THERE are times when a girl just needs a bit of me-time, and she could do worse than turning off the M6 at Penrith.

Standing right there is the four-star North Lakes Hotel and Spa, where my sister, Sophie, and I enjoyed a recent weekend. With its Girls Night In package you can chill in the spa, then change into PJs and indulge in some in-room pampering and cocktails, followed by an evening of chick flick DVDs, with sweet and savoury sharing platters and popcorn.

For those who enjoy dining, the Girls Night Out option offers the spa, cocktails and a three-course dinner served from dancing flames with a theatrical flourish. More of that later.

Arriving on a Saturday lunchtime, we headed to Penrith, a 10-minute drive up the road, and wandered around the pretty market town, bustling with a mix of independent and high street shops, bistros and bars.

Less than three miles from the the Lake District National Park, Penrith is steeped in history, surrounded by stunning Cumbrian peaks. Just north of the town is Penrith Beacon, a monument built in 1719 on a spot where beacons have been lit in times of war and emergency since the reign of Henry VIII. Take a woodland walk to the top for a splendid view, on a clear day, across the lush Eden Valley to Lakeland hills.

Other attractions include Ullswater, the Lake District’s second largest lake, the ruins of 14th century Penrith Castle, and a huge Bronze Age stone circle, Long Meg and Her Daughters, where folklore has it that a wizard turned a coven of witches to stone...

After exploring, we checked in at the hotel and spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing in its tranquil spa, which has a spacious pool, Jacuzzi, sauna, steam room, a gym and treatment suites.

Following pre-dinner cocktails, we headed to the restaurant, for a fabulously visual culinary experience. With its huge stone fireplace, high wooden beams, large windows and open plan design, the restaurant blends rustic charm with contemporary chic, looking out to an outdoor terrace and rolling hills.

There’s something very primal and satisfying about good food cooked on fire. And that is at the heart of the hotel’s dining concept, FYR, (pronounced fire), which brings a touch of drama to the table. It all takes place on Cumbria’s only open fire grill, where chefs prepare meals in the heart of the restaurant, watched by diners. Sizzling steaks are a speciality and the grill menu offers sirloin, rib eye, fillet and the FYR signature steak, all aged for a minimum of 28 days, cooked to diners’ specifications and served with goose fat chips. There’s also a choice of chicken or fish kebabs.

Friendly, efficient staff talked us through the extensive menu. The starter menu included chorizo and potato cassoulet; grilled Cumberland chipolatas; chicken liver parfait with toasted treacle and raisin loaf; scented beetroot risotto; and FYR garlic and rosemary grilled king prawns.

Sophie went for melt-in-the-mouth Eden Valley smoked duck bon bons, with pickled baby vegetables and spiced carrot puree, while I chose from the taste table’s extensive, and delicious, selection of fresh seafood, artisan cured meats and seasonal salads.

Main course choices included grilled lobster thermidor; slow-braised corned beef hash; FYR lamb with sweet potato and pea puree; green pasta ravioli; herb and lemon butterflied breast of chicken; and the steak selection.

I was tempted by sweet potato and chickpea falafel with curried vegetables, but decided I had to go for the FYR experience. Fresh from the fire came a beautifully presented fish kebab dish of Tandoori marinated salmon, monkfish and grilled prawn, with cucumber and mint yoghurt. The smoked taste of the grill, sweetness of the marinade and fresh, tender fish was heaven. Possibly the best fish dish I’ve ever tasted. Sophie’s FYR steak was just as to-die-for.

For dessert she had sticky toffee pudding with butterscotch sauce and bourbon vanilla ice cream and I had the rich mocha mousse and hazelnut shortbread. Other choices included elderflower panna cotta and Cumberland apple pudding.

The hotel, with its interior design and striking artwork inspired by Cumbrian landscapes, is ideally placed for exploring the Lakes.

There’s even a welcome for four-legged guests, with dog-friendly rooms offering a bed, towel, water and food bowels and doggy treats, as well as blankets and ball throwers as extras. Ratcher, the hotel’s resident dog, posts routes of his favourite walks in reception for canine hikers, and their humans, to try.

* The North Lakes Hotel and Spa, Penrith. Rooms with breakfast are from £55 per person (two sharing). The Girls Night Out package is from £133. Visit or call 01768 868111.