Gina Baksa submits to a lot of pampering to find out why the UK’s best-known spa and health resort is still the choice of Royalty, celebrities and lovers of unashamed luxury
Almost everyone who loves spas and wellness – and even those who’ve never set foot inside a health spa – have heard of the Grande Dame of health resorts. In the Nineties and early Noughties, Champneys was the place to be and be seen. From police commissioners to Brit Popsters, racing drivers to royalty… if only those walls could talk! And the resort still features in many a celeb’s Instagram gallery today.
Champneys’ legacy as a health resort and the first UK spa chain dates back to 1925 when Stanley Lief, a Latvian-born Naturopathy pioneer, bought the stately home near Tring and created his Nature Cure resort. The Purdew family, current owners of the Champneys group, bought Champneys in 2002, creating a portfolio of Henlow (Grange), the former Springs Health Farm, and Forest Mere in Hampshire, which they re-branded with the Champneys name.
The Champneys ethos is that true beauty is only attained through health and wellbeing; an inside-out journey of detoxification of mind and body. This holistic approach to health is a winning formula with guests and the spa industry, which has nominated Champneys for an award in its Europe’s Best Day Spa 2016 category.
Arriving slightly before check-in, my friend and I enjoyed a pre-lunch walk around the beautiful grounds and relaxed over a refreshing tea in the main house. Built in 1874, the original house is fascinating. Sit awhile in the adjoining Crystal, Music and Drawing rooms (check out the vintage gramophone) and gaze out on to the lawns and trees beyond.
Incredibly, my whole body began to relax only minutes after arriving. This, without even stepping into my fluffy bathrobe was an achievement in itself – it usually takes me days to unwind.
Our delightfully-named Voyage of Discovery detox treatment – in the fabulous new Detox and Wellbeing Spa – was booked for the following morning, so we spent the afternoon exploring the grounds, and mooching around the main house and spa. You’ll find an outdoor hot tub and Jacuzzi, steam room, fitness centre and two tennis courts as well as a fabulous indoor pool.
Our room at the front of the main house was a haven of peace with beautiful views across the lawns, free wi-fi, tea and coffee-makers, the most comfortable bed, and a huge bathroom and walk-in wardrobe area.
The tranquillity after the incessant noise of London was heavenly with birdsong to soothe the ears.
There are a number of elegant rooms and suites in the main house, with additional rooms in the garden wing that curves its way beyond the gym and swimming pool areas, each offering guests uninterrupted views of the garden from the ground and first floors.
Champneys has spent £4 million on refurbishments. The new sea and mineral treatment detox spa offers unique water-based and personalised treatments using the natural qualities of seawater, algae and marine minerals, and is the first of its kind in the UK, says owner Stephen Purdew. “Many hotels have nice spas but they are hotels first and foremost. I think our guests appreciate that we are a wellbeing destination spa – and that’s where our energies are focused.”
To start, you’ll choose between a 15-minute Kniepp footbath or a seaweed infused detox foot spa. The footbath uses the healing benefits of alternate hot and cold water to stimulate blood circulation. I chose the seawood foot spa for “removal of toxins and exfoliation” – and what a great choice it was. There is nothing quite as relaxing as submerging tired feet into warm bubbly water, especially when that water is full of proteins, vitamins and minerals. Just zone out or read a magazine (how about this one?) and by the time your 15 minutes are up, I guarantee you’ll have baby-soft skin and be feeling very relaxed. It was a wrench to leave the warm water and head to the mineral-rich Thalassotherapy Pool, our next stop on the detox trail.
Each of the therapists were expert, kind and helpful as they guided us through the various treatment areas. Thalassotherapy is long recognised as a powerful stimulant to wellbeing, and I loved the pool at Tring. We moved around the various water jets – some powerful, others gentle, but all invigorating and relaxing.
The water is infused with sea salt and magnesium, sodium, potassium, silicon, copper, iron and iodine minerals – all the elements a body needs to help heal the skin, support purification and detoxify itself. Quite honestly, after 20 minutes in the Thalassotherapy pool my mind began to detox, too. It’s such a great feeling to let go, to actually stop thinking for a while and just be.
Step 3 of the process was a choice between a Hydrotherapy Bath, a manual underwater massage, a pressotherapy (boots that give you a leg detox), an iPulse Slimming session or a dry flotation treatment – a weird yet very pleasant and relaxing session on a mattress filled with warm water. The sensation of weightlessness was deeply relaxing while my therapist gave me a fabulous sea salt scrub and natural marine mud treatment that left my skin feeling heavenly. Yet even deeper relaxation awaited me. I opted for a marine calcium wrap – my first ever – where I was bound in cling film over a vitamin-enriched algae concoction that had been carefully applied over my entire body.
Fortunately, the fishy aroma diminished after a few minutes and I could feel the algae getting to work. Apparently, these wraps are beneficial in aiding slimming and detoxification and can also relieve everyday aches and pains as well as boost circulation and metabolism.
You’ll be wrapped up like a sausage for around 20 minutes – long enough to drift off into a deep sleep, as I did – and very reluctantly slough it all off in the shower before you’re taken to the incredible Salt Steam Inhalation Room with pure oxygen. I love using essential oil inhalations when I’ve got colds, but this was like a whole body inhalation experience.
Amid gorgeous orange rock salt walls, this ancient Salt therapy treatment really works. My friend, who’d been suffering from a severe bronchial cough for several weeks, emerged practically cured. Not only did I feel internally cleansed afterwards, but the purifying atmosphere helped calm my mind, too. The pièce de résistance of the Voyage Of Discovery Detox was being led down a corridor into the snug sanctum that is the Relaxation Room. Wonderful waterbeds, soothing music and a detox tea awaited us. Heaven is a waterbed.
I feigned sleep when the therapist came to rouse me… but she was having none of it! Gently awoken, we made our way back to the Reception and sat there in complete bliss. And in complete, satisfied silence. I felt in safe hands at all times due to the veritable army of therapists including medical professionals, physios and osteopaths. Themed breaks include cycling, Pilates, swimming and tennis with sports performance training, vibrotherapy and movement screening.
A health resort is only as good as the staff it employs, and Champneys’ staff were all excellent. I can’t wait to go back.