he New Forest is a large national park in southern England encompassing 145 square miles of open heathland and forest with streams, paths, bridleways and pretty picture-postcard villages. Wild deer browse under canopies of mighty oak and beech and New Forest ponies graze the village greens. The area has become something of a spa Mecca in recent years, with several leading hotels opening up new retreats.
SenSpa at Careys Manor
SenSpa is a new £6m Thai spa development at Careys Manor, a popular 79-room hotel on the outskirts of Brockenhurst. The hotel is situated in five acres of gardens and offers reasonable rates, good food and free leisure facilities that include an indoor pool, sauna, steam room, Jacuzzi and gym. Now guests have the option to relax at SenSpa, one of southern England’s most innovative new spas.
SenSpa (so called because Sen is the Thai word for the energy lines of the body and Chinese for forest) offers modern facilities that include 17 treatment rooms (two are double rooms for friends or couples), a large hydrotherapy pool, two relaxation areas (one darkened and quiet), a thermal suite, spa shop, and the Zen Garden restaurant serving breakfast and lunch made from organic ingredients and cooked by a Thai chef. Everything (staff, treatments, products and décor) has been carefully chosen to reflect the spa’s mix of eastern and western philosophies.
Residential and day spa packages include spa entry and use of all the facilities, so allow time to enjoy these before, after or between your spa treatments. Relax on the submerged loungers in the warm hydrotherapy pool and let the underwater jets massage away tension and stress. And be warned that the curved outlet pipe in the Jacuzzi delivers an overwhelmingly powerful back, shoulder and neck massage!
Start and end your pool session with a journey through the Roman-inspired thermal suite. Relax on a heated lounger in the mild warmth of the tepidarium (a pleasant room with heated floors) and then move into the laconium (cooler version of a traditional sauna). Feel the heat building up in the herbal sauna and crystal steam room and when you feel too hot, cool off (briefly and bravely) in the ice room before trying the exhilarating experience showers (blizzard and tropical showers combined with sounds and lights). For an extra £50 (£60 for two) you can book a session in the private rasul chamber. You apply therapeutic muds to your hair, face and body, and then relax on a heated seat in a darkened chamber under a canopy of twinkling fiber optic lights. Gentle steam gradually fills the chamber, opening up your pores and allowing the mud’s therapeutic properties to soften and cleanse the skin. Gradually the steam and warm overhead showers wash away the mud and any remaining can be hosed or showered off afterwards. A pleasant and unusual experience-- if a little hot at times!
All SenSpa’s treatments are designed to help balance mind, body and spirit, and to promote inner healing rather than external cosmetic beauty. The choice is extensive and includes massages, body polishes, body wraps and facials, all using organic products like Living Nature, a New Zealand brand made from pure plant extracts and healing manuka honey.
Massages include Swedish, Aromatherapy, La Stone and Traditional Thai, which is rather like passive yoga. After donning special Thai pyjamas, you lie on a padded floor mat and a charming but diminutive Thai therapist covers your feet in hot towels. She firmly massages the soles of the feet with circular movements, then works up the legs and trunk to the neck, exerting amazing strength and power, stretching out, pulling and manipulating each of the muscle groups in turn. This amazing massage stimulates and balances the body’s energy channels and ends with a heavenly face and scalp massage.
The Fen Fusion massage is the spa’s signature treatment - a medium to deep pressure full body massage with oils and a blend of five great eastern and western massage traditions – Thai, Shiatsu (Japan), Ayurvedic (Indian), Swedish and Aromatherapy. The therapist moves around the treatment table using her hands, palms, fingers, forearms, elbows and feet to stretch, press, lift, rotate and massage the limbs and body.
The facials at SenSpa all use organic products and some have intriguing Maori names. My one-hour Wai Huunene (Deep Hydrating) facial promised ‘to nourish and smooth tired, dehydrated skin and diminish fine lines.’ First my face was thoroughly cleansed, and then exfoliated using a clay friction peel. This was left on for a few minutes then brushed off with a soft brush. Next, a warm honey mask was applied, left on for a short time, then wiped off with a moist cloth. A second hydrating facial mask was applied and left on for about 15 minutes. While my skin absorbed its nutrients, my therapist gave my feet a pleasant massage. After the second mask was removed, a few drops of facial oil were massaged into my skin. Finally firming Flax Cream and soothing Manuka Day Cream were applied and my lips moisturized with a little lip balm. Afterwards, scrutinizing my face in the mirror, I had to admit my skin looked fresher and my eyes less tired. While facials can’t hold back the ravages of time, they are usually a lovely treat and definitely ease out that ‘trained and lined’ look--if only temporarily!
SenSpa is one of the few spas in the UK offering water treatments that combine elements of the hammam with massage and use of the Vichy shower. Both the Nam (water relaxer £80) and Saboo (deep cleanse £90) are carried out as you lie on a heated hammam slab, and both treatments include body washes and scrubs, therapeutic muds, Ayurvedic massage and Vichy shower.
Two night spa breaks (include dinner/bed and breakfast for two nights, two lunches in Thai Zen restaurant, use of leisure and SenSpa facilities, a 45-min Mind/Body relaxation class, and two treatments. Costs are from £185 per person per night (Sun/Thurs) or £200 (Fri/Sat) based on two sharing a double room. Day and Evening SenSpa experiences from £59 per person (treatments extra). Manicures and pedicures are also available.
Careys Manor and SenSpa
Brockenhurst New Forest Hampshire SO42 7RH
Tel: +44 (0)8707 512305
New Park Manor Hotel, Spa & Equestrian Centre
Situated between the pretty towns of Brockenhurst and Lyndhurst in the heart of the New Forest, New Park Manor was originally built in the 1600s. When Charles II returned from exile in France, he made New Park Manor his favourite hunting lodge and his royal coat of arms is displayed above the fireplace in the dining room. The 24-bedroom hotel is now part of von Essen hotels, a collection of privately owned country house hotels that includes gems like Cliveden and The Royal Crescent Hotel in Bath.
The Bath House Spa, the hotel’s new £2.5m facility opened in November 2005 and provides hotel residents and day spa guests with an unrivalled rural spa experience. The new 16-meter swimming pool has 270° views over the surrounding paddocks and forest, and the new thermal spa experiences include a hydro-pool, foot spa, sanarium, Finnish sauna, and an Eastern-style steam room. There’s also a rasul mud chamber for couples or friends, a spa garden with a Canadian hot tub, a fitness suite, yoga studio and six airy treatment rooms. Smoothies and healthy snacks are served in the juice bar or on the roof terrace, which is a great spot to relax and take in the panoramic views of the New Forest.
The hotel is surrounded by acres of parkland and ancient forest and has its own equestrian center as well as a new spa. When we arrived on a damp Sunday afternoon in mid February, we were cheered by the sight of a herd of fallow deer and several horses grazing nonchalantly in front of the hotel.
We experienced a few minor hiccups before settling in to enjoy our brief stay. We had trouble finding the hotel entrance, and once inside, mistakenly waited in the wrong place to register, only to be told that the reception area was up the stairs. Staff told us that other guests had made the same mistake. Then our room was in the new wing when we expected a four-poster bed in the older part of the manor. At least our room was comfortable and cozy, with all mod cons and an oversized bed, plus welcome extras like champagne, fresh fruit and tea/coffee making facilities--and gimmicky ones, like a small plasma TV screen in the bathroom!
Dinner in the candlelit Stag dining room was delicious and beautifully presented. But the magnificent old fireplace seemed bereft without a blazing log fire burning in the grate, In fact we didn’t see any log fires in the lounges. This was surprising as New Park Manor has some splendid fireplaces and it was the middle of winter.
The new Bath House Spa surpassed our expectations. With its large picture windows overlooking the garden and parkland, it’s almost an extension of the New Forest itself. Light and airy, built with natural materials such as English oak, pine, stone slabs and smooth pebbles, it has a pleasant rustic ambience. The modern treatment rooms are up an open wooden staircase and have pine wall panelling and high ceilings with frosted glass battens to diffuse the light.
The spa menu offers facial and body treatments using the Italian skin care line, Comfort Zone, and von Essen’s own organic ‘Numbers’ range. The latter are designed to provide holistic benefits and are handmade in small batches by a West Country apothecary. The range is constantly evolving and uses the best products of the season. A special men’s spa menu and grooming services like waxing and pedicures can also be booked.
My Algae Detox began with lymphatic-boosting body brushing followed by a sea salt body scrub. After a shower, I returned to the treatment table to be covered from head to toe in warmed algae mud. While I was wrapped up cozily for about 15 minutes to let the mud stimulate removal of toxins and excess fluids, my friendly therapist massaged my head and scalp. After a second shower to rinse off the mud, the detox ended with a relaxing body massage. I really enjoyed the treatment. My considerate therapist respected my privacy by leaving the room each time I needed to shower, leaving me with ample towels and time to dry myself before continuing the treatment.
Back in the spa lounge sipping an herbal tea, I glanced through the windows and was amused to see my husband ensconced in the outdoor hot tub, despite the inclement weather! We met up in the pool area, and spent an enjoyable half hour sampling the sanarium, steam room, sauna, foot bath, hydropool, and the swimming pool itself. Finally, we shared a rasul, a traditional Arabian cleansing ritual carried out in a private tiled chamber and involving a sequence of gentle heat, steam and mud therapies. Heated seats, aromatic vapours, music and twinkling fibre optic lights are all part of the experience, which leaves you feeling relaxed and your skin soft as a baby’s.
The New Forest spa is the von Essen group’s first totally new spa, no doubt inspired by the success of the Bath House Spa at the Royal Crescent Hotel. Judging by our experiences and the satisfied clients we met in the spa, it certainly won’t be their last--so watch this space for further news.
Spa breaks from £220 per room per night based on two people sharing. Rate includes accommodation, 3-course dinner, full English breakfast, rasul mud-treatment and use of the spa. Guests arriving on a Sunday or Monday receive a complimentary bottle of house champagne.
The hotel offers special rates and events throughout the year, so visit the website for the latest offers.
New Park Manor Hotel and Spa
Lyndhurst Road, Brockenhurst, New Forest, Hampshire SO42 7QH
Tel: +44(0)1590 623467
Chewton Glen – Hotel, Spa and Country Club
When Martin Skan purchased Chewton Glen in 1966, it was a small hotel with eight bedrooms, two bathrooms and a staff of ten. Forty years on, Martin and his wife Brigitte have transformed the property into England’s most acclaimed country house hotel with 58 rooms, a Michelin-starred restaurant and over 200 staff. Despite winning a multitude of prestigious awards over the years, Chewton Glen retains its special ambience and impeccable service that makes every visitor feel a valued guest.
We first visited Chewton Glen in the early 90s, shortly after the indoor pool, original spa and indoor tennis centre opened. Such enhancements added a new dimension to the hotel’s leisure facilities which included a croquet lawn, outdoor pool, tennis courts and a 9-hole golf course. Returning a decade later, we were curious to see how this distinguished hotel had evolved since our last visit and whether its latest investment – a £3.5m refurbishment of the spa – lived up to our expectations.
We arrived after a wet but scenic drive through the New Forest, and found ourselves mingling with glamorously attired wedding guests in the busy reception area. Our car and bags were quickly whisked away and we were shown up to the calm of our sumptuously furnished suite on the first floor. The large bedroom had a balcony overlooking the gardens and an enticingly warm bathroom equipped with oversized towels, bathrobes, slippers and a plethora of Molten Brown toiletries. In our lounge, complimentary champagne was waiting, so we unpacked and relaxed with some bubbly before going down to the Marryat restaurant for a splendid dinner. The restaurant is named after the famous writer Captain Frederick Marryat who stayed at the original house (then owned by his brother) during the 1840s, gathering material for his most famous novel Children of the New Forest. Many of the rooms in the present hotel are named after his novels and the characters in them such as The Poacher, Ralph Restless and Jacob Faithful.
The following day, we were up early to go to the spa and found the whole area completely changed. Apart from the original swimming pool with its beautiful trompe l’oeil ceiling and huge picture windows, the entire spa has been remodelled and is now arranged over three levels. On the ground floor are the pools – the 17-meter swimming pool and the new circular hydrotherapy pool (reached through doors from the main pool), plus the hairdressing and grooming lounge. Spa reception, ten treatment rooms and refreshment areas are on the next level. The women’s changing rooms are on the floor above, and are far more spacious and luxurious with aromatherapy saunas and crystal steam rooms. You can take exercise in the state-of-the-art gym, or join a class in the new dance studio where the range of classes includes yoga and Pilates. As Mark Thwaites, the spa’s personable manager explained, “Chewton Glen teamed up with luxury brand Molton Brown to create a new spa that would appeal not only to discerning hotel guests, but also to our day spa visitors and country club members. Numbers are limited so that the spa never feels too busy or overcrowded.”
Certainly the whole ambience of the spa is different. Gone are the white-coated therapists and in their place elegant staff in dark tunics and trousers which coordinate with the rich brown tones used in the treatment rooms. The latter are minimalist in style, quiet and snug with scented candles and fabric décor in Molton Brown colours on walls and ceilings.
I decided to treat my feet to the heavenly sounding Float-away Reconditioning Foot Therapy. First my feet were soaked in a warm foot bath and given a gentle exfoliating scrub. Then a warm conditioning mask was applied and both feet were cosily wrapped up to absorb the mask’s beneficial active ingredients. While my feet luxuriated for about ten minutes, my scalp was given a relaxing Indian head massage. Feet and legs were then subjected to a circulation-boosting energising massage. My feet’s finest hour finished off with a pedicure and bright red polish – an instant morale booster!
Whilst I was indulging my pods, my husband had been exercising off the effects of our feast the previous night, first in the gym and then with several lengths of the pool. I rejoined him in the swirling warm waters of the new hydrotherapy pool and we slowly edged our way around the circuit – letting the powerful water jets massage our backs, shoulders, tummies, legs and feet.
As Chewton Glen is just a stone’s throw from the sea, we decided to walk to the beach before we left. .Borrowing wellies and an umbrella from the hotel, we set off on the marked path through the hotel gardens. We crossed a road, strolled down a wooded glade and suddenly there it was! We ran onto the sandy beach and gulped deep breaths of sea air!
We hope it won’t be ten years before we return to Chewton Glen, but next time we’ll come in the summer. Then we can bathe in the sea and sip champagne on our balcony before dinner – weather permitting!
Spa breaks at Chewton Glen are for a minimum of three nights and include accommodation, continental breakfast and three course dinner, unlimited use of the spa and health club facilities, one spa treatment per day, and sessions in the dance and yoga studio. Rates are from £260 per person per night, based on two people sharing a room.
Chewton Glen, Hotel, Spa and Country Club
New Milton Hampshire BH25 6QS
Tel: +44(0)1425 275341
Catherine Beattie is a UK-based health and travel writer/publisher with a lifelong interest in spas. Her credentials include writing and publishing several consumer guides including Healthy Breaks in Britain & Ireland (the UK's first spa guide) and The Really Useful Guides. Catherine was founding editor of Spa Health & Beauty magazine and contributes to many UK national newspapers and magazines including The Sunday Times, The Express, Here's Health and Harpers & Queen. She is a member of the British Guild of Travel Writers, Guild of Health Writers and Spa Business Association.