Heard the one about the gorgeous spa hotel with free childcare?
It's no joke! And there's a beach and cool surfer cafes on your doorstep. Pack your cozzie (and the fam), we're off to Saunton Sands Hotel.
How I haven’t heard about this award-winning Art Deco gem before, lord only knows, but now it’s firmly on my Muddy radar and, if you’ve got young kids, get it on yours quick!
It’s brilliant for overworked and under-pampered mummas as a break here comes with 2-hours free childcare a day and 45 minutes of spa-time for you. And that’s not the half of it.
Saunton Sands Hotel is on the North Devon coast between the village of Braunton and surfer-dude Croyde. I’m spoilt as I live on the coast but that 3-mile sweep of soft golden sands and wild drama took my breath away, as did the Tolkein-esque dunes of Braunton Burrows behind. You don’t see panoramas like that every day – with Westward Ho! and Clovelly just visible on the horizon – even when you’re jammy enough to live in Devon.
Part of the Brend Hotels group, this 74-bedroom hotel is large and spacious with 2 living suites and 11 apartments. It’s spread out over various levels with sea-facing lounges on the lowest deck along with a well-stocked bar and two restaurants – both formal and informal. There’s a games room for kids, a playroom and – the jewel in the crown – a new ocean-inspired spa.
It channels the heyday of the 1930s cruise liner, with beamy lounges and touches of glamour in faux pillars, glittering mirrors and chandeliers. It’s not your intimate hotel with cosy nooks and fires, this feels much more grand. I guess it has to be to compete with those vast Atlantic views.
I found a wall of beautiful old black and white 1930s photos taken when the lady-look de jour was floral, frumpy and cross – and usually scoffing a cream tea. They’re totally charming, connecting you to the vibe through the decades.
Source Spa & Wellness raises it above being just another really good coast hotel – brand-new and big, decorated in tasteful whites and seaside pastels, and spread over three levels. With your booking you get a 45 minute allocated slot – and a fluffy towelling robe waiting on your bed for you – in The Thermal Suite each day, so it never feels too busy.
On the ground floor is Source Active: clock the large indoor pool on your way in where the kids can have a splash at set times, then you’re taken straight through to the Thermasuite for your spa time.
They describe it as a Thermal Journey which takes you from a hot vitality pool full of mineral salts, between showers and drinks of cold water, to a sauna and a steam room. The science is that alternating between hot and cold increases white blood cells and flushes toxins from the skin (so all the more room for nice new toxins from the bar later), while improving circulation and boosting your immune system. As you can see, it took years off me.
The wow moment is sitting in the foam of the vitality pool, enjoying a good old blubber-bashing from the jets while looking down on the waves and white horses. It was as hot as a bath, and I could have stayed in there all afternoon, but with others guests coming in for their slot every 15 minutes or so, it was in for a cool douse from the shower and then into a herb-scented steam room and sauna, where you can sit and gently sweat to the sound of Zen music and tweeting birds.
If you’re brave, you can finish by patting yourself down with handfuls of crushed ice, or ramming it down your partner’s trunks when his back is turned *points to other spa guest*.
Source Relax on level 2 is all about beautifying: nine treatment rooms and its own range of bespoke products as well as Kerstin Florian, iS Clinical and Jessica nails. Here are all the usual suspects of facials, massages and manis you’d expect, plus mum-to-be pampers, men’s grooming and up-to-the minute LED and Fire & Ice facials so you can leave with baby-soft skin.
Source Chill at the top is for chilling: a relaxation room adjoining a rooftop sun deck where you can read, daydream or snooze to the sound of mesmeric music and the boom of the waves. There is a drinks menu and a phone to order (herb tea or alcohol for the hardcore). It’s like being in the pages of an interiors mag, contemporary and kitted out in the calming colours of pebbles and waves.
I had to leave before I started snoring and scaring the other guests. You really feel it’s doing you some good.
SCOFF AND QUAFF
The mantra here is healthy hedonism so there’s zero guilt about doing a dash from spa-to-bar. Pre-dinner drinks are a gargantuan choice of twenty wines by the glass and 16 cocktails, and Mr M was pleased to see Estrella on tap.
Dining is either in the informal Terrace Lounge or a palatial double AA star dining room with linen tablecloths and more wowser views. It’s high-end but not self-conscious, and does a great job of making a big space feel intimate. Waiters are solicitous and service is fast, but no-one is fussing round with cloths over their forearm.
For starters I had a salmon rillette full of healthy Nordic flavours, fresh herbs and slices of pickled gherkin pitched just right for a spa break.
He had a deliciously creamy celeriac soup and that blob at one o’clock was a cheesy crouton, cooked Welsh rarebit-style to bring the subtle root veg flavour to life.
Mains for me was oh-so moist chicken breast sitting on a saucy bean fricassee, with a side of greens perked up with chilli flavours.
Across the linen was a chunky steak from Exmoor, which came with a choice of peppery and other sauces, and a cup of fries – refreshingly informal for the setting. It looks simple but it was the best steak I’ve tasted in a long time.
We were going to pass on dessert but couldn’t resist the build your own ice-cream Sundae. They were so good it almost made me feel guilty I hadn’t brought the kids (almost).
Not all the rooms have sea-views, but whether that matters depends on how much time you want to spend in there with so much to do around. Our deluxe sea-facing room came with a very comfortable kingsize, and sliding doors out onto a slim balcony with a large marble-clad bathroom. And a big tick for the complimentary mini-bar.
When our receptionist checked us in she asked loads of solicitous questions about our needs but didn’t tell us anything about the hotel, and there was no info pack in the room. Not being very techy it wasn’t till the next day I saw the sign, telling you it’s all on the LCD TV (with Sky Sports and Freeview). Very useful it is too, with info about the spa and what’s on – in the hotel and nearby.
Saunton Sands won Condé Nast Best for Families Award 2017 thanks to a brilliant curated range of laid-on family ents during the summer hols, a playroom with 2 free hours of supervised childcare each day (from 6 weeks to 11 years old), baby listening and babysitters available.
Then there are two pools and the natural playground of beach and World Heritage Biosphere dunes. Come in the summer hols and they throw in a family surfing lesson, put on archery and falconry displays, and there is a kids tea from 12.30 to 6.30 though kids aren’t allowed in bar areas. They really deserve that award.
OUT & ABOUT
It’s a natural playground alright. It’s just a few minutes walk downhill to the beach, where you’ll find the Beachside Grill for a flat white or a burger lunch.
Don your walking boots and hike the south west coast path, paddle and body-board, go for a hack along the beach, play tennis, hire bikes and hit the Tarka Trail, take the three-mile boat trip to Lundy, try your hand at saltwater fishing or toodle around the nearby villages of Braunton and Croyde. Croyde has been coolified by the London surfer crowd and there are two golf courses at Saunton and Westwards Ho!, and a little putting green next to the hotel. If you’re in search of good coffee head to Braunton’s newest cafe, Heart Break Hotel Coffee – an urban, peeled back affair, and don’t miss the cool hand-made jewellery in Wanderlust Life, a Muddy fave.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: fans of sandy toes and salty kisses; exhausted parents; beach buffs, surfers and body-boarders; families with a low boredom factor; landlubbers who want the cruise without the norovirus/claustrophobia/fear of drowning.
Not for: fans of boutique hotels, cityphiles and hydrophobes.
The damage: The Sunday Source Spa Break starts at £160 per person for an inland room. Our deluxe sea-facing room with balcony cost £176 per person including breakfast, 45 minutes spa time.
Saunton Sands Hotel & Spa, Saunton Rd, Braunton EX33 1LQ. Tel 01271 890212