FEW things in life make you feel more alive than dipping into a freezing-cold open-water pool.

It was a chilly February afternoon and as I descended the ladder into the dark, still, water I needed the resolve of an Olympian athlete to keep going.

I could feel my skin tightening and my breath shortening the deeper I ventured. Plunging in, I managed two or three desperate breaststrokes, spluttering and splashing like a novice swimmer, before turning round and making for the ladder and a speedy exit. The water was advertised at being around five degrees Celsius. Brrr....

Back on land, my skin had turned rosy-pink and began to prickle, as if an electric current was running through it.

It felt fantastic!

Which was, of course, the whole point.

I'd come to the new Yorkshire Spa Retreat for an overnight break to review how the £4.5m venture was shaping up.

I had high expectations after writing several stories about the spa retreat last year and visiting its Dome restaurant in December for Sunday lunch.

The lunch was great - and you can read my review here - but I remember gazing through the restaurant window to where the wild outdoor swim pond was to be - and seeing a bed of mud.

My overriding question was: would it all be ready to open on time?

Well I needn't have worried. Our 24-hour visit in the middle of February was faultless.

The retreat has been named well, because as you turn off the country road, three miles from Helmsley - and about a 45-minutes' drive from York - you do feel like you have turned off from all the hustle and bustle of everyday life.


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The retreat takes the form of a series of luxury lodges - many with outdoor hot-tubs and barbecue kitchens - set in a round with the Dome restaurant and the spa buildings, including the outdoor pool, giant hot-tub and relaxation areas, in the middle.

The lodges look like home from homes, but we weren't in a lodge. We had bagged the one and only 'shepherd's hut' - a cute and cosy mini lodge where compact was the word. Inside, it was fitted like a posh caravan or mobile home, with kitchen, including fridge, microwave and dishwasher.

York Press: Home for the night - the Shepherd's Hut at the Yorkshire Spa RetreatHome for the night - the Shepherd's Hut at the Yorkshire Spa Retreat

There was a breakfast bar with two stools and a separate shower room with loo. The bed was tucked away at one end, taking up the whole width of the hut, with a giant smart TV on the wall at its foot.

Outside, on the decking, was a hot-tub, and to the side an open kitchen.

But before we could investigate further, we had a spa booking.

It was a grey, chilly day, so working our way round the heated rooms of the spa was a real boost for the spirits.

There are three thermal chambers to visit - all housed in wooden outhouses by the side of the wild swim pond. We started gently, in the herbal lounge, pleasantly warm, where we lazed on the heated, curved, slotted-wood and looked out over the pond.

York Press: Inside the herbal lounge thermal experience at The Yorkshire Spa RetreatInside the herbal lounge thermal experience at The Yorkshire Spa Retreat

Warming up, we notched the temperature up further by taking in the Himalayan salt sauna, and then the even hotter herbal steam room.

There were outdoor showers which we used to cool down as we moved between each thermal experience - and before settling in the large open-air hot-tub which had a range of powerful jets to massage the aches and pains away.

But not all of them.

That was left to our massage therapists who took us into the double treatment room for an hour-long hot rocks treatment (£125). This was heavenly. Cocooned in heavy, soft, towels and blankets and on a heated bed, the therapist expertly carried out a full-body massage, exposing each limb to the elements in rotation and smothering them in a warm, scented, oil before ironing out knots with a smooth, hot stone.

The blissful relaxation continued in the lounge area, where we lay on giant sofas, under blankets. Some guests were snoozing, others reading books and magazines, and you could order drinks here - including Champagne!

We didn't want to get too comfy as we had another experience to tick off before our dinner reservation at the Dome - our own personal hot-tub.

Back at the hut, we poured ourselves a (plastic) glass of fizz - which had been part of the welcome pack on arrival - and sank into the warm, bubbling waters.

Could this day get any better?

Well yes - dinner was next. We had a lovely table which, through floor-to-ceiling glass doors, looked on to the swim pond. It looked magical under its night lights.

Deep-fired calamari (£7.95) can be a risky choice as it can be rubbery, but this was so light and soft, we even asked for the chef's secret (we didn't find out!). The beetroot and goat's cheese tart (£10) was another winner with bonus points for the super-fine pastry casing.

York Press: Beetroot tart at The Dome restaurant at the Yorkshire Spa RetreatBeetroot tart at The Dome restaurant at the Yorkshire Spa Retreat

Main courses were tasty too - pieces of succulent chicken with creamy potatoes croquettes, sauteed mushrooms and a rich peppercorn sauce (£17), and a perfectly cooked piece of pan-fried salmon in a light mussel sauce with some seasonal veggies (£22). We finished by sharing a very indulgent warm chocolate brownie with vanilla ice-cream (£8).

Full to bursting, we headed home - literally a stroll across the road - and rolled into bed, flicked on Netflix (using our own log-in) and fell asleep while watching some instantly forgettable movie.

Luckily, everything else about our trip was memorable and we left vowing to come back for more.

Fact file

Find out more about the Yorkshire Spa Retreat at: www.yorkshire-spa-retreat.co.uk

Guests can book to stay in a lodge and/or arrange for a day visit to the spa with a range of packages and treatments available.

The Dome restaurant is open Tuesday to Saturday, noon to 11pm, and Sundays from noon to 4pm. Closed Mondays.