Isn’t a spa day just the perfect way to spend the end of the school year, or the weekend before a wedding, or just about any time? Although it’s pricey, some friends and I took the plunge to book a half board night stay at Lifehouse Spa and Hotel in Thorpe-le-Stoken, Essex. Our package included all access to the gym and spa, one treatment, dinner, a bed, and breakfast – what else could four women who seemed to resemble battered pigeons want?
The spa itself is located on the site of Thorpe Hall, a now demolished stately home, popular with classic celebrities like Winston Churchill, Rudyard Kipling and J.M. Barrie. On check in, we made out way to our rooms and were blown away. Our twin room, with huge glass doors, was large and airy, despite the sweaty July heat we were experiencing at the time. Hanging in the closet space were two fluffy, white bathrobes, and slippers. The bathroom was possibly the biggest bathroom I have ever seen, and spotlessly clean. We flung the doors open to enjoy the view of the pond below and listen to the sounds of the ducks. I almost wanted to stay in the room, and order room service, not bothering with anything else.
Alas, sans sports bra (I’d forgotten it) I made my way to the gym for a half hour session before taking a dip in the pool. A dip that was definitely needed. The pool area is split into two, with the jacuzzi and steam rooms blasting bathers in the face as soon as they enter, and the larger, cool swimming pool past a glass division. On such a hot day, I was taken aback by the burst of humid air as we entered, already prepared to ‘nope’ out and go for a ice cold shower in the room, but I pushed through and was rewarded by the pool, with its border of sun loungers for ultimate relaxation.
Talking of ultimate relaxation, I had opted for a massage – deep tissue; extra firm – as my free treatment. At 5.15, my designated time, I spoke to the lady at the circular desk (as shown in the photo below), was given a TGIF style buzzer and health survey to complete, and ascended the spiral staircase. Then I waited patiently in the bright foyer to be called in.
The massage suite wasn’t quite as I’d expected. For the luxury of the rest of Lifehouse, I thought the suite a little average. Yes, there was calming music playing, and a small selection of oils on display, it didn’t have the same ambience as Bannatynes in Chafford Hundred does. However, I was there for the massage, and not the ambience, so I got myself ready. I was asked to remove my swimsuit for it was damp, so unexpectedly, I was completely starkers but for a towel as I had my massage.
Our next order of business was dinner, but first, we ordered a glass of wine each and sat in the courtyard in the evening sun. A few people were still lounging in their robes, but we had opted for a more sophisticated affair, garbed in floral dresses.
I must say, dinner was delicious. The food is freshly prepared and presented to gourmet standard. I ordered the chilled tomato ceviche with scallops to start, then monkfish delicately wrapped in bacon, and shared a side of dauphinoise potato and greens. But the true icing on the cake was the dessert. For the life of me, I cannot remember what it was called, but it was a hazelnut and chocolate cream/mousse concoction, served with raspberry and mint. I was teased brutally for ordering it over the millionaire tart with pistachio gelato, but I loved the combination of crunch and fluff with a strong hazelnut flavour.
Breakfast was as delicious, although I might have expected a little more from the service. Lifehouse offer special cooked breakfasts to order (as posted below) but do lay out a self serve section, including a toaster, tea and coffee machines, and a full English buffet. In honesty, it’s not far off a Premier Inn breakfast, and I would have liked the option for a fancier coffee in the morning without having to pay a premium price for it. Alas, I settled for my tea.
After breakfast, while my friends took a final dip in the pool, I decided to make the most of the glorious weather and explore the exceptionally Romantic gardens. Unfortunately, my photos definitely do not do them justice. The gardens are stunning and well tended, and a brilliant place for relaxation and calm, quiet contemplation. I especially liked the waterways that flow through, bursting with life in July with waterlilies, reeds, dragonflies, ducks and frogs all desperate to be seen by visitors. If I listened carefully, I could just about hear the sound of a train in the distance as a tiny reminder that I hadn’t stumbled across the garden of Eden, and I was simply wandering around an English country garden.
Would I come back? Most definitely. I’m already trying to work out a way that I can convince Dan to come with me, since he’s adamant spas are ‘not his thing’. Lifehouse is quite pricey, so getting a full package was definitely worth it, especially as dinner would have been particularly expensive otherwise. My advice is to look out for any deals and discounts the spa is offering so you have the most relaxing experience you possibly can.
Thanks Lifehouse for a wonderful stay.