AS the warm rocks slide up and down my back, I take a deep breath and let all the tension slip away. I can’t stop a smile from forming on my lips.
From here, it’s not hard to see why Harrogate has been voted the happiest town in the country. The hot-stones massage at Harrogate Turkish Baths is a highlight of my stay in the North Yorkshire town.
A favourite of Victorian-era royalty and one of only three remaining such baths in England, this has been perfectly restored, with Italian mosaic floors and Islamic-style arches.
The ritual of heating, cooling and cleansing left my batteries fully recharged. The health treatments are reasonably priced so while I enjoyed the pampering hot stones, my husband — who hates anything touchy-feely — was coaxed into having an Indian head massage. He emerged an enthusiastic convert.
We stayed at the Country Living St George Hotel in the heart of Harrogate. The 90-bedroom Edwardian building has been beautifully restored in calming greys, blues and greens, bringing the hotel bang up to date.
The bedrooms are super-comfy, with thoughtful goodies to be found in the bathrooms. A fairly priced restaurant with a varied seasonal menu, bar and cosy library with a billiard table complete the picture.
From there we set off on the short drive to Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal. Founded in 1132 by 13 Benedictine monks, before being abandoned during the reign of Henry VIII, it boasts a magical water garden next to the abbey ruins.
Restored by the National Trust in the Eighties, it is now a World Heritage Site and is breathtakingly beautiful. Enjoy a long walk to a bygone age and take in the eye-catching temples and follies.
For kids, there is a trail, a wobble bridge, tunnels to explore and a zipwire. There is a good choice of places to eat, too. So it is definitely worth spending the day there.
After a five-mile walk around the abbey and water gardens, it was back to Harrogate for a well-earned break at Bettys Cafe Tea Rooms, which celebrates its centenary this year. Choose from dozens of teas, such as Gunpowder Green and Jasmine Blossom.
With old-fashioned white-linen tablecloths, polished silver and a pianist tinkling the ivories, it is a soothing and comforting place. Inside Bettys, you can’t help but feel all is right with the world.
We tucked into delicious, delicate sandwiches, decadent cakes and a plump, fruity scone called a “fat rascal”. I also managed to squeeze in a satisfyingly calorific macaroon. Heaven on a plate!
For dinner, Gino D’Acampo offers a full Italian menu and is within walking distance of Bettys and the baths. The atmosphere is buzzing and the staff attentive.
Gino — of ITV’s This Morning fame and I’m A Celebrity’s King of the Jungle from 2009 — is still very much involved with the restaurants that bear his mind.
There are nine in the UK committed to producing crowd-pleasing Italian classics. Eat at the prosecco bar, the all-weather terrace or the main restaurant. I ordered fettuccine bolognese with pecorino cheese, which was absolutely delicious.
My other half — still looking rather pleased with himself after the head massage — went for the sea bass with salsa and lemon. That proved to be his second good decision of the day.
Our visit to happy Harrogate helped restored my belief in the English short-break — and left us both smiling for days.
STAYING THERE: A night’s B&B at the Country Living St George Hotel is from £69.50pp based on two sharing. See countrylivinghotels.com.
MORE INFO: Find out what else to do at visitharrogate.co.uk.