and small windows gives the appearance of a low-key motel. But after a modern makeover and the addition of a barn-sized bar and restaurant area as well as the spa, this is a hotel with its focus firmly in the 21st century. We loved it; from the creative decor to the comfy beds; the coffee machine and Smeg fridge in the room to the super-soft robes for the on-site spa, and the food was top-notch too. The restaurant has an open fire on which steaks and kebabs are cooked. Breakfast was an all-you-can eat buffet affair and could not be faulted.

On Sunday morning, it was back to the spa, this time for treatments. Products by French beauty brand Caudalie are used here and I signed up for the Caudalie Ultimate Face & Body Experience (£110), two hours of pampering, which included a cranial scalp massage that promised to deliver the "ultimate tranquility". The therapist began by awakening my skin by brushing it rather vigorously followed by exfoliation. A quick shower made everything squeaky clean again, then it was back on the bed for a full-body massage using warm oils and a heated bamboo stick, which helped apply pressure to those troublesome areas across my back and shoulders. After being thoroughly pummelled, it was time for some deep relaxation as my face was cleansed, exfoliated, and massaged with a range of Caudalie products. The scalp massage lived up to the billing, almost sending me to sleep. Luckily, I was able to "come to" in the relaxation area, where I was served herbal tea and joined my friends, who each declared their facials and massages "excellent" and among the best they'd had.

We were blessed by another perfect autumn day and were determined to make the most of it. The hotel is a perfect base for exploring this corner of the Lake District – within 15 minutes we were parking on the edge of Ullswater in search of another hill to climb. After a couple of hours rambling, we headed back to the lakeside to catch a magnificent sunset; the flare of the sun sinking into hills on the far side of the water transformed Ullswater into a magical mirror. The scene was worthy of a painting. And as is the way these days, we all took photos and put them on Facebook.

Travelling back to York, our chatter was all about a return to the Lakes – and to the perfect hotel we'd discovered at Penrith. And how to get the family to do more chores!

North Lakes Hotel & Spa

Ullswater Road, Cumbria, CA11 8QT