Like a scene in a painting the Mere Golf Resort and Spa stands majestically by a lake, one side of the building covered in ivy and the other dominated by golf caddies.
Entering via a red-bricked Victorian archway, The Mere resort stretches across acres of countryside, featuring an 18-hole championship golf course and spa. Mere lake has to be the most dominate feature of the place, attracting wildlife and twinkling reflections on a summers day, creating a picture perfect view in one of the 81 guest rooms.
Mere itself can be dated back to 1086, and even features in The Domesday Book. The hotel has overcome many hardships, including a horrific fire in 1973, despite this the building was saved and purchased by the late Stephen Boler in 1984.
Mark Boler, took over ownership from his father in 1998, and was joined by Gary Corbett, who both jointly transformed The Mere from a country club to a health club and spa. Accommodation wasn't added to the site until 2010, and then the health club and spa was unveiled in 2011 by Sir Alex Ferguson, with a final opening in 2012.
Many changes have occurred over the years but a lot of its historic features and charm from the previous country club days remain. The Victorian archway entrance accentuates grandeur, wealth and privacy while the grounds themselves boast a taste of the peaceful lifestyle.
Just a 40 minute drive from Manchester city centre, and Chester, The Mere resort is close to the popular tourist spot of Tatton Park and is five minutes from the M6 motorway, while Knutsford town centre can be reached after a 10-minute drive. I found the estate easy to find from the motorway and was impressed driving through the archway, and along the short road leading to the entrance and car park.
The layout is a little confusing at first as the spa/health club sits on the left hand side of the car park, while the entrance and main building sits on the right. The car park is placed in the middle of the two and also loops around the back of the main building. To first-time visitors the entrance can be a little hidden from the cars parked near to the front of the building.
Nevertheless I found my way to the entrance and was greeted by a friendly member of staff who offered to take my bag. By this point my friend had joined me and we checked in together at reception, which was large and centred around a glass windowed ceiling, which let fantastic light in on this particularly sunny day.
The reception and lounge area also houses the Browns restaurant where we would be eating later that day. We arrived at 3pm for check-in to our room and were handed our key cards, along with information on how to get to our rooms and the spa.
The receptionist asked us if we would be using the spa facilities, which of course we couldn't wait to use! She informed us that there would be a children's swim time from 4pm to 6pm and we were a little taken aback by this.
Usually spas are adults-only and with the check-in time being the standard 3pm I would have thought if children had access, then it would have been earlier in the day when the majority of guests wouldn't be checking in and wanting to use the spa straight away? We had dinner booked at 7pm so we had little choice other than to use it during the children's swim time.
The receptionist was kind enough to ring the spa to check how busy it was but the whole situation made me feel a little uncomfortable. I didn't want to feel that children couldn't enjoy these things, because of course, they can, but when you're coming to a spa you expect to be in an adult-only environment which is aimed to be relaxing, especially for parents who want to get away from the kids for a weekend.
In saying that the spa is a good size and we were able to find a sitting area that wasn't dominated by excitable children. The spa does warn guests that they welcome children at certain times during the day on its website but doesn't go into detail about what those times are, and if they are at peak check-in times then it may put a lot of people off.
We enjoyed the jacuzzi and the spa thermal rooms. Their luxury thermal zone including the Hamman, Caldarium, aroma and steam room were my favourite facilities. I particularly enjoyed the salt room and found the Caldarium room peaceful too, the calming music helped. The spa also featured a heated pool and outdoor terrace with further loungers.
In terms of our accommodation we were given the Harold Cluff Queen suite for our stay, which was a pleasant surprise. The room was absolutely beautiful and offered one of the best views of the whole complex.
The room overlooked Mere Lake, and the large balcony featured a bistro dining set which we used later that evening for a glass of wine, and a peer out over the lake. It was stunning.
The balcony was the main attraction of the room for me, simply because of the view it offered. It honestly felt like I was abroad at one point, helped by the sunshine that day.
The only thing that let it down slightly, but I didn't mind too much, was the occasional plane in the sky which was quite low due to the area being in the Manchester Airport flight path. This might put some people off but it didn't bother me though, and it didn't seem to bother the golfers concentrating as they teed off.
Inside the Queen suite was a large living room, with a corner velvet sofa, TV, tea making facilities and a dresser. Adjoining that was a large bedroom which featured a super-king-sized bed, wardrobe with bathrobes and slippers, another TV, and a Nespresso machine.
Joining onto this was a bathroom that was nearly the same size as the lounge, and featured a large bath, walk-in shower as well as complimentary Molton Brown bath products. The suite also included a free movie package which kept us entertained after our meal.
Dinner at the Browns restaurant was an experience. We had a £35 dinner allowance and I chose three courses. Browns restaurant sits at the heart of The Mere, and is named after Max Brown, who became legendary at The Mere for his magnetic charm and innate passion for exemplary service.
Open to non-residents also, the atmosphere is one of calm, serenity. There's also a hint of aromatherapy oils in the air as you take your sear. The whole atmosphere feels very clean and calming.
The restaurant has two AA rosettes, and has a “Nature to plate” philosophy ensuring they use only the freshest seasonal ingredients, simply prepared and without too much fuss. The staff were exceptional.
For my starter I chose the terrine of smoked salmon, avocado puree, lemon and Devonshire crab salad for £12, as recommended by our server. The smoked salmon was wonderfully fresh and I loved the little bursts of lemon from the puree balls, the avocado also gave it an earther edge which you needed with the sweetness of the lemon.
The only thing that let it down was the salmon style mouse in-between the pieces of fish, it had a margarine texture which didn't sit well in the mouth after a couple of mouthfuls.
I stuck with a fish theme for my main course and chose the pan fried sea bass, creamed potato and celeriac, samphire, sea lettuce, bouillabaisse reduction, shellfish and fresh dill. This cost £24. The sea bass was cooked beautifully and the skin was just the right amount of 'crispy' without being too burnt.
The fish was meaty and flaky, and the reduction everything was sitting in was rich in flavour. A winner over the starter. To follow for dessert, I opted for a lighter choice, the berry Eton mess. The fresh fruits were the right amount of tang when matched with the creamy méringue. It didn't overfill me either which was what I was after.
Overall my stay at The Mere Golf Resort & Spa was a much-needed, restful break. The food really brought up the standards of the stay. The spa facilities were good, but I felt let down by the timings of the children's swim. If I was to come again I would make sure I use the spa during a time when it's a little quieter, and I would definitely be getting the Queen suite once more.