From the marital home of the fabulously decadent Lord Byron, to providing bootleg booze to Al Capone, and a slightly less glamorous chapter as a TB hospital – if only Seaham Hall’s walls could talk.
It’s a rich and chequered history that’s woven through the fabric of this Georgian country house turned 5* hotel. Dine in Byron’s restaurant, for example, and the charismatic romantic eponymous poet himself looms large in a grand portrait bedecked in striking Albanian dress.
Or, ask if you can take a tour of the wine cellar, to learn more about the site’s connection to Spey whisky, a link which saw it used as a base to smuggle whisky onto waiting ships at the nearby Seaham Harbour bound for prohibition-era New York and Chicago, where customers are thought to have included infamous gangster Al Capone.
Even a connecting corridor to the adjacent Serenity Spa, with its palatial columns and well, can be traced back to the site’s history as a hospital.
It all helps to imbue this boutique hotel with a rich sense of history and romance, one you just don’t get in more recently-built hotels.
It’s a character that flows through the hotel’s rooms and suites, which have been redecorated as part of a £3million renovation project.
As well as the creation of an Ada Lovelace suite – named after the daughter of Lord Byron and Annabella Milbanke – a revolutionary figure who became the world’s first computer programmer, the investment has also seen the arrival of a coastal suite and an eco-friendly garden suite, complete with its own hot tub.
On a cold winter’s day, we were given a more than warm welcome with an overnight stay in one of the executive suites. Lord Byron was there. This time in the form of a less flamboyant black and white portrait in the living room where he was joined by more contemporary artworks.
There’s bold splashes of colour in the suite, including an ocean blue headboard featuring a flock of bird motifs, but it all blends together seamlessly to help the hotel win plaudits for its boutique feel. And then there’s the views: our room’s period windows looked on to the site’s neatly-manicured 37 acres.
Rather than just a place to rest a weary head, the venue is an experience in itself and you could quite happily spend a weekend here without leaving those sprawling grounds.
Rooms come with robes so there’s no excuse not to give the Serenity Spa try – leave your phone in your suite, you won’t want to be disturbed.
An underground walkway, complete with babbling water features, a Buddha, and the hotel’s now trademark elephant sculpture, transports you to the Thai-themed spa, complete with Feng Shui design.
In keeping with the name, it’s all very serene, and it’s hard to believe you’re only a short drive from the A19, and an even shorter walk into Seaham town centre.
The spa is an attraction and destination in itself, and it’s easy to see why. However, hotel guests have the added bonus of having access to the facilities, which include a 20-metre pool, steam room, sauna, gym, hydrotherapy pool, outdoor hot tubs and more, for free.
Treatments cost extra and we’d booked ours in advance.
With a job that involves me being hunched in front of a computer all day, a full body massage was just what the doctor ordered.
The treatment rooms are a peaceful underground haven downstairs from the spa with sliding screen doors, teak decor and other Far East-inspired touches. An hour-long treatment using Ytsara products, which are 100% natural, the massage was a blissful way to slough off the stresses.
Feeling utterly relaxed and rejuvenated, we headed back to our room to get ready for dinner.
If there’s a finer dining room in the North East, I’ve certainly not come across it yet – Byron’s boasts a stunning room. With its sparkling 14-carat gold-plated chandeliers, plush velvet chairs and black and white granite tables, complete with stylish pewter bar, it’s a restaurant that wouldn’t look out of place in a swanky venue in New York’s Upper East Side. It’s unadulterated opulence. The service is equally as slick with the staff striking the right balance between attentive and not too in-your-face.
As you’d expect from a restaurant of this ilk, there’s a tasting menu, but there’s also an a la carte option, which is more reasonable than I expected at £45 for three courses.
After an appetiser of snacks, I had the wagyu beef tartare with kale, pickled oyster mushroom and burnt cream. The meat was beautifully silky while the kale added some crunch, balanced by the smoothness of the cream.
Mains, meanwhile, came in the form of a monkfish with ramson, potato mousse and truffle, a light dish which was given a rich edge thanks to the truffle. We were stuffed, but who can say no to cheese? Especially a selection of artisan cheeses with home-made plum chutney.
We washed it down with a bottle from the restaurant’s extensive wine collection. Make sure to ask where it’s stored.
The aforementioned wine cellar is a must see, with the staff more than pleased to talk you through the history of the room, including the entrance to the tunnel where bootleg booze was once secretly transported to the shore.
With its tales to tell of sailors, female revolutionaries and late 18th century opulence, Seaham Hall is like a Byron poem in itself.