Intense winds shook the maple tree mere feet from the dock of the tarn and buffeted the side of Gilpin Lake House during my escape from Paris. No matter what, I was prepared to make thorough use of the getaway and reveled in the property’s perfect conditions for peaceful idleness.
Every few moments, slivers of sunshine poked hesitantly through the smoke-colored clouds, illuminating the water. I sat rapt, watching the storm start and stop, intensify and abate from the incredible comfort of the Lake House living room, teacup in hand.
By the tail end of the storm, I understood that the inconsistency of northern English weather does nothing to detract from Gilpin’s role as a lush and relaxing home-away-from-home. No downpour could take away from the joy in a stay that allows your mind to wander freely and puts you in the mental space to guiltlessly sleep in late and while away the day catching up on that stack of books you hadn’t found the time to crack open.
A family-run property, Gilpin has been a steady anchor in the majestic, mountainous English Lake District — a UNESCO Heritage Site since 2017 — for thirty years. The journey began with a hotel set up in co-owner John Cunliffe’s grandmother’s former private home. In 2010, John and his wife Christine opened the Lake House as a second guest property, after generations as a family heirloom. Later, the couple opened the Jetty Spa, perched 3 meters above ground into the canopy of trees in a separate lodge that feels like a luxurious, adult treehouse. Its spacious treatment room features floor to ceiling windows and overlooks the lake and can perhaps best be described as a cocoon for meditation— I felt myself sinking deep into profound relaxation during my treatment, a sensation that was certainly helped along by the natural environment.
“Even if guests intend to spend time outdoors exploring, they usually end up relaxing at the Lake House,” explained Mrs. Cunliffe when we sat down to talk about Gilpin’s evolution. “Creating a spa became the most obvious way to enhance that experience.” More recently, they developed the Jetty Spa Trail, an ingenious three-hour pampering journey that takes guests from a refreshing swim in the Lake House pool, up to the spa for a treatment, out to the boat house for tea time and into one of two jacuzzis for a steamy conclusion with Champagne. Not only is the trail a unique luxury but so is the personal time that goes with it. Because the reality is that we rarely, if ever, allow ourselves over three hours of uninterrupted self-care and the Cunliffe’s understood this.
"Our guests usually end up relaxing at the Lake House"
It’s precisely through fine-tuned service and ideas that keep them ahead of the curve in their offering that the Cunliffes have weathered the vagaries of the travel industry. Mr. Cunliffe vividly remembers how radically different the market was when they first started. For one, travelers were beginning to swap the weeklong stay with short, weekend getaways throughout the year. “We’ve always had to adapt. Thirty years ago, there was no digital marketing, no courting travel agencies — we’ve always focused on having the best staff and thinking outside of the box,” he explained.
That ability to stand out in the Lake District also extends to the unexpected culinary experience. The first night of my stay, a Gilpin chauffeur brought me up to the main hotel to dine at the hotel’s casual and contemporary restaurant Gilpin Spice, which cleverly celebrates Cumbria’s heritage at the heart of the spice trade. The meal itself was a surprising journey across cultures, with flavors drawn from the Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia, Japan, China and Malaysia. The Cunliffe’s were the first property in the Lake District to offer an Asian dining experience, one that attracts local residents.
"We have always focused on having the best staff and thinking outside of the box"
On the opposite end of the spectrum is Hrishi, the Cunliffe’s Michelin-starred restaurant helmed by chef Hrishikesh Desai, who riffs on British cuisine by incorporating hints of Asian flavors. It’s that extra zing, as the chef likes to call it, that elevates each dish, like tandoori pineapple or saffron poached apricots, and swede and onion marmalade. But what matters is that it works harmoniously.
I ended my stay feeling relaxed and delighted with the realization that from body to belly, Gilpin is a destination that keeps pleasure and wellness at the heart of everything it does — and it shows.